Peruvian Alfajores are a delicious traditional Christmas cookie that actually have their roots with the Spanish conquistadors. It is a shortbread sandwich cookie with a dolce de leche filling which is popular in much of South and Central America...
While there are recipes for the alfajore from many South and Central American countries, each country’s recipe is a little different. The cookie dough may be made with flour, cassava flour or a mixture of flour and cornstarch. The different recipes give a different texture to the cookie, with cassava flour offering the most delicate crumb. The Peruvian version of the alfajor is made with Manjarblanco which is a paste the consistency of peanut butter with a flavor similar to dolce de leche. Most of the recipes seem to be passed down through families and each has a slightly different twist with some using lemon zest to flavor the dough and some using almond flavoring. Some recipes call for dipping the finished cookie in coconut to seal the edges of the dolce de leche, but the use of coconut is more common in Brazilian versions.
Peruvian Alfajores Cookie Dough
A number of Peruvian alfajores recipes call for the use of plain flour and vegetable shortening, but this makes a very bland cookie. May people substitute butter or butter flavored shortening for the plain shortening in the recipes. Lemon zest, orange zest, almond and vanilla flavoring have all been mentioned in various dough recipes. Mixing plain flour with cornstarch gives the alfajores a more delicate texture, and some recipes use either cassava flour or cassava flour mixed with all purpose flour. Since many North Americans rave about the alfajores they purchased in Peruvian bakeries, it is likely that the bakeries added different flavorings to the bland dough recipe. It is traditional to sprinkle the finished cookie with powdered sugar.
Basic Recipe for Peruvian Alfajores Dough
2 cups sifted flour
¾ cup butter, margarine of vegetable shortening
½ cup sugar
Mix the butter and sugar and add the flour. Mix with a fork until blended and finish by kneading by hand to insure a smooth pastry dough. Roll out the dough and cut into small circles. Place on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes. Adventurous cooks can try adding additional ingredients. Some other alfajores dough recipes add eggs and baking soda. This recipe is for a simple shortbread cookie and is used by cultures in Europe as well as South America.
The Manjarblanco used in most Peruvian alfajores can be found in speciality stores in the United States or ordered online. There are as many variations on the basic recipe as there are families in Peru. Each baker can take this basic recipe and add their own twist to make an alfajores recipe that is unique.