I have a real thing for the South American cookie know as alfajor. Who wouldn’t? Two buttery, crumbly cookies sandwiching dulce de leche or a jammy filling? I’ll take two (or maybe ten) please. While traveling in Peru I had many, all covered with a messy dusting of powdered sugar. I couldn’t pass a bakery without walking in and furiously searching the cases for these little beauties. I was convinced they helped overcome my wicked altitude sickness. Since then, I’ve searched and searched yet found alfajores rather illusive in the northern hemisphere. It’s just not a cookie we make in these parts, though we should. So I started looking for recipes, testing batches and doing a little experimentation. I came across several recipes that were dipped in chocolate and this got me to thinking …
What about a chocolate alfajor? How delicious! Traditionally the cookie portion is a buttery crumbly tender biscuit-y cookie and many recipes I tried contained cornstarch to contribute to this unique texture. This didn’t work so well with a chocolate version; I suspect there was some problem with the cocoa powder and my attempts were pasty, too delicate and frankly, not very delicious leaving a decidedly unpleasant coating on the tongue. After a few failed attempts, I pushed this project off to the side for another time.
Fast forward at least a year. While cutting out several hundred miniature chocolate shortbread men this past December, I remembered my alfajor experiments. Now, this particular cookie dough might work. Buttery, tender and crumbly in just the right way, this could be it. And it was. I added some “warm” spices for a little interest – chipotle, cinnamon, a smidge of cayenne – and they lend just enough heat to be interesting but not enough to scream or scorch. Though not traditional, I believe they are in the spirit of the alfajor and a perfect kick-off to a month of chocolate.
Since I was on a chocolate bender and it is that time of year, I devised a chocolate dulce de leche filling based on a simple recipe I found somewhere online. As this is a rather involved cookie, starting with purchased dulce de leche certainly speeds up the process but a homemade version would work too if you had the time and inclination. It’s relatively simple; combine the dulce de leche and melted chocolate along with a bit of salt and vanilla and stir until smooth. The recipe makes more than you’ll need for the cookies but that’s never a problem. This stuff is phenomenal on ice cream. Trust me, extra won’t stick around long and I’ll give you a really good idea for any leftovers later this week.
Now then, just to gild the lily a bit more – because we can – I made a simple chocolate glaze and dipped half the cookie. Just half because a full dip would be obscene. We’re all about restraint here, you know.
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: OH INDEED! This has all the markings of a perfect stress baking project: it’s involved, it takes a bit of time, it’s utterly delicious, just unique enough, a huge crowd pleaser and most importantly, it’s chocolate. Truly, a stunner. The only thing missing is some booze but I’m sure, given time, I could work that in. In fact now that I think about it, a splash of dark rum in that filling would be rather delightful. Serve these with Mexican Hot Chocolate for a real knock your socks off experience. Frankly, I think these are just the thing to have hanging around for that little afternoon snack.
DOUBLE CHOCOLATE ALFAJORES
Makes about 3 dozen
For the cookies:
1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
½ cup + 2 Tablespoons Dutch process cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon chipotle chili powder
good pinch of ground cayenne
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, room temperature (6 ounces)
1 ¼ cups powdered sugar
1 large egg
½ teaspoon vanilla
for the filling:
1 13.4 ounce can dulce de leche or 1 ½ cups homemade dulce de leche
4 ½ ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 ½ Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of sea salt
for the glaze:
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
- For the cookie dough: into a large bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, salt, cinnamon, chipotle powder and cayenne. Set aside.
- In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and powdered sugar until light and fluffy, about 4-5 minutes.
- On medium-high, add the eggs and vanilla; beat until combined. Scrape the bowl.
- On low, add the dry ingredients in several additions, mixing until combined.
- Divide the dough into several pieces and roll each piece between two sheets of plastic wrap to about ¼” thick.
- Stack the dough sheets on a sheet pan and chill until firm, about 2 hours – cold dough will be much easier to cut but warm dough is easier to roll. (Dough can be made up to this point and chilled tightly wrapped for several days or frozen up to 2 months.)
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Cutting the cookies: Cut out 2” rounds and space ½” apart on silpat or parchment paper lined sheet pans.
- Bake: Bake, rotating pans halfway through baking, until firm about 10-12 minutes.
- Let cookies cool completely before filing.
- For the filling: Melt the chocolate and butter until smooth either over a double boiler or in the microwave (45 second bursts at 50% power, stirring between bursts).
- In a heavy bottomed saucepan over low heat, combine the dulce de leche, melted chocolate/butter and a good pinch of sea salt until smooth.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
- Transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool until needed. If making ahead, let cool completely and then cover tightly. Store at room temperature up to 5 days.
- To fill: for easy filling, transfer filling to a pastry bag or Ziploc and snip off the tip. (You can also use a spoon or offset spatula but I find piping goes much faster and is a lot neater.)
- Pipe or spoon approximately 1 Tablespoon of the chocolate dulce de leche on the bottom of one cookie, top with another and gently press to adhere.
- For best results in glazing, refrigerate the filled cookies for a few hours to firm up the filling.
- For the glaze: Mix bittersweet chocolate and vegetable oil together in small saucepan or microwave safe bowl.
- Heat over low heat until melted or microwave at 50% power in 45 second bursts, stirring between bursts until smooth.
- Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
- Dip half of each cookie into the chocolate glaze, shaking excess back into the bowl and place on a parchment lined sheet pan to cool.
- Refrigerate the cookies, uncovered, for at least 1 hour to set the glaze.
- Cookies keep, tightly wrapped, at room temperature for 5 days and will soften over time, which actually makes them better.