Alfajores make a delicious holiday treat

2012-12-14T00:00:00Z 2012-12-14T10:48:06Z Alfajores make a delicious holiday treatJane Ammeson
December 14, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Several weeks ago I visited the famed Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market. In business for almost a century, the market is considered a "producers only" market, where everything sold has to be baked, crafted or grown by the vendors.

Open year round, the market is filled with stalls overflowing with fresh produce, eggs, cheeses, breads, meats, flowers, honey and some home canned items such as pickles and jams. Much of what we saw was organic, heirloom, sustainably grown or some combination of the three.

I bought a large stalk of Brussels sprouts from a very sincere young man with long hair who assured me if I didn’t like it, I could return it (luckily it was delicious since the market is a two and half hour drive for us). We also looked at unique foods such as those made by the Brinery, which specializes in all-natural brine-fermented vegetables like sauerkraut, kimchi and pickles and handmade pasta.

I also bought some Maitelates, Maite Zubia’s interpretation of a traditional hispanic cookie called an alfajor – layers of shortbread stuffed with dulce de leche, a milk caramel. Maite, who moved here from Chile, uses the recipe her grandmother gave her. She coats her shortbread in high-quality chocolate and then stuffs it with the traditional dulce de leche, or other flavors including almond, peanut and — since we live in Michigan — cherries.

Maite told me that she makes her dulce de leche in a large copper kettle, just like her grandmother did when she was a child. But for those who want to make afajores at home, I recommend using this recipe from Martha Stewart’s website.

I also included a microwave version which my friend Sophie L'Heureux, who is an editor of a food magazine in Montreal, swears is almost as good.

Stewart’s recipe doesn’t call for chocolate, but for those who want chocolate – and who in their right mind wouldn't? — I adapted the recipe.

For more information about Zubia’s cookies, visit


 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1/2 cup water

1½ cup high quality milk or semi-sweet chocolate (depending upon your taste)

¼ to ½ cup butter

Sanding sugar or powdered sugar, for sprinkling

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat (such as Silpat).

In a large bowl, sift together flour and confectioners' sugar. In a food processor, pulse together flour, sugar, and butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 20 seconds. With machine running, pour in the water in a slow stream, and process just until the dough comes together, about 20 seconds. Form the dough into two flattened disks and wrap well in plastic. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a well-floured work surface, roll out one disk of dough to a scant 1/2-inch thickness. Using a 1 1/4-inch round cookie cutter, cut out rounds from the dough and transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the other disk of dough. Gather up scraps from both batches, and reroll and cut. Sprinkle half the rounds with sanding sugar. Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Melt chocolate and butter in a heavy pan.  After cookies have cooled, dip in chocolate, let cool again.

About 30 minutes before serving, spread 1 teaspoon of the cold dulce de leche on the bottom of the unsugared cookies. Place the sugared cookies on top to make sandwiches. Serve immediately. Unfilled cookies can be stored in an airtight container up to 3 days.

Microwave Dulce de Leche

1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk

Empty the can into a large (2-1/2 quart or larger) glass bowl, and cover with plastic wrap (cling film), keeping a tiny bit uncovered to prevent excess steam build-up.

Microwave on medium power (level 5 on a 10-level appliance) for 2 minutes. Remove, stir with a wire whisk, and recover. Cook on medium for 2 more minutes. Remove, stir with a whisk, and recover.

Then, in increments of 2-1/2 minutes, cook (on medium power) for another 10 minutes, stirring between each interval. After the first two stirs, the milk should bubble and foam as it expels moisture. Then, with each stirring, the milk will be thicker and more caramel colored.

After 10 minutes the mixture should be thick, if not, continue cooking in 1-minute increments for another 2-3 minutes.

Remove from the microwave, and let cool before packing in a glass jar or use right away.

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