“Cookie” doesn’t begin to describe it

Posted by on June 18, 2013

I know what some of you are thinking.

I’ve been to La Rioja and San Luis to visit three famous geological landmarks (where the skeleton of a native Argentine dinosaur was discovered), I spent three fantastic days in Buenos Aires (where the culture is more cosmopolitan and international and historical than I ever imagined), and I threw myself out of a plane on Saturday (for recreational purposes, of course).

Why would I dedicate an entire blog post to one cookie?


Alfajores de maicena

Again, I know what you’re thinking. What the heck is that?!?!

I could go into its Arabian and Spanish origins, but let’s stick to Argentina.  An alfajor (pronounced “alpha whore”, for lack of a better guide) is any confectionary consisting of two or three cookies with a creamy filling between the layers.  The cookies tend to be soft and baked with almidón de maíz (corn starch), which creates a unique flavor, and the filling is usually dulce de leche, although some artesans prefer to use jam.  It’s also possible to coat an alfajor with melted chocolate (alfajor blanco or alfajor negro) or with a light sugary glaze (alfajor de nieve).  Overall, cordobeses prefer the alfajor de maicena: two cookies baked with corn starch, with dulce de leche as the filling, dusted with coco rayado (shredded coconut).

Lest anyone be skeptical, the alfajor de maicena is delicious!  This cookie puts the chip-wich to shame and redefines the possibilities of baking from scratch.  This is the cookie that I buy for a snack AT LEAST three times a week and that I celebrate with a happy dance when my host mom leaves a plate of three with my breakfast.  The street vendors here are always selling alfajores caseros (homemade alfajores), every kiosco and panadería offers them, and Argentina as a country consumes 6 million alfajores per day.

But still, a blog post for one local delicacy?

Here’s my answer: the alfajor has starred in a lot of good moments during my time in Argentina.  At the end of a school day, it’s not uncommon for me to share an alfajor and coffee with one of my friends at the university café.  After spending all day hiking Los Gigantes, a range within Las Sierras, my friend Tim and I split three alfajores to boost our energy before the drive home.  I’ve enjoyed a number of good conversations with my host mom as she prepared alfajores either for a church event or my family’s pleasure. (It was a beautiful day when I found the Tupper of alfajores in the pantry as I was making afternoon tea.)  But probably the best of all, my love for the alfajor has been an opportunity for Sasha and me to hang out after school and practice making them from scratch.

All of you should know by now that Sasha and I love to cook together.  So, one afternoon, I walked half an hour from my internship to meet my best friend at the grocery store.  We very eagerly perused the shelves for all the necessary ingredients:

  • 150 g harina (flour)
  • 100 g almidón de maíz (corn starch)
  • 100 g azúcar (sugar)
  • 150 g manteca (butter)
  • 2 huevos (egg)
  • 1/2 cdta. bicarbonato de sodio (baking soda)
  • 1 cdta. esencia de vainilla (vanilla)
  • dulce de leche
  • coco rayado (shredded coconut)

From there, the baking aspect — oven temperature, amount of flour necessary to remove the stickiness, thickness and circumference of the cookies — was essentially trial and error.  But that afternoon and yesterday afternoon, when we repeated the process with more optimal results, we hung out like cordobesas.  We took mate as we worked, listened to Latin music, and spoke primarily in Spanish.  A simple activity, but no less meaningless, because we were able to relax and get to know each other’s host families.  I found that I really enjoyed showing Sasha around my neighborhood when we realized we had forgotten to buy butter and needed to run to a maxikiosco.  I definitely loved introducing her to my host family and sharing a dinner of milanesa de pollo (chicken milanesa), puré de papa y calabaza (mashed potatoes and pumpkin), and peras (pears) for dessert.  They were beyond hospitable to Sasha, and my host dad even watched from the door as we left to hail a taxi for her later that night.  All under the premise of making alfajores on a free afternoon.

We now consider ourselves experts on baking the cookie from scratch — I still need to learn to make my own dulce de leche — so I will be accepting requests for alfajores as I return to the United States.  Until then, ¡buen provecho!  (Hope you enjoy it!)

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