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Alfajores and Other Peruvian Foods

 A few years ago, Nico, a Peruvian friend of my daughter’s, stopped by the house at Christmas time with a gift of alfajores he had just baked. I was immediately swooning and asked for the recipe for these buttery cookies layered between caramel. Unfortunately, his mother wanted to keep the recipe within the family, so I was out of luck.

I never forgot how delicious they were, so on my recent trip to Peru, I hoped to find some alfajores as good as Nico’s. Typically covered in powdered sugar, the ones I tasted in Peru fell far short of the crumbly, delicate ones Nico made.
I returned to the states and decided I’d just have to find a recipe for them on my own.
That’s when I remembered the wonderful crust in the Lemon Ricotta crostata I made a while ago from  a recipe by Domenica Marchetti. There was leftover dough from that crostata and I used it back then to make cookies stuffed with Nutella. Why not fill them with some homemade caramel instead? Bingo! Alfajores!
Alfajores are enjoyed as a special occasion treat not only in Peru, but in other South American countries as well. In Argentina, the caramel filling is called dulce de leche, but in Peru, it’s manjar blanco. Either way, it’s made the same way, a sweet reduction of milk and sugar.
You can make your own by submerging a can of sweetened condensed milk in simmering water for two to three hours.
After the caramel has cooled, spread a tablespoon or so between the cookies.
They’re sweet enough as is, so I omitted the traditional shower of powdered sugar.
Put out a platter of these and watch them disappear quicker than you can say “dulce de leche.”
Alfajores are only one of the specialty foods you’ll find in Peru. Lima is actually considered the gastronomic capital of South America and with good reason.
Here are a sampling of some of the foods we ate on our recent trip:
croquettes, ceviche, and probecitas (tender beef over rice and beans topped with a quail egg):

Pisco sours and roast pork sandwiches served with pickled red onion:

steak with blueberry sauce:

chicken smothered in a pepper and tomato sauce served with quinoa:

luscious flan:

Gelato with flavors not typically found in the U.S. like maracuyà (passion fruit):

Peru is a fascinating country with a rich history and friendly people. From its cities to the ancient site of Machu Picchu to the salt flats of Salineras and the Sacred Valley, the sights, sounds and flavors of Peru left us with unforgettable memories and a strong desire to return and see more.
Hasta la vista.

 

Alfajores
(dough recipe from Domenica Marchetti)


  • For the dough
  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
  • Finely grated zest of 1 organic lemon
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 large whole egg
  • 2 large egg yolks
Make the dough
Put the flour, sugar, salt, and lemon zest in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse briefly to combine. Distribute the butter around the bowl and pulse until the mixture is crumbly. Add the whole egg and egg yolks and process until the mixture just begins to clump together in the work bowl.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and briefly knead it together. Without overworking it, shape the dough into a disk, patting rather than kneading it. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or until well chilled. Cut into thirds, then roll out each third on a wooden or marble surface, dusting the rolling pin and board with flour. Use cookie cutters to cut out discs, then place on a cookie sheet and bake for about 10 minutes at 350 degrees, checking at about eight minutes to make sure they don’t burn.
For the filling:
1 can sweetened condensed milk
Remove label of milk. Submerge the can in water and simmer for two to three hours (depending on dark you like the dulce de leche. I kept it in three hours), making sure there is always at least one inch of water covering the can. Cool and spread between two pieces of baked cookies.