How to Make Authentic Alfajores

This recipe for alfajores combines shortbread cookies with a rich dulce de leche filling.

Like so many traditional recipes, alfajores are claimed by many cultures and countries including Argentina, Peru, Brazil and Chile (though many South American countries claim this cookie as their own). This version of alfajores is inspired by many cherished family recipes, and we think it’s a lovely rendition.

What Are Alfajores?

Alfajores are sandwich cookies primarily found in Spanish-speaking countries, as well as southern France, the Phillipines and Brazil. They are made of shortbread-like cookies with a delicious filling of dulce de leche, made of milk and sugar, or sweetened condensed milk. Often, they are rolled in coconut, coated with powdered sugar or dipped in chocolate.

While Americans tend to think of dulce de leche as a universal term, it varies from country to country. For example, in Chile and Ecuador, they call it manjar, while other regions may call it doce de leite, arequipe, cajeta (a Mexican goat milk version) or manjar blanco.

I have heard that alfajores are enjoyed primarily at Christmas. However, based on personal experience, anecdotal evidence from friends and family, and the success of many year-round alfajor-based businesses, alfajores are eaten year-round!

Where Did Alfajores Originate?

It is theorized that alfajores were developed in the Middle East but made it to what is now Spain when the Moors conquered the Iberian peninsula in the 8th century. It became part of the regional cuisine and eventually spread to Latin American colonies and the Philippines. Today, many, if not most, Spanish-speaking countries have their own preferred recipe for alfajores.

How to Make Alfajores

This recipe makes approximately 40 alfajores.

Ingredients

  • 2 cans (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk, labels removed or 2 14-ounce cans of dulce de leche
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon brandy
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tablespoon lemon zest (about half a lemon)
  • 1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling out the dough
  • 1-3/4 cups cornstarch
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup ground or flaked coconut

Directions

Step 1: Make the dulce de leche

Alfajores Recipe Cans in pot with waterJennifer Schwarzkopf for Taste of Home

For this recipe you can use canned dulce de leche from the grocery store. However, if you can’t find it, making dulce de leche at home is very simple. All you need is sweetened condensed milk and a little time.

To make your dulce de leche, place the cans of sweetened condensed milk in a large pot. Fill the pot with enough water to cover the cans, plus an additional two inches. Bring the water to a boil and reduce the heat. Cook the cans at a simmer for about three hours. It’s important you keep an eye on the pot and make sure the water level remains at least a couple of inches above the cans to prevent them from popping/exploding and causing injury (and not to mention, a huge mess).

Alfajores Recipe Spoon of dulce de lecheJennifer Schwarzkopf for Taste of Home

Then, remove the cans carefully with tongs and place them somewhere to completely without disturbance. For this recipe, we let them cool overnight undisturbed and opened the can(s) in the morning. It was a perfect golden brown with a smooth, delicious taste.

Step 2: Mix the wet ingredients

Alfajores Recipe Brandy mixtureJennifer Schwarzkopf for Taste of Home

Mix the brandy, vanilla extract and lemon zest together in a small bowl, until evenly combined.

Step 3: Mix the dry ingredients

In a larger bowl, whisk the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda and salt together.

Step 4: Cream the butter and sugar

Alfajores Recipe Creamed butter and sugarJennifer Schwarzkopf for Taste of Home

This step is important. Your creamed butter and sugar should be light in color and fluffy. Scrape the bowl down.

Turn the mixer on low and whisk in the egg yolks until well combined. Scrape the bowl, once again. Add the brandy mixture while whisking on low. Scrape down the bowl, once more.

Finally, with the mixer on low speed, mix in the flour until the dough becomes even in texture and just comes together. (Don’t overmix!)

Step 5: Weigh the dough and divide

Alfajores Recipe Dough getting weighed before splitting in halfJennifer Schwarzkopf for Taste of Home

Divide the dough in half, with some help from a kitchen scale. Roll each half into a tube with your hands.

It may feel crumbly; if needed, wet your hands a bit to moisten the dough and help hold it together. Working with one half of the dough at a time, roll until the dough reaches a diameter of about 1-1/4 inches.

Alfajores Recipe Dough logs in plasticJennifer Schwarzkopf for Taste of Home

Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours, up to overnight.

Step 6: Slice and bake

Alfajores Recipe Slicing rooled/chilled doughJennifer Schwarzkopf for Taste of Home

Preheat the over to 350° F (325° F, if using a convection oven). Unwrap the chilled cookie dough logs and slice into 1/4 inch-thick slices. Place the slices on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for five to seven minutes.

Keep an eye on the cookies! You’re looking for barely any color on the edges of the cookies. The shortbread needs to be just baked and still light in color. Remove and gently transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Step 7: Fill the cookies

Alfajores Recipe Plain alfajores - indoor lightingJennifer Schwarzkopf for Taste of Home

Spoon the dulce de leche into a small pastry bag with a 1/2-inch tip. Pipe a thick layer in a swirl motion on the flat/underside of one cookie. Sandwich the spread with another cookie on top; rounded side up. You can also spoon the mixture into the middle to create a sandwich if you prefer.

Step 8: Roll the edges in coconut

Alfajores Recipe Plain alfajores - indoor lighting - overhead - with coconut ones (flaked)Jennifer Schwarzkopf for Taste of Home

At this point, you can roll the outer edges of the sandwich cookies in coconut. You can also dip the alfajores in chocolate and lay to cool and harden. Or, serve them as-is, for a classic treat. (If you’re interested in trying another version of this recipe, check out our Chocolate Alfajores.)

Step 9: Serve

Alfajores Recipe Ground coconut edged alfajores- natural lightJennifer Schwarzkopf for Taste of Home

With a cup of tea, these alfajores make a lovely treat, any time of the day!

Whatever cookies are left, store in the refrigerator until you decide to enjoy them. They are best served the same day, but can last a few days in the fridge.

Tips and Tricks for Making Alfajores

  • Make the dulce de leche a day or more in advance, so you aren’t rushing the process (e.g., filling warm cookies).
  • Make lots of dulce de leche, at once. It is so delicious—try it on toast, over ice cream or by the spoonful! Since it takes a while to prepare, throw in a few cans to cook at once. You can store it on a shelf for about three months. For a longer shelf life, store in the refrigerator or freezer. Once you open a can, put the leftovers in a glass or plastic container with a tight seal, and keep refrigerated.
  • For a lighter-colored dulce de leche, cook the sweetened condensed milk for approximately two hours.
  • Rolling the dough halves can be a bit cumbersome. I find it useful to wrap the forming log within parchment paper to help hold the mixture together. Once it comes together in a relatively even form, wrap it in plastic wrap and twist the ends. You can then roll the dough easier and form it into a cylinder.
  • If you can’t find ground coconut, use flaked coconut, or pulse flaked coconut in a food processor.
  • If you decide to use store-bought dulce de leche, it may be a bit runnier than your own creation. If that is the case, store in the fridge for a bit until it thickens up, and then fill the cookie sandwiches.
  • If you would rather make dulce de leche from scratch, you can boil one quart of milk, a cup of sugar and a teaspoon of vanilla extract in a large pot. Once it boils, reduce heat to a medium-low simmer and cook, stirring often, for about 60 to 90 minutes. Once cooked, stir in 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda and let cool to room temperature before using.

Finally, if you don’t have the desire to make this beautiful recipe, you can also buy delicious premade alfajores from places like Havanna, La Casa del Alfajor and numerous shops on Etsy.

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Jennifer Schwarzkopf
Half Chilean, half Irish descent and all joie de vivre, I'm a food writer/photographer who loves to share stories about different cultures and the magic that is sharing a meal together. When not doing that, you'll find me working on my culinary degree, hanging with family & friends, and just trying to "live deep and suck out all the marrow of life." Salud!