It’s 7:00 at night in the common room of my hostel in Barcelona, Spain. The sun is setting right outside of the double glass doors leading to the mosaic-tiled patio. Outside, the tree branches hug the large windows, so looking out to the street is like looking through an emerald picture frame. A golden sunshine reaches the corner of the room, bouncing off of a bookshelf that’s overflowing with dogeared guidebooks and weathered classics.
I’m sitting cross-legged on a couch that has no legs. The cushions are piled against the floor, pillows propped up against the wall. I’m surrounded by pens, postcards, markers; on my lap sits an abandoned, thick, leather-bound journal, begging me use its pages to recount my flight into a new city that day. Across from me sits a man, probably in his late twenties, wearing cropped jeans and a red t-shirt.
My face is twisted into what is probably a comical expression. One side of my mouth turns up in a smile; but my eyes tell a different story, wincing as I try to find words that don’t exist in my brain. We’ve been conversing for an hour now, entirely in Spanish. I’ve practiced Spanish for about 8 years, but this conversation has proven arduous. You don’t know what you don’t know about a language until you try to speak to a local.
I’ve been limping through the conversation, throwing in an exasperated string of English here and there when the circumlocution technique of language learning becomes too difficult. Our conversation is in Spanish simply because that’s what I’ve requested. Every time this man slips into English for my ease– which he speaks fluently–I request that he transition back to Spanish again. I’m practicing, and I need to learn.
At this point in my journey, it’s the end of May. There’s only three people on planet Earth that know I’m planning to cook a meal from every country in the world: myself, a close friend, and now… this stranger. He’s from Argentina, and he tells me about his life at home and where he comes from. When he does, I find myself so excited that the words about my plan start falling from my mouth. I’m asking about his country, about his home, and, of course, about his favorite recipes.
When I ask this final question, his eyes widen. He uses his arms to prop himself up on the edge of his seat.
“When you cook Argentina, there’s one thing you HAVE to make,” he says in Spanish. “Argentinians love dulce de leche, but we use it to make probably the best dessert in the world.”
He names the dessert, and I open up my iPhone, tap the “Notes” app, and type the word “alfajores”. He goes on to describe the dessert, which is made by sandwiching two cookies together with a dulce de leche center. They are sweet and indulgent and a favorite amongst the country.
I’ve been looking forward to Argentina week since that moment. It was the first recommendation that I ever received about a local’s favorite dish. For months after receiving that recommendation, I would open my phone often just to stare it. Seeing the joy in this stranger’s face as he described his “taste of home” crystallized for me the value of this project. Bringing cheer and solace to those around the world as they are able to share their culture and their home with others. That’s what this project is about.
So without further ado… the alfajores recipe that solidified the Foreign Fork journey. I hope you find as much joy in making them as I did in discovering them.
An Argentinian recipe made by sandwiching two shortbread cookies together with a dulce de leche filling. They can be rolled in coconut, topped with powdered sugar, or simply enjoyed as is.
- 1 1/2 cups 200g/7 oz. all-purpose flour
- 2 1/8 cups 300g/10.5 oz. cornstarch
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 3/4 sticks 200g/7 oz. unsalted butter room temperature
- 3/4 cup 150g/5.3 oz. granulated sugar
- 3 large egg yolks
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1.5 cups dulce de leche, for filling
- 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded or desiccated coconut for rolling optional
In a medium bowl, sift together flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and baking soda. Set aside.
Using a hand mixer, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in egg yolks and vanilla extract just until combined. Reduce speed to low. Add the flour mixture and beat just until combined. Do not overmix or the cookies will turn out tough.
Form the dough into a ball, then flatten slightly to form a disc. Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2 hours, until firm enough to roll.
If you don’t want to use the dough right away, you can refrigerate it for up to 3 days or freeze it for up to a month, then thaw it overnight in the fridge.
The dough is going to look like sand... this is normal. You will know that your dough is not too dry when you can squeeze a handful of dough in your palm and it retains its shape.
Take the dough out of the fridge and let it sit on the counter for a few minutes to soften slightly for easy rolling. On a lightly floured surface (or between 2 pieces of parchment paper), roll the dough to a 1/8 or 1/4-inch (3-5mm) thickness. Cut out into rounds using a 2-inch (5cm) fluted or round cookie cutter, and place the cookies on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. You may need to add a bit of water to the dough to ensure that it sticks to itself when rolling. ONLY add enough water to make the dough combine. Do not add too much or your cookies will lose their shape in the oven.
If at any point the dough becomes too warm, place it back into the fridge for a few minutes. Re-roll the remaining scraps and repeat. Place sheets with cookies in the freezer or fridge for at least 15 minutes, until firm, so that they will be less prone to spreading.
Preheat oven to 350F/180C. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until cookies appear golden brown at the edges (mine took about 15 minutes). Allow cookies to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then gently transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Spread the bottom half of the cookies with dulce de leche (about a teaspoon). Sandwich together with remaining cookies, pressing slightly so that the caramel oozes out the sides. If desired, roll the sides in shredded coconut.
Store cookies at room temperature in an airtight container for up to a week or freeze for up to 2 months. To thaw, leave on the counter, still covered, or overnight in the fridge.
Recipe adapted from Pretty. Simple. Sweet.