Remember the Christmas cookies we made? The buttery ones, with the green icing… We kept some aside without decorating, in case we’d need them, and so we did!
This new sweet idea came to our minds while researching the various types of Christmas cookies worldwide. As you can imagine, there are a lot! What intrigued us at this point were the alfajores, Argentinian cookies filled with caramel. So it came up to us: we will combine our stored cookies with a very original product we recently found at the Greek Honey and Bee Products Festival 2019, the creamed honey, and we will transform them into sandwiches!
The cookies we envied and got inspired by are called alfajores and come from Argentina. They are buttery cookies (like ours) filled with dulce de leche, a caramel spread very much loved in Latin-American countries. Sometimes the Latin-Americans also add grated coconut around the filling.
Dulce de leche is in fact a milk caramel that you can make at home by putting a can of sweetened condensed milk to boil for three hours in a pot filled with boiling water. You can also buy it from a store, in cans that look like those of the condensed milk.
We liked the idea of a Christmas sandwich cookie so much that we decided to make our own Greek sandwich cookies… We got our buttery cookies (you can find the recipe in our article) and instead of caramel we used the Creamed Honey of Melisokipos Axiou company. We sprinkled some cinnamon on top and the result was a cookie healthier than alfajores and even more festive!
With a plate of delicious Christmas sandwich cookies in hand we will embark on a quick, sweet trip to Argentina to learn more about the source of our inspiration. Alfajores are the signature cookies of Argentina, where people enjoy them all year round with their tea or coffee. Especially on Christmas, though, it is a tradition for housewives to make homemade alfajores with their family recipe. One can find alfajores in many other countries, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Equador, Andorra, Venezuela, Brazil, and also in Europe in Spain and South France, as well as in the Philippines.
As usual, we researched the history of alfajores, which starts in Spain. In an article by journalist and sommelier Sorrel Moseley-Williams we read that their name has an Arabic root: it originates from the Hispano-Arabic word al-hasú which means filling. They were brought to Argentina by immigrants from South Spain during the 16th century. They also made their appearance in Peru, where Spanish soldiers used to consume them. In another article we read that Spanish culinary historians relate alfajores to mamoul, sweets from Middle East and North Africa made with a buttery dough and a filling of dates paste, sprinkled with confectioners sugar.
The Spanish dessert called alfajor was very different from the Latin American, though: it had a cylindrical shape and was made with almonds, walnuts and honey, anise and spices. We learned that Spanish alfajores come from the area of Andalusia and are still a traditional Christmas treat. One can find them all year round in the city of Medina-Sidonia, the place they were born.
The Argentinians took out the nuts and spices and added a delicious caramel filling, and often a chocolate coating, making them their own. The alfajores reached their contemporary form during the 19tglh century. As Moseley-Williams notices, their popularity in Argentina peaked in the 1950s, when they started to get produced on a massive scale and in packaging.
In a New York Times article the writer highlights the fact that many online recipes for alfajores today are wrong, as they contain buttery shortbread biscuits… like ours…! She claims that the guilt falls on a box of cornstarch that had the recipe printed on the back. The authentic recipe, on the contrary, is made with cookies of a more cake-like texture.
The Peruvian variation of alfajores is called alfajores de miel. In this version the cookies are filled with a syrup named miel de chancaca, made with sugar, cinnamon and orange peels. This syrup is used in Peruvian desserts such as sopaipillas (fried pastry) and picarones (a type of doughnuts).
Alfajores de maicena (or maizena) are another variation of those sandwich cookies. Maicena means cornstarch in Spanish, and this is their difference: the cookie dough is made with cornstarch and the result is a fluffy, airy cookie.
Alfajores are so much loved in Latin-American countries that there are coffee shops dedicated especially to those cookies. Contemporary pastry adores them too and offers them in gourmet versions and elegant packaging, that have nothing to envy from the French macarons!
Now, from the mini alfajores let’s move on to something a little bigger… In 2010 in Uruguay they made the biggest alfajor in the world to celebrate 50 years since the first alfajor made in the country and worthily won a place in the Guinness awards. It weighed 464 kilos -corresponding to 15.000 regular alfajores- and was prepared on the central square of Minas town. We read that its preparation took 60 kilos of flour, 2000 egg whites for meringue, 5 kilos of honey and 212 kilos of dulce de leche.
It is a joy that we made our own cookies, because this huge alfajor is a little bit hard to find right now… This faraway trip coming to an end, we would like to wish everyone sweet preparations for the upcoming holidays and for our sweet stories to inspire your own unique creations!
Finally, we warmly thank Melisokipos Axiou company for the products they gave us to support our creations.