Alfajores are usually sandwich cookies, popular in Latin American countries, as well as in the Philippines, but originated from Spain. Chalk it all up to all that Spanish colonization happening for centuries, I guess.
Some are filled with dulce de leche or cajeta (cow or goat’s milk caramel), or jam. Some have coconut in or around them; some are dipped in chocolate, and still others have meringue on them.
The first time I tried an alfajor was at a taqueria in the Mission of San Francisco, several years ago. I liked it so much that I immediately sought out recipes online, eventually finding the one by Matt Armendariz of Matt Bites, which was later featured on Martha Stewart’s show. I liked it a lot because it was just like the one I had in San Francisco. Rich dulce de leche sandwiched between two soft, cake-like cookies. I’ve made that same recipe a handful of times over the years, but have never thought to modify it, until now.
For these cookies, I basically substituted ground, toasted walnuts for some of the flour, then added some walnut liqueur in the dough, and then rolled additional ground walnuts around the edges, instead of sprinkling the tops with confectioner’s sugar.
You might be wondering why I decided to modify an already good recipe. The reason is simply that, although I do like the original recipe, I’ve always felt that if it had another component to it, such as a nut flavor of some sort, it might be more interesting.
And so, when I came across a bottle of nocino at my local liquor store, which is traditionally an Italian liqueur, it made me think of Italy’s influence on the world, and other countries, like Argentina. And thinking of Argentina made me think of alfajores, which are very popular there. And wouldn’t it be conceivable that someone in Argentina, with all its Italian influence, could have at least once tried to make alfajores using walnuts, and an Italian walnut liqueur? I decided to try it, and I think it was successful. I think I could easily have made these with any other nut, like hazelnut, or almond, and I think they would be good, too, but I really like the walnut flavor in the liqueur, because it’s very subtle, not as strong and definitive as hazelnuts or almonds, and clove and cinnamon are also added into the liqueur. I took a sip of the nocino when I got home and instantly fell in love with it.
Alfajores (adapted from Martha Stewart’s recipe)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cup + 1/2 cup, toasted, ground walnuts
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup, (or 1 1/2 sticks, or 6 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 cup milk
3 Tablespoons nocino, or nocello (walnut liqueur)
1 Tablespoon orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 can or bottle of cajeta (goat’s milk caramel. If not available, look for can of dulce de leche in the “Hispanic” aisle of the grocery store. Better yet, go to a Mexican grocery store).
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silpat (nonstick pads). Set aside. In a saucepan, toast 2 cups of ground walnuts over medium heat, for about 5 minutes, stirring often to avoid burning. Divide ground walnuts into 1 1/2 cups and 1/2 cup portions. Set aside
In a medium bowl, whisk the all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt with 1 1/2 cups of toasted ground walnuts.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar, until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula, as needed. Add eggs, one at a time, until blended, about 1 minute. Add the flour in batches, mixing until well combined. Add milk, orange juice, nocino, and vanilla. Continue mixing until a dough forms. It would be sort of like a dough, but also like a batter. Place in refrigerator for about an hour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. After an hour has gone by take dough out of the refrigerator and, using a Tablespoon or a small ice cream scoop, drop dough in baking sheets, spread about 2 inches apart. Transfer to oven and bake until golden, 10-14 minutes, rotating baking sheets halfway through baking time. Transfer cookies to baking rack to cool.
When cookies have cooled completely, spread cajeta on half of all the cookies and top each of them with a bare cookie and press together gently to make a sandwich. Holding each cookie on its side, sprinkle ground walnuts (from the reserved 1/2 ground walnuts) to fall in between the cookies. Alternately, roll the cookies around in a bowl of the 1/2 cup ground walnuts, until they walnuts stick in between the cookies where the cajeta is exposed.
These cookies can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 2 days.
I made these on Sunday for dessert, and as of today, Tuesday morning, I am eating the last one with my morning coffee as I type this!