These melt-in-your mouth Alfajores are a South American sandwich cookie made from two shortbread cookies and a creamy dulce de leche center. You can make these delicious dulce de leche sandwich cookies to go with a warm cup of coffee or for after your dinner. Roll them in shredded coconut, dust them with powdered sugar, or both; no matter how you serve them up they are sure to go fast!
My first experience with Alfajores came through a monthly subscription box, which was basically a foodie gift basket full of new and fun food items. Inside my box was a package of two Alfajores cookies. They looked innocent enough. They weren’t covered in chocolate, so I didn’t attack them immediately. When I finally opened the package, I was prepared to eat what I assumed would be a very average cookie. I couldn’t believe how wrong I was.
They tasted so utterly amazing that first time, that like many other packaged foods, it seemed impossible to recreate them from scratch. But if my experience with homemade Twinkies, Oreos, and Oatmeal Cream Pies has taught me anything, it’s that not only is it totally possible, but it’s ridiculously easy.
What are Alfajores?
If you have never had alfajores, they are a South American dessert made from two, round shortbread cookies sandwiched with creamy dulce de leche often dusted with powdered sugar and rolled in shredded coconut. These delicious cookies vary regionally.
Argentina’s alfajores feature two cookies sandwiched with dulce de leche and rolled in shredded coconut (much like the ones in this recipe)
Chile uses a filling made with unrefined cane sugar instead of dulce de leche.
Mexico features spices in the filling such as cinnamon and anise.
Peru actually has many varieties within the country!
Dulce de Leche vs. Caramel
Dulce de leche and caramel have many things in common. They are both sweet, sticky, and a rich amber-brown color, not to mention totally addictive. But these two sauces actually are not the same thing and differ in a few ways:
Caramel – You can make caramel sauce by slowly cooking down sugar. It gets its color from the sugar caramelizing as it cooks.
Dulce de leche – This sweet treat is made with sugar and milk and gets its color from the lactose browning during the low heat cooking process.
Making Alfajores from Scratch
Ingredients for Alfajores
Flour + Cornstarch – All-purpose flour mixed with the cornstarch makes the shortbread cookies incredibly tender, light, and airy.
Powdered Sugar – Sweetens the cookie and is also used for dusting the alfajores at the end.
Salt – Adds flavor while also balancing out the sweetness in the cookies.
Butter – Use unsalted, chilled butter to get the flakiest, melt-in-your-mouth cookies.
Egg yolk – Binds the cookie dough together.
Vanilla – Flavor, flavor, flavor.
Dulce de Leche – Sweet creamy goodness holding the alfajores together.
Shredded Coconut – Optional but highly recommended. The finished alfajores take a roll in unsweetened shredded coconut.
Dulce de Leche
Dulce de Leche is caramelized sweetened condensed milk and can be purchased in the Hispanic/Mexican section of the grocery store, or you can order online. You can also easily make your own at home! Here’s how to do it:
Pour into double boiler: Pour 2 (14-ounce) cans of sweetened condensed milk into the top of a double boiler or in a heat-proof bowl over simmering water.
Cook the milk: Cover with a tight-fitting lid. Cook, stirring every 10 to 15 minutes, until the milk is thick and amber in color, about 5 hours.
Beat the dulce de leche: Remove from the heat and beat with a wooden spoon to smooth out.
Refrigerate: Transfer to a clean bowl, and refrigerate for several hours or up to 3 days.
Storing longer: If you are making this in advance you can transfer the dulce de leche to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 weeks.
I use the same process to make these as I do for my all-time favorite cut-out sugar cookies – no softening the butter and no chilling the dough. It works perfectly with this recipe, as well, even though the texture of the cookie is different!
Pre-baking: Preheat oven to 350°F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
Sift dry ingredients: In a medium bowl sift together flour, powdered sugar, and cornstarch; set aside.
Beat the butter: Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
Add liquid ingredients: Add the egg yolk, vanilla extract, and salt. Mix until fully combined and smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
Make the cookie dough: Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture. Mix until the dough just comes together. This may take a few minutes, as the mixture will go from looking sandy to seeing small clumps, and then eventually come back to form a dough.
Roll out the dough: Separate the dough in half and work with one piece at a time. Roll the dough 1/4-inch thick on a well-floured surface.
Cut the cookies: Using a plain round or fluted round 2-inch cutter, cut the cookies and place them on the prepared baking sheets leaving at least 1 inch of space between the cookies. Re-roll any scraps and continue cutting rounds.
Bake the cookies: Bake until slightly firm and set, 11-14 minutes. Allow to rest for 5 minutes on the baking sheet before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
Assemble the Alfajores: Spread about 1½ teaspoons of dulce de leche on the bottom half of the cookies, then top with remaining cookies. Dust with powdered sugar before serving. You can also roll the sides in shredded coconut if desired.
Make-ahead, Storing, and Freezing Instructions
Make-Ahead Cookies: If you are planning to make these in advance I would break it down by making the cookies up to 3 days ahead of time. Store them in an airtight container, then fill them within 1 day of serving.
Dulce de Leche Prep: If you are making the dulce de leche you can prep it up to 3 weeks in advance and store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator!
Storing + Shelf-life: You can keep these cookies stored in an airtight container for up to 5 days in the refrigerator. They will get a bit soggy towards the end as the cookies absorb the dulce de leche.
Freezing: Keep these dulce de leche cookies stored in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 2 months.
Roll with It!
If you are not a fan of shredded coconut you can also try rolling your cookies in:
Traditional alfajores made with delicate shortbread cookies and a gooey dulce de leche center are easy to make and even easier to enjoy. Dusted with powdered sugar or rolled in shredded coconut these cookies will have you coming back for more!
If you make this recipe and love it, remember to stop back and give it a 5-star rating – it helps others find the recipe! ❤️️
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, powdered sugar, and cornstarch; set aside.
Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
Add the egg yolk, vanilla extract, and salt, and mix until combined and smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed.
Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, mixing until the dough just comes together. This may take a few minutes, as the mixture will go from looking sandy to seeing small clumps, and then it will eventually come together into a dough.
Separate the dough in half and work with one piece at a time. Roll the dough ¼-inch thick on a well-floured surface. Using a plain round or fluted round 2-inch cutter, cut out the cookies and place them on the prepared baking sheets, leaving at least 1 inch of space between cookies. Reroll any scraps and continue cutting rounds.
Bake until slightly firm and set, 11 to 14 minutes. Allow to rest for 5 minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Assemble the Alfajores: Spread about 1½ teaspoons of dulce de leche on the bottom of half of the cookies, then top with the remaining cookies. Dust with powdered sugar before serving. You can also roll the sides in shredded coconut, if desired.