Cooking with friends is a monthly series in which my dearest friends are inviting me into their kitchens and teaching me their favorite recipes. These bonding experiences deepen our friendships, expand my palate, and enhance my culinary skills by sharing a timeless practice: cooking.
I miss travelling. I miss it a lot. I miss the excitement of being somewhere new. I miss the thrill of meeting new people: people I can relate to who have similar interests and values. People who are open to explore and discover.
Juan Pablo is one of those people: kind, humble, and genuinely curious about everything that surrounds him. In my previous blog post, I talked about the time I spent with him and his family in Vina del Mar. Feeling at home in another country on another continent is a once in a lifetime occurrence that many travelers never have the opportunity to experience, and I will never forget my time there.
Even though I met Juan Pablo for the first time during my trip in Chile, I felt as if I’d known him forever. His strong bond with his family was the first thing I noticed about him, perhaps because I could relate to that emotion. Although I live thousands of miles from my family, I still think often about our Sunday lunches, our weekend trips to our cabin at Mujdeni, our amazing holiday dinners, and the incredible spreads my mom and grandma put together every time we had guests. Whenever our family had visitors, we celebrated the special occasion just like Juan Pablo’s family did when I visited them. We celebrate friendship, and we do it by eating, drinking, sharing stories, and laughing.
Juan Pablo is the type of person everyone likes to be around: always happy, calm, and curious. His happiness and curiosity are especially genuine and contagious. While there, he asked me to sing him traditional songs from Romania and Hungary. I initially refused, as I am very aware of my horrible singing skills, but he wouldn’t give up until I sang him Romania’s national anthem. You know those awkward moments when they play the national anthem at major sport events (I’m thinking soccer here), and the cameras get too close to the players, and you hear them singing, and you cringe? Yeah.. that’s exactly how I felt. Fortunately, Juan Pablo enjoyed it, which made it less awkward.
We talked a lot about several topics. We discussed art, history, music, travels and, of course, food. As it turns out, Juan Pablo is a really good cook, and his cooking style is very similar to mine. Instead of following recipes, he prefers improvising and eye-balling. When I asked him to teach me to cook something that resonates with him and his culture, he replied alfajores without hesitation. These sandwich cookies are made all over South America and the South American people take a lot of pride in it. Although there are several variations to this dessert, the main ingredients are flour (or cornmeal), butter, sugar and dulce de leche.
Alfajores are his favorite type of dessert. Although he prefers them with fig jam filling, we agreed to stick to the traditional dulce de leche (manjar in Chile) version. Buen provecho!
Juan Pablo's Chilean Alfajores
Yields 12-15 sandwich cookies
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes
- 4 ½ oz. (130 g.) unsalted butter at room temperature
- 4 ½ oz. (130 g.) vegetable shortening
- 3 egg yolks
- 5 ½ oz. (150 g.) sugar
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 2 tsp. lemon zest (about half a lemon)
- 7 oz. (200 g.) all-purpose flour
- 10 ½ oz. (300 g.) corn starch
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 1 cup manjar (dulce de leche)
- ½ Tbsp. milk
- 1 cup grated coconu
- Pre-heat the oven to 360F(180C) degrees.
- In a medium bowl, mix butter, shortening, yolks, sugar, vanilla extract, and lemon zest. Using a whisk or a hand mixer, beat until smooth.
- In a large bowl, sift together the flour and corn starch. Add the baking powder, and whisk until well combined.
- Add the egg mixture to the flour. Using your hand, gently knead the dough. Don’t overknead it- the dough has to be a bit crumbly.
- Sprinkle flour onto your work surface. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough to 1/4-inch thick.
- Using a round cookie cutter (2 inches or less), cut out the cookies and transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet.
- Bake for 12-15 minutes. Make sure to remove from the oven as soon as the cookies start browning.
- Let the cookies cool. In the meantime, combine manjar (dulce de leche) and milk in a small bowl and whisk until well combined.
- Spread about 1 teaspoon of dulce de leche over one cookie and top with another one. Lightly press to spread more evenly.
- Roll alfajores in coconut. Serve at room temperature.
- Sifting the flour will make the dough lighter and fluffier.