Bringing new life to hamantaschen was a challenge. People are dead set on their favorite flavors like classic poppy seed and apricot. Of course, newer directions such as Nutella and rainbow funfetti are a big hit with the kids, but reinventing the grown-up hamantaschen into a decadent cookie you actually crave was very important to me. Then it hit me: alfajores!
Alfajores are an incredibly decadent sandwich cookie filled with dulce de leche, a caramel-like spread made from condensed milk.
The cookies have a complex history. Most people associate alfajores with Argentina, Uruguay and Peru, but they were brought to the New World by the Spanish in the 16th century. Before that, it’s said that the cookies were actually an Arab import when Spain was largely under Arab control in the 14th and 15th centuries.
I was introduced to the famous South American cookie at the well-known Israeli cafe chain Aroma in New York City. Alfajores are actually extremely popular in Israel today, much more so than in the States. It was love at first bite. Cornstarch and extra egg yolks give the cookies a very light, crumbly texture that melts in your mouth. Then, slowly cooked dulce de leche is sandwiched between. The cookies are usually rolled in lightly toasted coconut and sprinkled with powdered sugar.
Translating all of these elements into our beloved traditional hamantaschen was a no brainer, and made for the most popular hamantaschen in my house to date! Making your own dulce de leche filling is actually incredibly easy, but if you can find it at your grocery store, feel free to use it here.
For the dough:
2/3 cup butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest (zest from 1 lemon)
2 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (I prefer Morton’s)
For the dulce de leche filling:
2 14-ounce cans sweetened condensed milk
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup unsweetened large flaked coconut (This is preferable to the heavily sweetened macaroon coconut.)
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1. Remove the labels from both cans of sweetened condensed milk. Place the cans on their sides in the bottom of large pot. Fill the pot with water. Bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for at least 3 1/2 hours. Add water if necessary, so that the cans are completely submerged in water. Use tongs to remove the cans from the hot water; allow the cans to cool for least 1 hour.
2. Open the cans and scoop out the caramelized dulce de leche. Add the salt and vanilla extract, and whisk to combine thoroughly. Set aside.
3. In a medium size bowl, whisk the flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt.
4. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the butter and sugar. Cream on medium speed until lighter in color and fluffy. Add the eggs and lemon zest and thoroughly combine. Add the flour mixture to the bowl of the mixer, and beat on low speed until the dough comes together in a ball, about 1 minute. Dump the dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap, bringing it together into a ball, then flatten with your hands. Wrap the dough tightly and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes.
5. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the coconut flakes on the baking sheet and toast until lightly golden brown, about 8-10 minutes. Pour the coconut into a bowl and set aside.
6. Cut the dough in half. Dust your work surface with flour. Working with one half, roll the chilled dough out to ¼ inch thickness. Use a 3-inch round cutter to cut out as many circles as possible. Re-roll the scrapes and repeat with the second half of dough.
7. Place a teaspoon of filling in the center of each circle. Fill a small bowl with water, dip your finger in and run it around the perimeter of each cookie. This is the glue that will hold the dough together. Pinch the top of circle together, then bring up the bottom of the circle, creating 3 distinct points. Pinch the corners tightly, and up the sides very tightly, enclosing the filling, so it doesn’t spill out. Dulce de leche is a softer filling, so a tight seal is important.
8. Place the shaped cookies 2-3 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet and place the cookies in the freezer for 15 minutes to help maintain their shape.
9. Bake the cold cookies for 12-15 minutes until the edges are slightly golden brown. Remove from oven and sprinkle with toasted coconut and powdered sugar. Serves 15.