When my friend Amanda said, “these tastes just like Good Shepherd,” I knew I did it right.
Good Shepherd is a convent in northern Philippines, and it is well-known across the country for the delicious sweets and pastries they sell. I think some people even forget that it’s actually a convent, and not just a brand of sweet treats. I love their ube jam and alfajor cookies, two of the most popular products.
Alfajor coookies, or alfajores, are buttery cookie sandwiches filled with dulce de leche and covered in powdered sugar. The cookies are like shortbread, sturdy and crumbly at the same time, with the slightest hint of citrus. It’s filled with thick and sticky caramel or dulce de leche.
I wanted to recreate those alfajores – those cookies that I would beg my parents to buy for me any time they are in Baguio city, where the Good Shepherd convent is located. I used to pack plastic containers of those cookies to bring back to Boston with me, or even pack them in my carry-on luggage. They were a nice little reminder of home, a sweet bite from the Philippines.
Years later, I discovered to my joy that alfajores are actually well-loved in other countries, too. I saw them when I first visited the Taza chocolate factory in Somerville (check out my vintage post). The alfajores were covered in dark chocolate, and were called maitelates. I saw alfajores in various magazines and blogs, saying these cookies are common in Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia, Mexico, and other Latin American countries. I saw versions dipped in coconut, drizzled with chocolate, or rolled in nuts. All look delicious, but I wanted to make the alfajores dusted in confectioner’s sugar, just like the ones I used to enjoy in the Philippines.
I ended up making these cookies at 11 pm on a Friday night, knowing that I can bring them with me to a big lunch the following day with some of my Filipino friends. The cookies were easy to make; I didn’t use a mixer, and the cookies only needed to be chilled for about 20 minutes. I used 2-inch cookie cutters, baked them in batches, then spooned thick dulce de leche to make sandwiches (look for dulce de leche in your specialty or gourmet stores, or in the Mexican aisles of your grocery stores. You can also easily purchase cans or jars on Amazon.) I kept the cookie sandwiches refrigerated then sprinkled powdered sugar on top the next day, but you can also assemble them completely before storing in an air-tight container.
My friends really liked the alfajores, with a few of them sneaking in a cookie before our lunch orders arrived (cookies as appetizers are a good idea). The cookies were gone quickly, with friends licking powdered sugar from their fingers while saying thank you’s with big grins.
No more need to stuff alfajores in our maletas (luggages) next time we come back from the Philippines. I have a feeling the nuns from the convent won’t mind.
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar, plus more for sprinkling on top
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
1 1/2 cups dulce de leche
- In a big mixing bowl, combine all ingredients (except dulce de leche) and mix together until the dough can form into a ball. You can also use a food processor or a stand mixer.
- Shape the dough into a disc, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 350 F.
Sprinkle some flour onto your work surface and roll the dough to about 1/4-inch thick. Using a 2-inch round cookie cutter, cut out the cookies and transfer to cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Combine dough scraps together, gently press into a ball, and roll out again so you can cut out more rounds. I ended up with around 48 cookie rounds (enough to make 24 cookie sandwiches).
Bake cookies for about 12-14 minutes, or until edges are lightly golden. Let cookies cool for about 15 minutes.
- Assemble cookie sandwiches by spreading about 2 teaspoons of dulce de leche on the flat side of one cookie, then topping with another cookie flat side down.
- Generous sprinkle powdered sugar before serving. Cookies should be kept in the refrigerator in an air-tight container if not consumed immediately.
Have you ever had alfajores?