So what is an alfajor?

Good question! The word can mean different things in different places, but let me ask you this: from what language does the word originate do you think? Any guesses? No? Well what if I wrote it this way: al-fajor. Does that help any?

If you said “Arabic” then you’re correct. Alfajores were an Arab import to Spain, back when most of it was under Arab control and called Al-Andalus. The word “alfajor” could be derived from one of several different words. It could come from an old Arabic word meaning “excellent” or “luxurious”. Alternately it might come from the word al-hasú which means “filled”. Or it might come from the word alfahua which means “honeycomb”. Or maybe it’s derived from a Spanish-Arabic hybrid term that means “nectar”. Whichever is the case I think you can see we have a theme emerging here: alfajores are sweet and they taste good. Pretty much all you need to know.

I will say however that alfajores are rather different in the New World compared to the Old. Over in Spain, or so I understand it, they’re little elongated treats full of nuts, spices and honey. In other words, they still have all the hallmarks of a Middle Eastern sweet. Over on this side of The Drink they’re quite different: little sandwich cookie-type confections filled with dulce de leche, caramel, jam or even chocolate. Depending on where in Central or South America you find them they might also be enrobed in chocolate or a sugar glaze.

Oh and why we’re on the subject of giving names to things I have another question for you: who named the stars? Here’s a hint: Aldebaran, Altair, Alpheratz, Fomalhaut, Rasalhague, Sadalsuud. Any guesses?

15 thoughts on “So what is an alfajor?”

  1. Well, Aldebaran, Altair, Alpheratz, Fomalhaut and Rasalhague are all stars used for celestial navigation – you know, that old way of plotting your position using a sextant. Sadalsuud, if I remember correctly, is not one of the selected stars as it is not bright enough! They were not all named by the Arabs as the ancent Greeks and Romans had a hand in their naming as well.

    Let a star shine on your forthcoming “cookie”. I have never made one of the New World ones but tried my hand a time back with making a batch of the Old World alfajores. They turned out quite well but not something I will try again. I have a few recipes for the New World ones, but have not tried any of them as yet. I will watch your post with interest!

    1. All I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by! Your last name isn’t Masefield by any chance? 😉

      Thanks very much and I shall do my best!

      Cheers,

      – Joe

  2. Hi Joe! My local Chilean restaurant sells, almost exclusively, four kinds of empanadas and two kinds of ‘dulce de leche sandwich cookies’. The shop owner refers to one of these as alfajores and the other as empolvados, I believe. My favorite of the two is not make with cakey or shortbread-like cookies but a darker, golden, flaky pastry. Google searching is not making the distinction between alfajores and empolvados clear really but I’d love to know more about the flaky, crunch pastry version.

    That version is pictured, here, in this yelp review of the restaurant.

    What do you think? Is this something familiar to you? Can you point me in the direction of a recipe? It’s really, in my opinion, a superior option.

    Thanks!

    1. Hey Rebecca!

      It’s very likely the empolvado that is the more cake-like, since they’re made with sponge cake batter. However I will say that I’ve never seen an alfajore with a flaky pastry top before. It could be that it’s just the way they make them in Chile. If I find a recipe for that style I shall post it!

      Cheers,

      – Joe

  3. Hey Joe,

    It’s been a long time since I had a comment for you. (lucky you)
    I make alfajores in the café I bake at, folks love them, even if they have never had them.
    I started with a recipe I found in the Gourmet cookbook. I always fill them with dulce’ de leche’ and I always use Pisco in the dough. (perhaps a little Pisco might find it’s way into the baker on long holiday nights, but I’m not admitting to that)

    1. Since when has brandy ever hurt anything? Very nice, Ed, thanks for the comment and nice to hear from you again!

      – Joe

  4. Interesting. Several years ago I remember searching for an alfajores recipe on the web, and I found one that was totally unrecognizable as what I knew as “alfajores.” It was as you describe, and I believe it was from Spain. I thought it was interesting, but it wasn’t what I was looking for at the time. I forgot about it, but your post brought it back. I’ll look for it.

    1. Yep! That’s it…it’s like a roll. As far as I know I’ve never eaten one. Maybe I should try them!

      Cheers and thanks, Chana!

      – Joe

  5. Wonderful blog! I just want to tell you that the singular noun is “alfajor”. It becomes “alfajores” because in Spanish you always need a vowel to form a syllable. So you need to add an “e” betwen the consonants: “alfajor+e+s”.

    ¡Saludos!

    1. Clearly Mrs. Pastry hasn’t looked at the blog in a while. As a Spanish teacher she would surely have corrected me. I’ll have to give her some grief about it!

      Thanks for stepping up to the job, Rebeca. I appreciate it!

      – Joe

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