Tender, crumbly, orange-scented shortbread cookies are stuffed with sweet and creamy dulce de leche to make the South American treats known as Alfajores de Maicena. With delicate scalloped edges and a dusting of snowy white powdered sugar, they’re an elegant dessert for any occasion.

Best of all, my simple alfajores recipe requires just 12 ingredients and 30 minutes of prep time!

white serving platter of alfajores de maicena sandwich cookies dusted with powdered sugar.

What Are Alfajores?

Popular in Argentina, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela, alfajores (pronounced “alfa-HOR-ays”) are sandwich cookies that have been a big part of South American culture since the 19th century.

Similar to French macarons, these tasty treats consist of two biscuits glued together with a sticky filling, the most popular of which is the caramel known as dulce de leche (a.k.a. manjar blanco in Peru or arequipe in Venezuela). The primary difference between macarons and alfajores is that the former is made with naturally gluten-free nut-based meringues, whereas the latter is made with shortbread.

Despite sharing the same name as an Andalusian specialty, the Spanish style of this cookie is a shortbread that is reliant on nuts like almonds and hazelnuts, does not have cornstarch, and is served without a filling. As such, the Latin American version is often called alfajores de maicena (maicena means “cornstarch”) to differentiate between the two.

Why I Love This Alfajor Recipe

If a dessert has dulce de leche you can bet I’m probably going to love it. The first time I ever tasted alfajores cookies, a friend of mine sent them to me for Christmas. She told me to expect something yummy, so when the package arrived I couldn’t wait to open up the cute little tin to see her homemade baked goods.

Nestled in tissue paper and tucked into an airtight container, the delicate alfajores did surprisingly well in the mail. These cookies are beautiful enough to serve for a spring brunch, a baby shower, or a wedding, but they are also one of my favorite go-tos for holiday cookie platters. They are elegant looking, extremely delicious, and are perfect for shipping!

While not entirely traditional, my alfajor dough has a citrus hint from orange zest and orange extract. The bright perfume of citrus gives these classic shortbread cookies an extra zing that tastes amazing next to the sugary sweet caramel center.

Ingredients & Substitutions

As promised, you only need 12 ingredients to make these alfajores cookies. Here’s what to grab:

  • All-Purpose Flour – You can also swap in cake flour if that’s what you have on hand.
  • Cornstarch – Using over a cup sounds like a lot, but contributes to the tender, crumbly texture of these cookies. If corn is off the menu, try swapping in an equal amount of tapioca starch or cassava flour instead!
  • Baking Powder & Baking Soda – Yes, you need both. No, they’re not the same.
  • Unsalted Butter – You can also use salted butter, but the cookies will not be quite as sweet as the original version.
  • Granulated Sugar – Brown sugar has too much moisture, so don’t try substituting it.
  • Egg & Egg Whites – While some alfajores recipes call for extra egg yolks, I find that using egg whites produces a lighter, airier texture for the shortbread.
  • Orange Zest & Orange Extract – I love adding the bright pop of citrus to my shortbread. Feel free to swap in 1 teaspoon of orange blossom water for the orange extract for a slightly more floral feel.
  • Vanilla Extract – I usually reach for Mexican vanilla extract for richness and depth of flavor. Vanilla powder or paste can also be used.
  • Dulce de Leche – Feel free to use either store-bought or homemade (all you need is a can of sweetened condensed milk and a slow cooker!).
  • Powdered Sugar – Optional, but quite pretty.

How To Make Alfajor Cookies

You only need about 30 minutes of active time to make traditional alfajores de maicena. Watch this video to watch how it’s done:

Step 1: Whisk dry ingredients in a large bowl until combined.

Step 2: Cream Butter & Sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.

Step 3: Add wet ingredients to butter. Add the egg and egg whites one at a time, then add the orange zest, orange extract, and vanilla extract.

Step 4: Add the dry ingredients until you have a nice soft dough.

Step 5: Chill. Separate the dough in half, form into two large disks and wrap with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

wooden rolling pin with rolled out shortbread dough and a scalloped cookie stamp on a marble surface.

Step 6: Prep. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease or line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Step 7: Roll the refrigerated dough to about ¼ inch thick. Cut with a round or fluted cookie cutter, then place on prepared pan.

stamping out scalloped-edged cookies from the rolled out dough for making alfajores.

Step 8: Bake until the undersides have a light golden brown color. Let them rest for 1 minute on the cookie sheet and then remove to a cooling rack to cool completely.

baked and unfilled shortbread cookies cooling on a rack before filling with dulce de leche for making alfajores de maicena.

Step 9: Assemble. Spread dulce de leche on the flat undersides of half the cookies. Top with remaining cookies, flat-side down, to form sandwich cookies. Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving, if desired. Enjoy!

adding dulce de leche to the bottom halves of the shortbread.

Optional Variations

While I love my alfajor recipe just the way it is, there’s always plenty of room for customization. Here are a few variations I think are Muy Bueno:

  • Switch up your fillings – sometimes called alfajores de miel, this variation takes shortbread cookies and fills them with thick and creamy whipped honey (miel) or a fruit-flavored jam or marmalade. You can also swap in the Mexican goat’s milk caramel known as cajeta.
  • Dip in chocolate (white, milk, or dark) – Also known as alfajores blancos y negros, the dulce de leche-stuffed cookies are then dipped in chocolate for a variation that is popular in both Argentina and Uruguay.
  • Add an extra layerTriple alfajores (pronounced “tree-PLAY”) add another layer of filling and an extra cookie for even more fun.
  • Flavor with almond or anise extract – Instead of reaching for bright citrus flavors, try swapping in nutty or herbal flavors instead!
  • Dairy-Free – Swap in your favorite plant-based butter instead.
  • Gluten-Free – Swap in a cup-for-cup all-purpose gluten-free flour blend.
  • Roll in coconut – Some alfajor recipes call for rolling the edges of the cookies in dessicated coconut to help seal in all the caramelly goodness.

Expert Tips

  • Make-Ahead Tip – If you don’t want to use the dough right away, you can refrigerate it for up to 3 days or freeze it for up to a month, then thaw it overnight in the fridge. 
  • Storage – Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.
  • Shipping – Make sure to use an airtight container and plenty of tissue paper to give them a soft bed for travel.
  • Don’t over-mix the dough. Over-mixing results in tough cookies due to the overproduction of gluten. Mix until the dry ingredients are just incorporated, then divide the dough and chill it.
  • Resist the temptation to overfill the cookies. If you’re a “more is always better” kind of person, I hear you and I see you. That said, try not to add more than about a tablespoon of filling to each cookie or the ratio will be off. If you have extra dulce de leche left over, you can gift it in a small mason jar alongside the alfajores!
assembled alfajores on a marble slab after being dusted with powdered sugar.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are alfajores similar to?

I suppose the closest cousin is probably the Linzer cookie, though instead of filling the shortbread pieces with raspberry jam as you would for Linzers, alfajores are most often filled with dulce de leche.

Should alfajores be refrigerated?

They don’t need to be refrigerated, but if you live somewhere hot and humid, it will help to extend their shelf life.

How should I serve alfajor cookies?

I think they’re lovely with coffee or tea. They’re also a great pair with any other desserts like ice cream or pudding where you might like a little texture.

If you make this recipe, please let me know! Leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ rating on this recipe below and leave a comment, take a photo and tag me on Instagram with #muybuenocooking.

rectangular white serving platter filled with powdered sugar-dusted alfajor cookies.

Alfajores (Dulce de Leche Shortbread Cookies)

4.63 (8 ratings)
Alfajores are very popular in Argentina, Uruguay, Ecuador, Chile, Paraguay, Peru, and Brazil. These are delicate little cookies dusted in powdered sugar. I took one bite and was in heaven. Buttery and tender with a rich and creamy caramel center. 

Ingredients

Instructions 

  • In a large bowl combine the all purpose flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and baking soda. Whisk well and set aside.
  • In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the egg and egg whites one at a time, then add the orange zest, orange extract, and vanilla extract. Then slowly add the dry ingredients until you have a nice soft dough.
  • Separate the dough in half, form into two large disks and wrap with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Place the refrigerated dough on a floured surface, flour a rolling pin and roll out to about ¼ inch thick. Cut the dough with a 2 inch round or fluted cookie cutter. Place cookies on a greased cookie sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the underside have a light golden brown color. Let them rest for 1 minute on the cookie sheet and then let them cool completely on a cooling rack.
  • Spread 1 tablespoon of dulce de leche on flat sides of cookies. Top with remaining cookies, flat-side down, to form sandwich cookies. Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving, if desired.
  • Store cookies at room temperature in an airtight container for 5 days covered, or overnight in the fridge.

Video

Notes

  • My dough recipe has a citrus hint from orange zest and orange extract. The hint of citrus gives these classic shortbread cookies an extra zing. Feel free to leave it out if your are not a fan of orange flavored things.
  • If you don’t want to use the dough right away, you can refrigerate it for up to 3 days or freeze it for up to a month, then thaw it overnight in the fridge. 
Optional Variations
  • Switch up your fillings – sometimes called alfajores de miel, this variation takes shortbread cookies and fills them with thick and creamy whipped honey (miel) or a fruit-flavored jam or marmalade. You can also swap in the Mexican goat’s milk caramel known as cajeta.
  • Dip in chocolate (white, milk, or dark) – Also known as alfajores blancos y negros, the dulce de leche-stuffed cookies are then dipped in chocolate for a variation that is popular in both Argentina and Uruguay.
  • Add an extra layerTriple alfajores (pronounced “tree-PLAY”) add another layer of filling and an extra cookie for even more fun.
  • Flavor with almond or anise extract – Instead of reaching for bright citrus flavors, try swapping in nutty or herbal flavors instead!
  • Dairy-Free – Swap in your favorite plant-based butter instead.
  • Gluten-Free – Swap in a cup-for-cup all-purpose gluten-free flour blend.
  • Roll in coconut – Some alfajor recipes call for rolling the edges of the cookies in dessicated coconut to help seal in all the caramelly goodness.
Calories: 159kcal, Carbohydrates: 20g, Protein: 2g, Fat: 8g, Saturated Fat: 5g, Cholesterol: 27mg, Sodium: 20mg, Potassium: 52mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 6g, Vitamin A: 246IU, Vitamin C: 1mg, Calcium: 19mg, Iron: 1mg

Photography by Jenna Sparks
Originally published: March 2016.