How Sweet It Is: Argentine Desserts and Treats

Do you have a sweet tooth? If so, sit back and read about the arsenal of sweets, treats and desserts that the Argentines have at the ready to satisfy your craving for azúcar (sugar).

Dulce de Leche
I've already waxed poetic about the wonders of this thick, gooey, caramel spread beloved by the Argentines. They should be applauded for having managed to work dulce de leche into just about every goodie imaginable—it's truly impressive. Read more about dulce de leche and how to make it at home.

The undisputed champion of the cookie world in Argentina, the alfajor is a sandwich cookie filled with dulce de leche or, Alfajor de Maicena by Andrea Rock, on Flickr  used with permission of photographer]sometimes, jam. The cookies are often dusted in powdered sugar or covered in chocolate or meringue. The cookie shown in the photo is an alfajor de maicena, which is a type made from cornstarch and then filled with dulce de leche and rolled in coconut. Another popular style is the alfajor marplatense. These alfajores are very similar to a MoonPie but with dulce de leche in the center instead of marshmallow. Alfajores can be found anywhere from the corner store to a fancy bakery, in addition to specialty shops like Havanna.

Dulce de Membrillo
Dulce de membrillo is a dense paste made from the quince fruit. Though the quince resembles a pear, the fruit's white flesh turns a deep ruby red after it's been cooked for a long period of time. An abundance of natural pectin causes the quince paste to set up very firm, creating a sliceable block that's commonly served with cheese or spread on bread at breakfast or as a snack. Dulce de membrillo's sweet-tart flavor also figures prominently in goodies such as pasta frola, pepitas, and pastelitos.

Facturas are Argentine pastries, the most popular of which are medialunas. Medialunas are basically small croissants that come in two versions: sweet or savory. Other types of pastries include bolas de fraile, tortitas negras, and libritos. Fillings and toppings for facturas feature the usual suspects: dulce de leche, dulce de membrillo, and pastry cream.

Facturas by Andrea Rock, on Flickr [used with permission of photographer]

Argentines take their ice cream very seriously, as evidenced by the numerous heladerías (ice cream shops) that dot any decent-sized town here. Argentine helado, made in the style of Italian gelato, is an intensely-flavored product that's denser and creamier than American-style ice cream. The best heladerías have a multitude of flavors to choose from, at least half of which are some variation on either chocolate or dulce de leche.

Bonus: If you don't feel like leaving the house, merely pick up the phone. Just about every ice cream shop offers delivery!

Helados | Ice Cream by katiemetz, on Flickr

With a taste and texture similar to the Middle Eastern candy halva, Mantecol's primary ingredients are cocoa powder, peanut paste, and sugar. While Mantecol is consumed year-round, it's particularly popular at Christmas. It also makes frequent appearances as an ice cream flavor.

Churros are deep-fried dough sprinkled with sugar. This tasty snack originated in Spain, but the Argentines have co-opted them and made them their own by serving them or filling them with—what else?—dulce de leche. They're also available plain for those who could do without the additional sugar rush. Churros are normally sold at bakeries or street stands, but in tourist areas (e.g. the beaches of Necochea), the churrero will set out on foot among the crowds with a basket of fresh churros to sell.

Churros by Transparent Reality, on Flickr

Mass-produced Argentine chocolate is decent but nothing to get overly excited about; however, I assure you that the delectable artisanal chocolates found in Bariloche will give you a legitimate excuse to go off your diet. This corner of Patagonia, known as the "Switzerland of South America," has a well-deserved reputation as the place for chocolate in Argentina. My all-time favorite chocolate shop is Mamuschka with its superb truffles and bonbons filled with various liqueurs, fruits, creams, and nuts.

Postre Balcarce
Postre Balcarce is one of those everything-but-the-kitchen-sink type of desserts. It's got meringue. It's got candied chestnuts. It's got dulce de leche (are you beginning to see a pattern here?). Plus there's whipped cream, walnuts, coconut… There are more ingredients, but I think you get the idea. If you just can't imagine this sugar bomb, here is a photo. Read all about this decadent dessert in this post by Layne at Taxi Gourmet.

Queso y Dulce
Queso y dulce is the minimalist's answer to Postre Balcarce.Martín Fierro by The Black Azar, on Flickr [used with permission of the photographer] It's a simple dessert featuring a slice of cheese and a slice of either dulce de membrillo or dulce de batata (sweet potato paste).

In Argentina, queso y dulce also goes by the name postre vigilante, while in Uruguay it's often called a Martín Fierro, after the hero of the Argentine gaucho epic of the same name.

So let's hear it in the comments section. Which Argentine goodies are you a fan of?

[Photo credits: Andrea Rock, Transparent Reality, and The Black Azar]

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