Alfajores Marplatenses: Move Over, Havanna!

Alfajores Marplatenses [Havanna-style] by katiemetz, on FlickrWe're celebrating Argentina's beloved sandwich cookie, the alfajor! The alfajor takes many forms, with different regions of the country whipping up their own unique versions, from triple-layered affairs oozing with dulce de leche and bathed in chocolate to jam-filled confections glazed with sugar. To spread the love about all things alfajor, my blogging pals and I have joined forces to bake and photograph six different types of these cookies. At the bottom of my post, you'll find links to visit everyone's recipes. Make the rounds on the alfajor tour and decide which one tickles your fancy!

The recipe for the classic alfajor marplatense, two cookies joined with a layer of dulce de leche and coated in semisweet or white chocolate, was created in the 1940s by the owners of a Mar del Plata café known as Havanna. Over the years, as these sweet treats grew in fame, a box of Havanna alfajores turned into an indispensable gift to take home to friends and family following a visit to Mar del Plata, an immensely popular seaside resort in Argentina. Today the company turns out the most well-known – if not necessarily the best-loved – alfajores in all of Argentina.

Havanna in Necochea, Argentina by katiemetz, on Flickr

Coffee and an Alfajor at Havanna, Mar del Plata, Argentina by FotosEli / Elizabeth Lovelace [used with permission of photographer] Havanna Alfajor [alfajor marplatense] by FotosEli / Elizabeth Lovelace [used with permission of photographer]

These days, scores of brands of alfajores marplatenses exist, both artisanal and mass-produced, and Argentines have very strong feelings on the subject of best alfajor. For example, many people from Necochea swear allegiance to Lagrifa, a brand of alfajor marplatense produced right here in my city. The first time I visited Necochea, Daniel's family gifted me a box of assorted alfajores from Lagrifa with its colorful package displaying a beach scene.

Alfajores marplatenses come in several flavor combinations including cookies filled with dulce de membrillo and covered with a light merengue and others stuffed with chocolate cream and bathed in yet more chocolate. And while just two cookies are the norm, some prefer three-layered alfajores known as alfajores triples. However, the classic alfajor marplatense with dulce de leche claims the most faithful followers, and here you have a recipe to recreate these delights in your own kitchen!

Alfajor marplatense by katiemetz, on FlickrHavanna-style Alfajor by katiemetz, on Flickr Chocolate-covered Sandwich Cookies with Dulce de Leche by katiemetz, on Flickr

Alfajores Marplatenses | Chocolate-covered Sandwich Cookies with Dulce de Leche
Adapted from a recipe by La Cocina de Ile

Ingredients

12 Tbsp. [1 1/2 sticks] butter, softened
1 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract 
1 1/2 Tbsp. Nutella [chocolate hazelnut spread]
zest of 1 orange
1 egg
1/4 c. milk
3 c. flour
2/3 c. cornstarch
1 Tbsp. baking powder

approx. 1 1/2 c. dulce de leche repostero [this type is thicker and primarily used as a filling for desserts – substitute regular dulce de leche if unavailable]

16 oz. semisweet chocolate or white chocolate [or substitute baño para repostería if available and omit shortening]
1 1/2 Tbsp. vegetable shortening

Directions

In a medium bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until smooth. Add the vanilla, Nutella, orange zest, egg and milk [mixture will look lumpy], and set aside.

In a separate, large bowl, sift together the flour, cornstarch and baking powder.

Make a well in the center of the flour mixture, and add the wet ingredients. Mix the ingredients with a wooden spoon until they come together to form a dough. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and lightly knead the dough, just until smooth and uniform. Form the dough into a ball, and place it in the refrigerator to rest for at least 5 minutes.

Roll out the dough to a thickness of 1/8 to 3/16 inch [yes, use a ruler]. Keep the dough on the thin side if you want to make triple-decker alfajores. Using a 2 or 2 1/2-inch cookie cutter [or even a drinking glass], cut out circles of dough. Gather and reroll the scraps. Arrange the circles of dough on baking sheets lined with parchment or silicone baking mats, and place in the freezer for 30 to 45 minutes, or until dough hardens.

Bake in a preheated 375ºF oven for 5 to 7 minutes. The dough will puff slightly. You want the cookies to be just barely cooked through without browning. If you overbake the cookies, they will be dry and crumbly rather than moist. Remove from the oven and transfer to wire racks to completely cool.

Spread a generous amount of dulce de leche over the flat side of a cookie, and top it with another cookie, flat side down. Add another layer of dulce de leche and one more cookie for triple-decker alfajores.

Naked Alfajor Marplatense

Melt the chocolate and the shortening together in a stainless steel bowl set over barely simmering water, stirring frequently [tips on melting chocolate]. Keep the chocolate warm as you dip the alfajores.

Dip the alfajores one by one into the chocolate, using a fork to turn them over and then lift them out. Allow the excess chocolate to drip back into the bowl before transferring the alfajor to a baking sheet lined with parchment. Allow the chocolate to set at room temperature.

Store the alfajores in a tightly-sealed container overnight, separating the cookies with parchment. This step improves the texture of the alfajores, especially if they spent a touch too long in the oven.

Alfajores Marplatenses | Havanna-style Alfajores by katiemetz, on Flickr

[Photo credit: Images of Havanna alfajor and coffee courtesy of FotosEli/Elizabeth Lovelace, professional photographer in Mar del Plata]

Alfajores salteños by Paula de Caro Alfajores de maizena by Ana Astri-O'Reilly Alfajores Cordobeses by Aledys Ver Alfajores santafesinos by Meag Morrell Alfajores mendocinos by Rebecca Caro

Take the Alfajor Tour!
Alfajores salteños from Paula at Buenos Aires Foodies and Bee My Chef
Alfajores de maizena from Ana at Ana Travels
Alfajores cordobeses from Aledys at From Argentina to the Netherlands, For Love!
Alfajores santafesinos from Meag at A Domestic Disturbance
Alfajores mendocinos from Rebecca at From Argentina With Love

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Buenos Aires: Merging Past and Present

Inspired by moving wartime images of Leningrad, Russia fused with present-day photos of the city, now known as Saint Petersburg, Argentines Gerardo Soloduja and Jorge Bosch decided to employ a similar technique with photographs of Buenos Aires landmarks. Gerardo, a graphic designer, and Jorge, a photojournalist, created their site Buenos Aires Simultánea [in Spanish] to showcase the modern images that they've meticulously superimposed over vintage ones culled from the city's archives. The stunning effect created allows the viewer to appreciate both past and present at the same time.

Gerardo kindly gave me permission to share the following photos on Seashells and Sunflowers. He also mentioned that he plans to update the site soon with new photos, so keep your eyes peeled for fresh images. Considerable photography and editing skills are required to produce photos like these. Enjoy!

Puente Blanco, El Rosedal, Buenos Aires, Argentina [Used with permission of Buenos Aires Simultánea][El Puente Blanco or Puente de los Enamorados // The White Bridge or Lovers' Bridge, El Rosedal]

Located in the picturesque public park known as El Rosedal, the White Bridge or Lovers' Bridge has served as a meeting place for generations of Buenos Aires residents. The bridge spans one of two manmade lakes found within the Bosques de Palermo, a 200-acre (80-hectare) green space that includes El Rosedal.

Estación Constitución, Buenos Aires, Argentina [Used with permission of Buenos Aires Simultánea][Estación Constitución // Constitution Railway Station]

Built by the British-owned company Buenos Aires Great Southern Railway, the original terminal at Plaza Constitución was inaugurated in 1865. The present-day station, completed in the early1930s, features an impressive concourse – one of the largest in the world. Constitution Station once linked the city of Buenos Aires with Necochea and Quequén, bringing trainloads of tourists from the capital to enjoy the area's beaches in summer. Today, the rail line extends no farther than Mar del Plata, 78 miles (125 km) north of Necochea.

Catedral Metropolitana, Buenos Aires, Argentina [Used with permission of Buenos Aires Simultánea][Catedral Metropolitana de Buenos Aires // Metropolitan Cathedral of Buenos Aires]

Argentina's most important Catholic church, the Metropolitan Cathedral of Buenos Aires, occupies a corner of the Plaza de Mayo, in the city's historic center. First erected in 1622, the cathedral has been rebuilt several times over the centuries. The current neoclassical façade – more reminiscent of a Greek temple than a Catholic church – was completed in 1862.

[Photo credits: All images used with the permission of Gerardo Soloduja of Buenos Aires Simultánea]

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The Birds of My Barrio

Some days the neighbors just won't keep quiet. Even with the windows of my office firmly shut, I unintentionally eavesdrop on them crooning love songs to each other or bickering back and forth. Sometimes I hear them squabbling over lunch or the best spot to observe the comings and goings of the barrio. In spite of it all, we generally get along fairly well, although Daniel does get a bit cross when they unabashedly steal the biggest and best cherries from our tree.

Let's meet the neighbors, shall we?

Tero (Vanellus chilensis) by Edwin E. Harvey on Flickr [used under Creative Commons license] [Tero // Southern Lapwing]

In the late afternoon, when they're often seen flying overhead together in small groups of five or six, the sunlight makes the teros' white underwings glow in shades of gold and orange. On terra firma, the teros often move together in pairs. These large birds are quite territorial and quick to scold you if you get too close, especially when they're guarding their nests, which they build on the ground. The tero's name comes from the sound of its call. Take a listen.

Benteveo (Pitangus sulphuratus) by Edwin E. Harvey on Flickr [used under Creative Commons license] [Benteveo or Bichofeo // Great Kiskadee ]

The noisy benteveo delights in surveying its surroundings from the tallest point in the neighborhood. In summertime, it frequently swoops down from its perch high atop the weeping willow in the neighbor's yard, announces its presence with its characteristic cry, and makes off with a ripe, juicy cherry. The sound of the benteveo's distinctive call gave rise to one of its many names. It seems the Argentines can't quite agree on what the bird is saying, and as a result, it also bears the name bichofeo, pitogüé, quetupí and quechupay, among others. What do you think it's saying?

Cotorra (Myiopsitta monachus) by femuruy on Flickr [used under Creative Commons license] [Cotorra argentina // Monk Parakeet]

The cotorra, a species of parrot, is considered a major agricultural pest (albeit a cute one). They build large communal stick nests in palms and eucalyptus trees, and when you get enough of these guys together, they sound like a jungle full of screeching monkeys. When they're constructing their giant nests in the trees, you can see them constantly flying around with little twigs and branches in their beaks. Though native to Argentina, the noisy cotorra has been introduced to a number of other countries including the U.S., Spain and even Japan.

Ratona Común (Troglodytes aedon) by Edwin E. Harvey on Flickr [used under Creative Commons license] [Ratona común or ratonera // Southern House Wren]

Providing endless entertainment for my cats and for me as we watch them deftly annihilate the local mosquito and fly population, the ratoneras feel very comfortable living around humans (and maybe too comfortable around cats!). In fact, they build nests in our garage every summer, and it's fun to watch the baby birds learn how to fly as they tentatively flap their wings and hop from rafter to rafter. The acrobatic ratoneras zip around the garden like lightning, and they scale the brick wall with ease, poking their tiny beaks in every crevice in search of bugs. It's not particularly pretty nor does it possess a melodious song, but I find the diminutive ratonera endearing nonetheless.

Chingolo (Zonotrichia capensis) by Edwin E. Harvey on Flickr [used under Creative Commons license] [Chingolo // Rufous-collared Sparrow]

These little guys flit back and forth constantly in the yard alongside their cousins, the house sparrows. With its tiny tuft and brownish-red collar, the chingolo is easily distinguishable from the house sparrow. Showing little fear of humans, chingolos hunt for seeds and insects and go about their business just a few feet away from our home. According to folklore, a chingolo that hops around the patio chirping insistently foretells the arrival of visitors.

Calandria Grande (Mimus saturninus) by Edwin E. Harvey on Flickr [used under Creative Commons license] [Calandria // Chalk-browed Mockingbird]

I often see the calandrias in pairs, and in summer, they come looking to pluck a tasty snack from our cherry tree or the grape arbor. Their tails often bob up and down as they walk along the high brick wall in the garden. Calandrias sing beautifully and are capable of imitating the songs of many other types of birds (hence their name in English – mockingbird). In fact, if you want to offer up praise for someone's singing abilities in Spanish, it's appropriate to say that she sings like a calandria.

Picaflor Común Hembra (Chlorostilbon aureoventris) by Edwin E. Harvey on Flickr [used under Creative Commons license] [Colibrí or picaflor común // Glittering-bellied Emerald]

The colibries in our neighborhood adore the fragrant, white flowers of our lemon tree, and in summertime I often catch them zooming around the garden. I actually saw one of these stunning hummingbirds at rest for the first time just a couple of months ago; it landed on the clothesline two or three times before jetting off for good. The colibrí shown in the photo is a female, who sports a more subdued coloration; however, the male's entire plumage shimmers in a mesmerizing shade of green, hence the English name Glittering-bellied Emerald.

Torcazas or eared doves, relatives of the mourning dove, and gorriones (house sparrows) round out the neighborhood crew that I spot from my window on a daily basis, but if I head to the beach, out into the country or down by the river, there's a whole other group of neighbors waiting to greet me.


For more information on the birds of Argentina, check out:

Photos of Birds of Argentina [English and Spanish]
Mis Aves [English, Spanish, and French]
Birds of the Pampas [English and Spanish]

Note: There are songs/calls for each of the birds, embedded within this post. Please visit the post to listen to them if viewing in a feed reader or by email subscription.

[Photo credits: Edwin E. Harvey, femuruy]

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And The Winner Is…

Friends, the Seashells and Sunflowers Argentine Recipe Contest has drawn to a close. Thank you to everyone who participated by voting, commenting, and spreading the word about the recipes and the contest. And of course, a huge thanks goes out to our participants, Cecilia, Aledys and Norma, whose delicious recipes were all worthy of first place in my book.

So, without further ado, I'd like to extend my congratulations to the contest winner, Aledys Ver of From Argentina to The Netherlands, For Love! Her recipe for budín de pan al caramelo (bread pudding with caramel sauce) captured the top spot with 42% of the vote [complete results here].

Budín de Pan al Caramelo | Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce by katiemetz, on Flickr

Aledys will receive her choice of a special food prize from Argentina, which I'm sure will be welcomed given her limited access to Argentine goodies there in The Netherlands. ¡Felicitaciones, Aledys!


Previous Posts about the Recipe Contest:

Vote for Your Favorite Argentine Recipe
Entry #3: Matambre Arrollado | Argentine Rolled Stuffed Flank Steak
Entry #2: Budín de Pan al Caramelo | Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce
Entry #1: Tarta de Cebolla y Queso | Onion and Cheese Quickbread
Finalists for Argentine Recipe Contest
Argentine Recipe Contest Read More......

Foods of Argentina: Membrillo (Quince)

Inside the cramped little bakery, glass display cases overflowed with coconut-rimmed tarts filled with glistening, red jam, small cookies with deep ruby centers, and an assortment of pastries decorated with the same eye-catching yet unfamiliar topping. According to the shop girl, all of these goodies had one thing in common: membrillo. Anxious to try this mysterious and seemingly ubiquitous red substance, I ordered a handful of cookies and a half dozen pastries – all in the name of research, of course.

After that first visit to an Argentine bakery, I clearly remember thumbing through my pocket Spanish-English dictionary in desperate search of the word "membrillo." Daniel had come up short when I asked for an English translation, and similarly, the answer supplied by my dictionary left me none the wiser.

I worked my way through the letter 'm' until my index finger rested upon the following entry:

membrillo m quince

"Quince?" I muttered. I had never even heard of a quince, let alone seen or tasted one.

Membrillo | Quince by katiemetz, on Flickr

Largely unappreciated in the U.S., this bumpy-looking fruit resembling a pear has been all but forgotten for its lack of sweetness and inedible nature while in its raw state. In fact, American horticulturist U.P. Hedrick lamented in 1922 that "the quince, the 'Golden Apple' of the ancients, once dedicated to deities and looked upon as the emblem of love and happiness, for centuries the favorite pome, is now neglected and the least esteemed of commonly cultivated tree fruits." [1]

It would appear, Mr. Hedrick, that not much has changed since the '20s.

However, the quince's fate in Argentina has been a kinder one. Argentina ranks among the world’s top producers of quinces. Indeed, these days, if you do find a quince at a specialty market in North America, chances are that it arrived from Argentina.

The most popular culinary use for quinces in Argentina is quince paste or dulce de membrillo. Mellowed by long, slow cooking and a generous amount of sugar, the raw quince's firm white flesh softens and deepens to a lovely ruby-red hue while taking on a sweet-tart flavor and lightly floral aroma. The high levels of pectin present in the quince cause the paste to set up very firm, allowing it to be sliced.

Queso y Dulce | Postre Vigilante (Quince Paste and Cheese) by katiemetz, on Flickr Facturas | Pastries by katiemetz, on Flickr Pepitas | Quince Jam Thumbprint Cookies by katiemetz, on Flickr Pasta Frola (Quince Jam Tart) by katiemetz, on Flickr

Argentines often pair quince paste with cheese in the typical dessert known as queso y dulce or postre vigilante. Dulce de membrillo also features in the tart pasta frola, atop cookies known as pepas or pepitas [recipe], as a filling for pastelitos, and as a topping for Argentine pastries (facturas).

Have you ever tried a food made with quince? If so, did you like it?

[1] Source: USDA.gov

This post was excerpted from a food story I published on Hispanic Kitchen. Visit the original post for more information about postre vigilante and the recipe for homemade dulce de membrillo.


Have you cast your vote yet for your favorite Argentine recipe? The poll closes tomorrow, June 7 at noon (Argentina time). The race is tight, so make sure you weigh in with your choice! Read More......

¿De Dónde Sos? | Where Are You From?

Philadelphia Pride by katiemetz, on Flickr

¿De dónde sos? Where are you from? Liz Caskey, a long-time resident of neighboring Chile, finds that this question touches a nerve, and she broached the topic over at the Eat Wine blog in this post. Much of what Liz wrote resonated with me, and her post sparked some interesting conversation with friends on Facebook.

"This question appears to be innocent and overly simple. Some consider it friendly. But imagine how you would feel if they asked you, after 11+ years where you live, the same thing every single day. A 'simple' question that comes even before saying hello, asking my name, or inquiring how I am doing."

Fortunately, given that I live in a small city and tend to frequent the same neighborhood businesses, I'm not subjected to this question on a daily basis. The butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker man who owns the corner store already know I'm a yanqui – no news there. However, anytime I patronize a new business or travel outside my home turf, I'm barraged with the same litany of questions: Where are you from? Why did you move here? Do you like Argentina?

At the beginning, I used to make a game of it. When presented with the inevitable lead-off question, I would counter, "Well, where do you think I'm from?" The answers were generally quite varied and amusing and, interestingly, hardly ever included the United States. But after a while I grew tired of the exchange.

Now, don't get me wrong – I'm a talkative person. I have no qualms about chitchatting with strangers and indulging their curiosity. But you know, sometimes when I head to the grocery store for a bag of milk, I just want to buy said bag of milk and leave. I don't want to recount my life story or play a game of 20 Questions (and yes, I am bigger than a breadbox).

Nonetheless, I'm also keenly aware of the fact that, in some ways, I'm an unofficial ambassador of the United States. Unlike Buenos Aires, Bariloche or Iguazú, Necochea and the innumerable small towns of Argentina don't appear on the radar of most international travelers. For some Argentines, I will be the first American they will have ever met, and I'd much rather work to create positive impressions than reinforce old, worn-out stereotypes (e.g. Americans are cold) by brushing off their questions.

For some expats, style of dress, physical appearance and even the way they carry themselves clue people in that they're foreigners and prompt the dreaded "¿De dónde sos?" Chris from In Patagonia offered: "It's a question you just have to get used to, no way around it I don't think!…I think God can use our appearance to open doors of conversation and opportunity."

While I think Chris makes a good point, in my case, I don't feel as though appearance is the big giveaway. Instead, I find that the questions start flowing when I open my mouth. If I keep my talking to a bare minimum, I can sometimes get away without my accent being detected, but these instances are few and far between.

With all that said, it seems that foreigners have devised various approaches to dealing with this issue. Liz recommends the following tactic:

"Now, when I am asked the 'where are you from' question, I try to laugh. I see it as an opportunity to open somebody else's eyes. Instead of getting frustrated or defensive since there must be something wrong with my accent, I simply ask, 'sorry, you asked my name?'. I usually get a confused look first and then they get it – I am a person first and foremost."

Of course, I could always go the route of my friend Eli's father. Even though he and his wife have called Mar del Plata, Argentina their home for over 30 years, he still gets asked the question "Where are you from?", to which he jokingly replies, "I'm from *Tucumán."

[Twitter contact @sorrelmw touched on this same topic on her blog, where she featured this humorous music video. Click here if you can't view the embedded video.]

*Tucumán is a small province in Northwest Argentina and, needless to say, a far cry from Eli's dad's actual hometown of Buffalo, New York.

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