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10 compelling reasons why Argentina’s alfajores are the answer to all of life’s problems

First it was macarons that drove sane people wild, then cupcakes, freakshakes and, most recently, doughnuts. We’ve yet to discover which confection will flood our Instagram feeds next, but we’ve got high hopes for this Argentinian cookie, the alfajor.

Believed to have roots in the Middle East, the alfajor came to Argentina via Spain, where a version made with honey is still eaten at Christmas time. But the one we have in mind is made in Argentina by sandwiching dulce de leche between two cookies. What makes it so special, you ask?

The dulce de leche

Dulce de leche is a creamy Argentinian caramel. There are several legends about its invention, but a common thread suggests that the dish has its roots in an overcooked batch of la lechada, a drink of warm milk and sugar. Made the traditional way, it consists of milk and sugar, which are slowly boiled down over seven hours until the Maillard reaction takes place, when the sugars react with the amino acids to caramelise. If you don’t have seven hours to spare, it’s possible to make it by simmering a closed can of condensed milk for two or three hours in a pot of water. The result is a kind of caramel that coats the inside of the mouth to give unadulterated joy.

The cookies

The vehicles for this fantastical sauce are two uniquely tender and crumbly shortbread cookies. Traditionally they’re made with corn starch, which reduces the gluten content of the cookies, making them more powdery and soft – an important quality that helps to keep the caramel contained. It is therefore fairly easy to make gluten-free alfajores. (Coco Safar in Cape Town makes a range of flavoured gluten-free alfajores using buckwheat.)

Today there are hundreds of different versions, and in Argentina there are even cafés dedicated to their creation.

Alfajoreria Merengo, a café in Santa Fe, Argentina, claims to have invented that country’s version of the alfajor in 1851. You can still find classic alfajores there, along with options dipped in chocolate, filled with fruity jam and made with honey.

Could alfajores be a contender for the dessert of 2017? We present the evidence.

1. These chocolate-dipped beauties:

2. These glistening glories:

3. These coconut-crusted cookies:

4. These sugar-dusted sweethearts:

A post shared by Melao Madrid (@melao.es) on

5. These chocolate-dipped pretties:

6. These golden-oozing treats:

7. These lovely pink hearts:

8. These perfect coils of caramel:

9. These chocolate-dipped, gluten-free beauties:

10. And these glorious rings of happiness:

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