Learn to Make Pastry in Carmelo, Uruguay
Create traditional South American alfajores with a Four Seasons chef, then try the recipe at home.
Sign up for a pastry lesson at Four Seasons Resort Carmelo, Uruguay, and you’ll learn the secrets of one of South America’s best desserts, the buttery-rich alfajor. Prized at breakfast, as an evening indulgence and as a daytime snack, the popular sweet, which consists of decadent dulce de leche sandwiched between two soft cookies, holds almost talismanic status in Uruguay and across the Río de la Plata in neighbouring Argentina.
Originally a Moorish concoction, the alfajor spread to Spain—Andalusian recipes call for a cylindrical biscuit of honey, almonds, coriander and cinnamon—before travelling to Latin America, where its form was adapted to local ingredients and tastes. Today, bakers in Nicaragua add cocoa and molasses; Mexicans favour coconut. Uruguayan aficionados even hold a record for producing the world’s biggest alfajor, an 8-foot monster weighing in at more than 1,000 pounds (450 kilograms).
Executive Chef Lucas Curcio Perez begins the hour-long pastry-making classes by having guests dress in kitchen whites—they even don personalized chef’s hats—and set to work massaging freshly laid eggs and rich local butter into a crémage, adding cornstarch, flour and sugar to form a malleable dough. Would-be chefs cut and bake the cookie forms, and spread the creamy dulce de leche filling on them before administering the finishing touch: a dusting of grated coconut.
Make alfajores at home with this recipe from Four Seasons Resort Carmelo, Uruguay.
For dulce de leche
4¼ cups (1 l) whole milk
3 cups (709 g) granulated sugar
1¼ cups (296 g) glucose, also known as grape sugar, available at cake-decorating and craft stores and at specialty grocers. Or substitute a mixture of equal parts dissolved granulated sugar and honey.
1 vanilla bean, whole
1 teaspoon (5 g) baking soda
1 ½ cups (355 ml) sugar
1 ¼ cups (296 ml) butter, softened
4 egg yolks
Lemon zest to taste, optional
4 ½ cups (1,065 ml) flour
2/3 cup (166 ml) cornstarch
½ cup plus 2 teaspoons (128 ml) baking powder
1 cup (237 ml) dulce de leche
1–2 cups (237–473 ml) finely shredded dried coconut
For dulce de leche
Pour the milk into a tall soup pot. Add the sugar and mix together over low heat. Stir in the glucose and the vanilla bean.
Bring to a boil. The milk will turn an amber-caramel colour. (Expert tip: Add glass balls or marbles so the liquid doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot.)
Dissolve the baking soda in water and stir into the mix.
Let the liquid simmer for about 40 minutes over low heat. Stir with a wooden spoon every 5 minutes or so.
When the mixture reaches 222 degrees F (106 degrees C), it is done. Allow it to cool completely. The consistency should be creamy and smooth, and spreadable like a soft peanut butter. If not, simmer a bit longer.
Spoon into jars. The dulce de leche will keep in the refrigerator for up to 30 days.
Makes about 6 cups (1 2/5 kg) of caramel spread.
Place sugar into a mixing bowl, add the butter and combine.
Add the eggs and yolks, one by one, and mix until combined. If desired, you may add the lemon zest at this point.
In another bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch and baking powder. Slowly mix this into the egg mixture to create a paste. Press the paste softly with your fingers until you get a dough.
Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let rest for 15 to 30 minutes in the refrigerator. Once the dough has rested, roll the dough on a floured surface until it is ¼ inch (0.64 cm) thick.
Using a cookie cutter, cut the dough into small disks—typical size is a bit larger than 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter. Place on a greased and floured or parchment-paper–lined baking sheet.
Preheat oven to 320 degrees F (160 degrees C). Bake for approximately 6 minutes (for larger cookies, bake for 10 minutes). Let cool slightly on the baking sheet, then remove and cool completely on a cooling rack.
Once cool, spread a thick layer of dulce de leche on the flat side of one cookie. Place the second cookie (flat side down) onto the dulce de leche and press gently together. Roll the exposed dulce de leche in the coconut. Serve with afternoon tea or milk.
Makes about 4 dozen.