Learn to Make Pastry in Carmelo, Uruguay
With a pastry lesson at Four Seasons Resort Carmelo, you'll create alfajores—two crisp cookies held together by a caramelised milk spread—from fresh ingredients.
Updated March 10, 2014—Sign up for a pastry lesson at Four Seasons Resort Carmelo, Uruguay and you’ll learn the secrets of South Americans’ favourite cookie, the buttery-rich alfajor. Prized at breakfast, as an evening dessert or simply as a naughty-but-nice daytime snack, the popular sweet—two crisp cookies held together by dulce de leche, a caramelised milk spread—holds almost talismanic status in Uruguay and across the Río de la Plata in neighbouring Argentina. “We always had alfajores at birthdays when I was young,” recalls Executive Chef Lucas Curcio Perez, who produces pastries, tarts and flans at the Carmelo Resort. “My grandmother Eli taught me how to cook them.”
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 eight-foot monster weighing in at over 1,000 pounds. “I stick to my grandmother’s recipe,” says Perez, who sources a creamy dulce de leche from Finca Narbona, a dairy in Carmelo village, sprinkling the finished cookie with grated coconut. “We use as many products from the grasslands around Carmelo as possible.”
Perez begins the hour-long classes with some tips on kitchen organisation and hygiene. Once scrubbed from fingertips to elbows, guests dress in kitchen whites—they even get to don a personalised chef’s hat—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. “Pastry-making is all in the details, so I help each of the guests get the proportions exactly right,” he says.
After rolling out the dough to just the right thickness and cutting out the cookie forms, the would-be chefs wait out the five-minute bake with bated breath. “Everyone’s very relaxed by this stage, but you can feel their expectations are rising,” Perez laughs. “They can hardly wait to see how they taste.” After spreading the cookies with a luxuriously thick filling and powdering them with grated coconut, they reach the moment of truth: the first mouthful. “That’s when the cameras start clicking,” says Perez, who gives each of his charges the recipe to take home as a surprise for loved ones. “They all say they’ll give it a shot back home. I hope they do—my grandmother would be delighted.”
For more information, visit Four Seasons Resort Carmelo, Uruguay.