Battle of the Dishes: the Alfajor Death Match
Victoria Bekiempis Uruguyan civil war!
The plain sandwich cookie has indeed met its long-lost -- and far more badass -- sibling, the alfajor. The South American snack is simple, but super-flavorful, made up of a thick layer of dulce de leche between two round, doughy pieces of shortbread. Coconut flakes often cover the exposed part of the filling -- best described as caramel on crack, an intensely euphoric taste. Sometimes, alfajores come topped with a thin coating of powdered sugar, making the basic-yet-bold dessert all the more irresistible.
Not surprisingly, the decadent bakery treat -- not to be confused with Spain's rectangular, nutty pastry of the same name -- is wildly popular on the continent.
In Lima, Peru, a cottage industry revolves around the buttery bites: When workers in the city center leave their offices for the evening, women stand at the ready on street corners, where they sell homemade, mini alfajores to hungry commuters. In Buenos Aires, Argentina, on the other hand, a foil-packed version might come with an espresso at a cafe, instead of a biscotti.
A bit of Googling hinted that New York City's alfajor epicenter falls somewhere in Jackson Heights, at a Uruguayan bakery called La Nueva 2000 (8610 37th Avenue #A, 718-507-2339), so it seemed like a reasonable idea to take an hour-long train ride to Queens and back, to check out the scene. Just a few blocks from there, though, La Gran Uruguaya (85-06 37th Avenue, 718-505-0404) also sells them -- at the same price: $1.25 for a small biscuit, $1.75 for a giant one. So begins this week's Battle of the Dishes -- with doppelgänger pastries!
La Nueva 2000's take does not disappoint -- it delights. The cookies abound in dulce de leche, which has a pleasant -- but strong -- sweet and milky flavor. This interior, though, has a soft texture -- not chewy, sticky, or stringy like some caramels, which give you that instant tooth-rot feeling. The shortbread overflows with moisture, and has the right amount of salt, so it prevents the rich offering from being too sugary. The golden batter has a defined, crisp feel, but without being dry or crumbly -- unlike prepackaged shortbread.