Alfajores de Maicena (Argentine Sandwich Cookies)

I’m on a roll over here with my nostalgic Argentine recipes, and this one for Alfajores or sandwich cookies, I can confirm, is something you will want to try at home! I spent a lot of my time in Buenos Aires eating these cookies, which are sandwiched together by the most velvety Dulce de Leche (caramel). They are often served as an accompaniment to a cup of coffee or enjoyed as an on-the-go snack by people all over the city. The basis of this particular type of alfajor is corn meal and while it would make sense for them to just be gluten free, in Argentina they can sometimes contain hidden wheat flour or traces. I’m delighted to tell you however that this recipe is 100% gluten free, and you will absolutely not miss the gluten!

I was able to score a jar of imported Dulce de Leche for this particular recipe from a lovely Argentine food stall in Borough Market in London – La Porteña – but this decadently delicious spread is available in multiple retail outlets across the UK now and can be sourced online via the likes of Amazon. The corn flour I always go for meanwhile is Harina P.A.N. – a widely used Latin American white corn flour, which is available in food markets across London and in niche local grocery stores. Alternatively of course, this flour can be purchased online via multiple webpages – just be sure to check out the shopping tab on your Google browser for all your options.

Ingredients

150g x Unsalted Butter (softened)
4 x Large Egg Yolks
300g x Harina P.A.N. White Corn Flour
60g x White Caster Sugar
4 x Teaspoons Gluten Free Baking Powder
1/3 Teaspoon Sea Salt
250g x Dulce de Leche
20g x Gluten Free Plain Flour (for rolling)

Method

  1. Using an electric whisk or hand mixer, combine the egg yolks and sugar in a large bowl.
  2. Sieve the corn flour into a separate bowl along with your baking powder and salt.
  3. Gradually add the dry ingredients into the combined egg and sugar, using a spatula to ensure the ingredients are evenly mixed (warning, this can take up to 10 minutes!).
  4. Using your hands, knead the mixture together for an additional 5 minutes until you have a bread dough-like consistency.
  5. Create a large ball with the dough, wrap in cling-film and place in the fridge to chill for two hours.
  6. Preheat your fan oven to 155 degrees Celsius and line two baking trays with parchment paper.
  7. Sprinkle the gluten free flour on a dry surface and using a sharp knife, divide your pre-chilled dough into two portions for ease.
  8. Using a rolling pin, roll out each portion of dough until it has a thickness of around 1cm. With a small cookie cutter create alfajor shapes out of the dough. I prefer to use a small cookie cutter for dinky-sized alfajores but the diameter of the cutter is up to you (there are alfajores of all sizes in Argentina!)
  9. Bake the cookies in the oven for 8 minutes before removing to cool on the baking trays for up to 30 minutes. Once cooled, transfer to a cooling rack.
  10. Create your alfajores by placing one tea spoon of Dulce de Leche in the centre of one cookie and placing another cookie on top. Lightly press down to bring the Dulce de Leche closer to the edges of the sandwich.
  11. Transfer your alfajores to a plate or container and chill in the fridge for up to an hour so the Dulce de Leche sets.
  12. Enjoy with tea, coffee or just simply on their own. Buen provecho!

Vichenzo Sin Tacc

Last year, I made my bi-annual pilgrimage to Buenos Aires – also known as the Europe of the south. This beautiful, hectic city was my home for almost three years in my twenties and will continue to draw me back every so often, not least because some of my bestest friends in the world live there. A huge part of my time in Argentina revolved around food – cuisine which is traditionally gluten-heavy. Yes, steak is the main act but when Argentines aren’t eating steaks, they’re usually tucking into amazing fresh pastas and milanesas – a tradition passed down from the Italian community that settled there at the turn of the 20th century. So, returning to this city has often made me nervous, for obvious gluten-related reasons.

What I discovered upon returning was a complete surprise however. The city’s gluten free scene in the last three years has totally exploded, with a long list of 100% gluten free eateries and bakeries sprouting up in multiple areas. Luckily for us, that explosion includes the 100% gluten free bakery and pasta factory Vichenzo, tucked away in the Montserrat neighbourhood, which is a hop skip and a jump from Avenida de Julio.

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Vichenzo opened its doors to the public in October 2015, primarily as a pasta producer. “The original idea was to create a high quality and delicious product that would, in addition, be gluten free and safe for coeliacs or those intolerant to gluten,” Vichenzo co-founder Gaston told me. “We saw the gluten free market as a challenge, and one that would make us grow,” Gaston said. The pair therefore put their learnings from their pasta maestro and store namesake Vicente Fabiz to use and created a range of fresh, gluten free pastas using traditional methods and machinery. The range of traditional pastas on offer in store quickly expanded beyond spaghetti and gnocchi to delights including spinach tagliatelle, beetroot ravioli, salmon casoncelli and more. Today, the store acts also as a bakery, offering a huge array of fresh bread, pastries, cakes and beyond.

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“Many of our products came about because of what particular customers requested of us and they became permanent,” Gaston said, who told me when I visited the store that the store’s only enemy is time and the limitations that it creates. The duo have successfully overcome the trials and tribulations of creating gluten free dough for their pastas and pizzas. However, as everyone and anyone gluten free will know, this is a science, given that a change in the humidity of a kitchen or the slight over-pour of an ingredient can leave the dough unusable. Having tried and tested a multitude of the store’s offerings I can vouch for Vichenzo and the success it has had in creating top notch gluten free products, not least the ready-made pasta dishes and fresh Milanesa sandwiches on crusty bread that you can take to go and eat right then and there in the street.

Discovering that neither Gaston nor Pablo were themselves gluten free makes the story of Vichenzo all the more exciting. In my experience, gluten free businesses come about because of health issues in the owners or founders themselves and so having the opportunity to visit a shop where gluten free is just considered normal in the eyes of two non coeliacs really was an eye opener. Luckily for the people of Buenos Aires, Vichenzo will continue to grow as a business. While plans are still not finalized, it looks possible that the north of the city could be home to a new shop in the future. In the meantime, those reading this from outside of Argentina: get on a plane to Buenos Aires and head straight to Vichenzo. You will not be sorry and I can say with confidence you will never have had a gluten free experience like it!

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Vichenzo Sin Tacc (Closed on Sundays)
Salta 529
C1074 Buenos Aires
Argentina

Empanadas by Lincoln’s Cafe, Holborn

Where From? Lincoln’s Cafe, Holborn
Available in Store from Monday to Friday

As a massive empanada fan, I cannot tell you my delight in coming across what Lincoln’s Cafe has to offer. This modest eatery tucked away behind Holborn station in the West End of London not only offers gluten free bread as an option for its vast sandwich menu, but a selection of homemade Colombian savoury treats too. Pictured, the Empanada de Pollo (Chicken), is a must-try if you’re passing, and even if you’re not, I would recommend the trip purely for this! This empanada is corn based and is perfectly crispy on the outside when heated and soft as a pillow inside, jam-packed full of flavour. Whilst you’re there, you would be silly to not also try some of the Pan de Bono (traditional Colombian cheese bread), an arepa or a vegetable stuffed empanada. This store closes early every day so make your way there before 4pm to avoid disappointment!