So when did alfajores arrive in the New World?

We are making New World alfajores after all, at least for now! I’ve found no documentation whatsoever pertaining to that, only claims that they “came over with the conquistadors”. I find that a little hard to believe, personally. I don’t see those rough-and-ready characters taking the time to pack delicate boxes of sweets alongside their morions and lances. Watch it, Francisco! I paid twenty reales for those! However it’s not beyond the realm of possibility…

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How long did the Arabs occupy Spain?

I like that question reader Zsa Zsa, if indeed that is your real name! It’s popularly said that the Islamic occupation of the Iberian peninsula lasted for 800 years. While it may technically true in that there were Arabs on what is now Spanish soil all of that time, the Caliphate that was established there was always in flux. In fact you can make the case that Al Andalus started shrinking from virtually the moment it was established.

The invasion commenced in 711 A.D. when the first Arab conquerors crossed over at Gibraltar, having swept through all of the Middle East and North Africa over the previous 90 years. By 720 nearly the entire territory of what is now Spain and Portugal was united under a Caliphate. A capitol was set up in the southern city of Córdoba, which in relatively short order (150 years) became one of the dominant economic and cultural centers in all of Europe and the Middle East. This “golden age” didn’t last terribly long however, as infighting soon divided up the Caliphate into some 20 separate states, which fought with outsiders and one another until they eventually began to fall to Christian powers pressing in from the north. …

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What makes alfajores different?

Alfajores are widely thought to be little sandwiches made of shortbread. In fact that isn’t the case. The two little disks that contain the filling most closely resemble cakes. They contain flour, butter, leavening and eggs (cooked egg yolk). They also have one other rather unusual ingredient: cornstarch (cornflour) usually in abundance. Indeed it’s not unusual to find an alfajores recipe that contains as much cornstarch as wheat flour.


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So what is an alfajor?

Good question! The word can mean different things in different places, but let me ask you this: from what language does the word originate do you think? Any guesses? No? Well what if I wrote it this way: al-fajore. Does that help any?

If you said “Arabic” then you’re correct. Alfajores were an Arab import to Spain, back when most of it was under Arab control and called Al-Andalus. The word “alfajor” could be derived from one of several different words. It could come from an old Arabic word meaning “excellent” or “luxurious”. Alternately it might come from the word al-hasú which means “filled”. Or it might come from the word alfahua which means …

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This Week: Alfajores

I didn’t get any at the Señor de los Milagros party yesterday and I’m still ticked about it. So darn it I’m making my own.

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Miracle Sunday

We had a little taste of Lima in Louisville yesterday. The Peruvian members of our parish hoisted the image of Señor de los Milagros (Lord of Miracles) and carried it down the street, in keeping with annual tradition (in Peru).

The procession commemorates the famous Lima earthquake of 1746 which destroyed virtually the entire city — except — the wall upon which this image was painted. So every year in October, the month of the quake, fellows in purple robes carry this image through the city of Lima in remembrance of the miracle. Here in Louisville they carried it about six blocks because that thing is heavy, heavy, heavy and we have only so many Peruvians to do the lifting.


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Making Black Forest Cake

One taste of Black Forest cake made with the traditional sponge cake and it all makes sense. This cake is as light as air. Then the kick of the cherry brandy and chocolate hits you and you think wow, those German Black Forest hillbillies were really on to something! Try this and I promise you’ll never think of Black Forest cake as a deep chocolate indigence again but rather as a chocolate and cherry cream cake. One with a nice alcoholic payoff which, let’s face it, doesn’t hurt. You’ll need:…

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Weren’t we just talking about browning enzymes?

And suddenly here comes a high-tech genetically modified apple that doesn’t brown. Why not? Because it has very little in the way of either polyphenoloxidase or peroxydase (more on what those do here). Which means when you cut it you don’t get browning pigments. Very interesting.


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Do Your Bit(map)

Most of us are at least a little freaked out by all the Ebola news these days. The majority of it is extremely overblown. A whole lot of it is downright panic-mongering. But one thing is for sure: the taste of fear we’re getting here in the developed world is nothing compared to what the poor folks in West Africa have been experiencing for some time now. If you’re like me you’d like to do something about Ebola instead of just worry about it which, let’s face it, doesn’t do anyone any good.

And in fact you can do something: you can draw maps. You heard right. The World Health Organization, Doctors Without Borders and a variety of NGO’s are on the ground in West Africa and ready to fight the disease door to door. Unfortunately they don’t know where a lot of those doors are — especially out in remote villages or in densely populated urban areas — because they don’t have have accurate maps. …

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Brioche Dough: How Much Gluten?

It’s still the age of Ragnarök here in Louisville, I’m looking out at dark grey skies and more rain, rain, rain. I don’t let that slow me down if I can help it but blowing, misty rain is hell on whipped cream. Fortunately reader David has a question for me. It goes like this:

Your brioche dough recipe calls for all purpose flour when one might expect to use bread flour for a higher rise. Is brioche not typically expected to be as airy and light or is there another reason for it?

Interesting question, David. It all depends on what you want to use the brioche for. Will you be making a simple loaf? Dinner roll-type têtes de brioche? Or perhaps you’re using it as a base for a bee sting cake or cinnamon rolls. In any of those cases you might want to vary the formula a bit to achieve a difference effect. …

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