A Little Bite of Heaven

8 05 2008

As I write this, I have retreated momentarily to the bliss that is the Havanna alfajor.

To explain: a few days ago I got an email from my friend and former EuroCheapo cohort Alex Robertson Textor, with whom I had coffee plans a few days later. All the email said was “What type of alfajor do you prefer, meringue or chocolcate? I will explain later.” Perplexed, but assuming he was writing something about the alfajor and needed my expert opinion, I quickly replied that the chocolate is best by far, because the meringue gets a little crumbly and takes away from the cookie.

Turns out, though, that Alex didn’t need my alfajor expertise, and actually doesn’t even agree with it (turns out he is a meringue fan). He was asking because his sister just returned from a trip to Buenos Aires. Bearing gifts. Alex showed up for coffee today and pulled two alfajores from his (new awesome recycled products) bag for me. Chocolate coated.

I simply couldn’t believe my luck (or Alex’s generosity, parting with two of them!), and didn’t wait more than 10 seconds before diving into the first. I gave the second a little time (an hour or so) but I couldn’t let it sit there on the table without wanting to eat it, so here I am, taking another bite of chocolate covered bliss. And I know it doesn’t seem possible, but it’s better than I remembered. The cookie has the perfect balance of a little bit of crunch and a little bit of flake, but it surely doesn’t overpower the star of the show: creamy, sweet dulce de leche. Ah happiness.

So a huge THANK YOU to Alex. And, since I surely haven’t blogged about the alfajor enough, a bit about Havanna, which might just as easily be called, simply, Heaven.

Havanna stores are all over Argentina. In Buenos Aires they are almost as ubiquitous as Starbucks is in New York. Almost. But they should be. While their main product is the amazing alfajor (covered with meringue, chocolate, or white chocolate), they also sell jars of dulce de leche, candies, and other scrumptious tidbits. Of note is the Havannet: a cone-shaped, chocolate-covered beauty that consists of a small cookie and massive amounts of dulce de leche. In both the Havannet cookie and the alfajor the cookie itself is just slightly infused with lemon, just enough of it.

Then there is the coffee, which comes in tiny cups and and, of course, a cookie. Havanna has the value meal to beat out anything McDonald’s might try. For just a few dollars you get a small coffee, a cookie, and sometimes even a tiny cup of juice, all on a pretty little tray. And did I mention that the coffee drinks are almost as deliciously rich as the cookies themselves? Cappuccino, mocha, white chocolate…

Maybe if I think about it long enough Havanna will come to me. (Oh wait. It already has.)





Ode to the Alfajor

11 03 2008

With Easter two weeks away and me still not eating sweets (ok, a few bites of cake to celebrate my friend Lauren’s birthday, but really we should have celebrated it in December so I’ll say I ate the cake then?), I find myself dreaming of alfajores…

I’m not actually going to write an ode as I’ve never been much of a poet. But if anyone out there has a deep inclination to pen some long-winded verse about what may be the most delicious cookie of all time, I would gladly read it, and post it to my blog, and proclaim it to all I meet. Ok, perhaps not that last, but I do feel very passionately about the alfajor, so anything is possible.

What exactly is an alfajor? Well, it is the reason, for one, that I had to give up sweets for Lent in the first place (Lent conveniently starting for me exactly one week after Ash Wednesday, otherwise known as the day I left Argentina, land of the alfajor). More importantly, however, it is a cookie, made up of layered cookies with a dulce de leche filling. For more on dulce de leche or where to buy it, see my earlier post on it.

In Northern Argentina, the cookies are often of a harder or flakier nature and usually topped with powdered sugar. In Buenos Aires and surrounding areas it is more often a biscuit, sometimes surrounded by a meringue coating, though I prefer those that are dipped in white or dark chocolate. Then of course there is the triple layer alfajores, with dulce de leche as one layer and vanilla or chocolate cream as the other. Needless to say, I tended to eat at least one alfajor a day (hence my subsequent Lenten sacrifice). The real miracle is that even after stuffing myself with alfajores for a month, I’m still dreaming of them. But it’s not so miraculous when you consider that eating one is an experience that might be tantamount to heaven.

And in writing this post I discovered I’m not the only one addicted to the alfajor. A list of some of the alfajor love I found simply by googling the word:

  • An Alfajor blog post on mattbites, by a fellow travel writer and gifted photographer. Matt shares my obsession with alfajores, and he even gives a recipe and some gorgeous photos of the cookies.
  • An entire conversation on yahoo answers centered around one of life’s biggest questions: “What is your favorite alfajor?”
  • And just this morning I found an actual Ode to an Alfajor (though she used the name without writing an ode either; at least great minds think alike).

All this alfajor love aside, though, the supply of alfajores in Argentina is endless, so choosing the right one requires much experimentation or a little bit of knowledge. Luckily, I am now a self-proclaimed alfajor expert, willing pass my knowledge along with a few tips for alfajor tasting:

  1. You can rarely go wrong with the homemade alfajores of a sweet shop or market. They are fresh and almost always have a little too much (which is precisely the right amount) dulce de leche.
  2. When the alfajor emergency arises, head to the nearest kiosko (which is bound to be less than a block away) where the shelves overflow with various prepackaged alfajores. Beware, however, not all brands make a good one. I recommend Milka or Aguila.
  3. Then of course there is Havanna, which is an experience that will one of these days warrant a post all its own. For now, suffice to say that the beloved coffee shops are all over Buenos Aires and in many other cities, and their alfajores may just change your life.
  4. Finally, if your mouth is watering but you’re not going to Argentina any time soon, there is always the option of ordering online (something I’m contemplating once Lent is over).