Dulce de leche has become such an established cross-over success – easily made at home or store-bought, found in big brand ice cream and even all-American girl scout cookies - that it’s hard to remember the excitement when it first hit markets. Until the early nineties, it was the once-in-a-while treat my uncle might bring from business trips to Chile or Peru (where it was introduced to us as manjar blanco) or that a Colombian friend shared from home (where it went by arequipe).
Alfajores – small sandwich cookies traditionally filled with dulce de leche then rolled in coconut or powdered sugar – came later. Popular throughout South America, they’re also shaped into large, multi-layered tarts topped with meringue or crushed almonds. A rustic version of the mille-feuille, these sky-high tarts alternately known as alfajor de mil capas or torta de mil hojas can be made from large crumbly crackers or delicate puff pastry.
Using a simple shortbread recipe, this alfajor tart sprinkled with toasted coconut falls somewhere in between. The dough is rolled out into thin, flat discs that, when baked, easily break apart against the dense, caramel filling. Prepared the day ahead, the layers melding together while maintaining crispy edges, it’s no less delicious for being perfectly familiar.