Battle of the Dishes: the Alfajor Death Match
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. La Gran Uruguaya's approach does not stray far from its competitor's -- in fact, it's virtually impossible to point out any difference. This homemade offering also amounts to a dream for anyone who has ever self-medicated with food: The creamy pick coats the tongue and palate with a blissful, intense mix of taste and texture. La Gran's recipe easily beats out the best street varieties, and has the added benefit of being prepared in a sanitary kitchen, not some random lady's house (like the best street varieties).
Unfortunately, then, for bloodthirsty food fans, this week's Battle of the Dishes ends in a draw. Both bakeshops sell sinfully enticing alfajores that are less like rivals and more like partners in crime against that diet you secretly plan on abandoning.
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