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Vegan Havanna-Style Alfajores

It came in the shape of a lightbulb on top of my head. Healthier vegan havanna-style alfajores. A genius recipe. I’d substitute the classic dulce de leche with date caramel -it even looks a lot like dulce de leche. In my head the recipe was perfect. I would use coconut oil instead of butter for the cookies, skip the egg and use maple syrup to sweeten the cookies. Fill them with a thick layer of my epic date caramel. The mere sound of date caramel makes my mouth water. I’ve seen different versions of it in the virtual space, but I think that (I’ll practice modesty another time) mine has to be the best. It’s made with a lot of dates, almond butter, vanilla, a pinch of salt and a splash of coconut milk. If you’re too lazy or don’t have the ingredients at hand to make the alfajores, it’s worth saving this recipe for the date caramel only.

If you’ve been around for while, you know that my partner is Argentinian. And it turns out that while alfajores are a typical sweet in many more countries, Argentinians are the world’s most avid alfajor consumers. Not that we use to have them often at home, but we do get excited when somebody comes to visit from Argentina and they bring us a box or two of alfajores. But while I find them delicious, they are definitely full of sugar and other not-especially-good-for-you ingredients. My attitude towards food is one of a healthy balance. I try to make healthy choices everyday, but when I feel like something unhealthy, I’ll also enjoy that every once in a while.

But the light bulb! Yes, I thought it would be actually pretty easy to create something pretty similar, really tasty, but healthier and vegan. And you know what? The box of store-bought alfajores that usually never lasts long with us, remained almost untouched while the healthier vegan homemade version was around – because it was better.

These vegan havanna-style alfajores, chocolate coated, tender cookies with a thick layer of the most decadent date caramel in the middle are genius. Plus, they are sweetened with dates and maple syrup, completely vegan and far healthier than classic alfajores.

This time the inspirational flash had hit me with force. In my head the date caramel worked as a perfect substitute for dulce de leche and the cookies turned out just as tender and tasty using coconut oil instead of butter and skipping the egg. But it wouldn’t be the first time that reality wouldn’t hold up to my expectations. I was anxious to try the recipe out, but also frightened that it would fail. That the cookies wouldn’t hold together without the egg. That the date caramel would spill out of the alfajor when biting into it, resulting in a mess. That the taste wouldn’t be great due to some mysterious reason.

In the end, they came out as least as great as expected. There is no way you don’t try this recipe. Here it is:

Makes 30.
For the cookies, you’ll need:

  • 2/3 cup (150g) coconut oil, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 cups white spelt flour
  • 1/3 cup almond flour, aka ground almonds (or more spelt flour)
  • 1 1/3 cups corn starch
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3 tablespoons pure cacao
  • 1/4 cup hazelnut butter (or almond butter)
  • zest from 1 organic orange
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup water

For the “Dulce de Leche”:

  • 20 medjool dates (500g)
  • 3/4 cup almond butter
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1/4-1/2 cup coconut milk

To cover:

  • 350g dark chocolate (70% or more)
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil

Directions:
Start with the cookies. Add the coconut oil to a large mixing bowl and whisk until fluffy. Add the maple syrup, nut butter, vanilla, orange zest and salt and keep whisking until it’s fully incorporated and smooth. Add the flour and baking powder and incorporate with a minimum of kneading. Refrigerate the dough for 30min.

Meanwhile preheat the oven to 180ºC (350ºF).

For the filling, add all ingredients except the coconut milk to a food processor or high speed blender and process until a ball forms. Add the coconut milk by the tablespoon until you get a creamy but very thick consistency (we don’t want the filling to spill out).

Roll the dough out to 4-5mm (1/5 inch) thickness. Use a 5cm (2 inches) round cookie cutter (or the desired size) to cut out as many circles as possible. Transfer to two baking trays. Roll the remainings out again until no dough is left (if it gets warm and sticky, pop the remainings into the freezer for a couple of minutes before you proceed).

Bake for 7min. Let cool completely on the baking tray.

Use a piping bag (or if you don’t own one, use a plastic bag) to spread a thick layer of date caramel on half of the cookies (I don’t advise to use a spoon as the cookies are tender and the date caramel is very sticky). Top with another cookie.

Melt the chocolate and coconut oil in a water bath or microwave and bath the alfajores in it, using a fork to sustain them and a spoon to cover them with chocolate. Let excess chocolate drip of and place on a tray lined with parchment paper. Decorate with cacao nibs if you wish. Refrigerate until the chocolate has firmed up. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week or in the freezer for up to 6 months.

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