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An original alfajor from Medina Sidonia
|Place of origin||Andalusia, Spain|
|Main ingredient(s)||Flour, honey, almonds, hazelnuts|
An alfajor or alajú (Spanish pronunciation: [alfaˈxor], plural alfajores; derived from Arabic: الفاخر, "luxury", "exquisite") is a traditional confection found in some regions of Spain and in parts of Latin America, including Paraguay, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Southern Brazil, Mexico and the Philippines. The archetypal alfajor entered Iberia during the period of al-Andalus. It is produced in the form of a small cylinder and is sold either individually or in boxes containing several pieces.
In Spain, there are a variety of different recipes for preparing alfajores, but the most traditional contain flour, honey, almonds and several spices, such as cinnamon. Alfajores are most commonly sold around Christmas, but in Medina Sidonia, they are available year-round. The traditional Spanish alfajor has been produced in this town (where it is called an alajú) since ancient times, the recipe handed down from father to son.
Alfajores are still made by craftsmen in Medina Sidonia using natural ingredients that include honey, almonds, hazelnuts, sugar, flour, and breadcrumbs, and mixed with natural spices. The manufacturing process has been respected following a recipe found by Mariano Pardo de Figueroa in 1786. In Medina Sidonia, the annual production of approximately 45,000 kilograms is mostly consumed in the province of Cadiz, but they are also famous in Sevilla, Malaga and Huelva.
On 15 September 2004, protected geographical indication was ratified by the Consejo de agricultura y pesca de la junta de Andalucia and published in the Official Journal of the European Union as Alfajor de Medina Sidonia on 6 March 2007.
In the province of Cuenca, Spain, where the alfajor is called alajú it is made with almond, honey and figs, all wrapped in a wafer. Medina Sidonia was the capital of the Arabic world confection, where the alfajor has centuries of history with a recipe that has been transmitted from generation to generation. In this town, there is an account of Mariano Pardo de Figueroa, a gastronomist better known by his pseudonym Doctor Thebussem, who documented the history of this sweet, wherein he wrote that on 2 July 1487, Enrique de Guzmán, second count of Medina Sidonia, ordered the council and majors of the region to send to Malaga 50 cows, 50 oxen, 200 calves and provision of alajú from his city.
The recipe documented by the accounts of Thebussem in the 19th century is defined as the following:
"For the alfajor or alajú styling, prepare what I say: one quart of white honey, three means of a pound of hazelnuts and almonds, all roasted and chopped, half ounces of cinnamon, two ounces of aniseed, four drachms of cloves and a quarter of cilantro, roasted and ground coffee, a pound of roasted sesame, eight pounds of dust from grinding, out of bagels without salt or yeast, overcooked in the oven, with half a pound of sugar."
In South America
In South America, due to the lack of ingredients and habits, alfajores were made totally differently. Nowadays, they are found most notably in Argentina, Bolivia,Uruguay, Ecuador, Paraguay, Chile, Colombia, Perú and Brazil. The food has been popular in Argentina and Uruguay since the mid-19th century. Argentina is today the world largest consumer of alfajores, both in total numbers and in per capita calculations, being the most common snack for schoolchildren and adults. In Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, it usually contains traditional dulce de leche, although there are a lot of variations.
According to Spanish philologist and dialectologist Manuel Alvar López, alfajor is an Andalusian variant of the Castilian alajú, derived from the Arabic word الفاخر, al- fakhur, which is not known, neither found in América, where Andalusians introduced it as alfajor, from the Arabic word alfahua that means honeycomb. Both words had been introduced into Spanish dictionaries in the 14th century.
The publication of the historical dictionary of the Spanish language allows us to document both, alajur very broadly written as alajú and alfajor. Alajur and multiple geographic variations are sweets made of a paste of almonds, nuts, breadcrumbs and honey. It is effectively possible that alfajor and alajú were Arabisms introduced into the Spanish language in different places and times, and, supposing both came from the same etymon, from the phonetic point of view, alajú is an Arabism of the Castillian, and so it is still alive in Cuenca, Toledo, Guadalajara and in la Sierra de la peña (France); meanwhile the variation alfajor is Andalusian and Murcian. In the Americas, the meaning of the word alfajor was not known until the 19th century.
In 712, the Arab general Musa ibn Nusair arrived in Algeciras with an army of 18,000 soldiers to undertake the conquest of Medina Sidonia, Alcalá de Guadaira and Carmona. A similar sweet called alajú is found in the Arabic-Hispanic cookbook of anonymous author tabīkh Kitāb. The Spanish grammarian Nebrija appointed the word for the first time in his Latin Dictionary Nebrija-Spanish (1492) as: alfaxor or alaxur. In the 12th century, Raimundo Martin describes in his book Vocabulista another possible etymology of the Hispano-Arabic fasur, meaning "nectar". The presence of this sweet is evident in the area of southern Peru during the 12th and 13th centuries, being developed in Andalusia since the days of Al-Andalus until today. Due to the popularity of this food, they already were in the warehouses of the first ships of the Spaniards on their way to America. The earliest references to its presence in Latin America referred to Venezuela and Peru, where they were given as rations to the Spanish troops. The popularity of this sweet in the 16th century is reflected in literary works such as Guzman Alfarache.
Preparation and presentation
The regulations allow the use of only pure honey, almonds, nuts, breadcrumbs, sugar, flour and spices, such as aniseed, sesame, coriander, cloves and cinnamon. The Protected Geographical Indication alfajores are meant to be presented in a cylindrical shape, with a minimum weight of 30 grams each, and with a minimum size of about 18 cm in length and a diameter of 1,5 cm. Each of them will be protected with a wrapping paper, and the ends made an ornament in a spiral shape with a ribbon out of the same paper. Once individually wrapped, they may be packaged in wood or cardboard boxes, but never in plastic.
Variations in the Americas
In Uruguay and Argentina, its basic form consists of two round, sweet biscuits joined together with mousse, dulce de leche or jam, and coated with black or white chocolate (many alfajores are sold in "black" and "white" flavours) or simply covered with powdered sugar. There is also one variation, called "alfajor de nieve", that instead of having a white or black chocolate coating, it has a "snow" coating consisting of a mixture of egg whites and sugar. Big alfajores, with 25, 30 or even 40 cm diameter, are consumed as desserts, shared among many people. Peruvian alfajores are usually coated in powdered sugar, as seen in the picture, and are filled with Dulce de leche. Most alfajores come packaged in aluminium foil. In Mexico, they are made with just coconut, and are normally a tri-color coconut confection. In Nicaragua, they follow more in the lines of the Canary island type of alfajores, and are made with molasses and different types of grains, including corn, and cacao similarly to most chocolate bars, though hand-made are just as accessible and generally packaged in plastic wrap or wax paper.
Other varieties include different elements in the preparation of the biscuits, such as peanuts; they also vary the filling and coating and even add a third biscuit (alfajor triple).
Guinness World Record: the biggest South American alfajor
According to Guinness World Records, the biggest alfajor in the world, measuring almost two meters in diameter and 80 centimeters in height and weighing 464 kilograms, was made on 11 December 2010 in Minas, Lavalleja Department, Uruguay. The giant alfajor was made to mark the celebration of Uruguay's first National Alfajor Festival. More than 30 people participated in the preparation of the record-breaking alfajor.
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- Macaron, a similar French confection
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