Funny factura names (and their origin)

Would you eat a friar’s balls?

Probably not unless you are in Argentina and have a sweet tooth.

A pair of friar's balls: custard and dulce de leche

Facturas are, hands down, the most popular pastries in Argentina. They come in different sizes and shapes and with different fillings – dulce de leche, quince paste (dulce de membrillo) and custard (crema pastelera) are the most popular. People buy them by the dozen from their local panaderías (bakeries) for breakfast and for their mate break in the afternoon. Panaderias do a brisk trade on Sunday mornings, as many people follow the same ritual: get up, get the paper, buy facturas, put the kettle on for mate (or coffee) and sit down to a leisurely breakfast.

Almost every kind of factura has its own, self-descriptive name, like medialuna (a sweeter, denser, smaller croissant) or pancito de leche (milk bun).

However, some factura names have very interesting origins. In the late 19th century, a few European anarchists fled persecution and hid in Argentina. Some joined trade unions and started to spread their ideals, which wasn’t exactly met with alacrity by local authorities. The bakers’ trade union found an ingenious way to fight back. They came up with new names for facturas to ridicule the power elites.

Thus, bolas de fraile (friar’s balls), sacramento (sacrament) and suspiro de monja (nun’s sigh) were aimed at the clergy (extremely influential at the time), vigilante (watchman. It has a rather derogatory sense nowadays) was for the police and  bomba de crema (cream bomb) and cañoncito de dulce de leche (dulce de leche cannon) was for the military.




Alfajores de maizena for the international alfajor challenge

My friend Katie from Seashells and Sunflowers threw down the gauntlet and we took it up: an international alfajor challenge. Three Argentinians and three Americans tried different traditional alfajor recipes from Argentina for a group post.

An alfajor is a sweet treat similar to a sandwich cookie. Depending on the regional recipe, the cookie can be more or less moist, like cake, or harder like a biscuit. The filling ranges from dulce de leche to fruit preserve to meringue and they’re covered in chocolate or icing or dusted with confectioner’s sugar.

My mission was to make alfajores de maizena -Maizena is a traditional brand of corn starch and a household name in Argentina,- and since they happen to be my favourite kind of alfajor, I was more than happy to oblige. I made those alfajores for a dinner party my hubby and I threw in our Dallas home and got our American and British friends hooked on those little treats.

What you need

  • 5 oz (150 g) softened butter
  • 7 oz (200 g) sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 egg
  • 3.5 oz (100 g) flour
  •  10.5 oz (300 g) corn starch
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 tsp Cognac
  • 1 jar dulce de leche
  • Shredded coconut

How you make them

Beat the softened butter with the sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and the egg and beat well.

Sift together the flour, corn starch and baking soda and gradually add to the butter and egg mixture.

Add the lemon zest and liqueur and mix until the dough is smooth.

Sprinkle some flour on a work surface and start rolling out the dough to about ¼ inch thick.

Cut 2 inch rounds of dough and place on a cookie sheet (I did not grease it).

Bake in a preheated 300 ̊F oven for about 12 minutes. Don’t let the cookies turn golden.

Transfer to a cooling rack.

Once they’re cold, sandwich two cookies at a time with a dollop of dulce de leche. Press ever so slightly so that the dulce de leche oozes out and roll each sandwich on shredded coconut.

Recipe notes

  1. This recipe yielded 40 alfajores.
  2. I used a jar and a half of store-bought dulce de leche (actually, I smuggled it into the U.S. Shhhh!)
  3. I used some of my hubby’s 1974 Armagnac. Good quality booze equalled tastier treats.

Make sure you check out the other delicious alfajor recipes and photos:

Katie, Seashells and Sunflowers – alfajores marplatenses
Aledys, From Argentina to the Netherlands, For Love! – alfajores cordobeses
Meag, A Domestic Disturbance – alfajores santafesinos
Rebecca, From Argentina With Love –  alfajores mendocinos
Paula, Bee My Chef  –  Buenos Aires Foodies – alfajores salteños

This slideshow requires JavaScript.