Monday, 27 June 2011


Sweet mouthfuls from my Córdoba
(si prefieres leer este post en español, por favor, sigue este enlace)
A batch of my alfajores cordobeses filled with cherry jam

Here's some advice for you: if a colleague from work, a neighbour, your cousin, your best friend or even a certain blogger contact of yours tells you that he or she is heading for Córdoba -mostly the one in Argentina, but as you will see, it can also be the one in Spain- and he or she asks what you want as a souvenir from this exotic and far away land, make sure you remember this word and learn how to say it properly, "alfajores!" You will thank me if you do. Here is why:

What is an alfajor?

An alfajor is basically a pastry made by joining two layers of cake or biscuits with some dulce de leche, mousse or fruit jam in the middle.  Depending on where they come from, alfajores can be made in different ways, filled with different kinds of jams and either coated in white or dark chocolate, in a sugar glaze or simply covered with a dust of powdered sugar.  Take your pick, they are the sweetest mouthfuls you can ask for and they are very popular all over Argentina.

Alfajores de maicena by "The Baker's Dozen", a small business owned by a friend in Córdoba.

Where does the alfajor come from?

The alfajor (pronounced more or less alfa-HOR, plural is alfajores - alfa-HO-res) entered Spain in the times of the al-Andalus, when the whole of Spain was occupied by the Moors (from 711 to 1492 to be precise). Moorish influence in Spanish culture is still going strong to this day and it is to the Moors that we have to thank for this beautiful pastry.

Interior of the impressive mosque in the city of Córdoba (Spain) - remains of the glory of the al-Andalus.
 It was mostly in the convents all over Spain (and therefore probably in those of the old Córdoba, the one in Andalusia) where nuns kept alive many of the brilliant recipes that the Moors had introduced in Spain; and in time, it was through Spain that the tradition of the alfajor was taken to the other side of the Atlantic to the South American colonies, where the recipes changed, due to the lack of ingredients or to new habits, but where they became a favourite type of pastry across the continent.

The alfajor in Argentina:

It was also in Córdoba, but this time the new one in Argentina, where the alfajor started to be produced at an industrial scale. Back in the 1860s, Augusto Chammás, a French chemist who had settled in the mediterranean city, started a small family factory to produce what we today know as the typical alfajor cordobés. Alfajores Chammás are, in my humble opinion, still the best that you can get in Córdoba. (wink, wink ... remember this for the operation "souvenir cordobés"!)

Nowadays there are lots of different brands and factories that come up with their special type of alfajor - all or most of them ricos (tasty). Every tourist centre in the country has its own type or brand, and if you are on holidays in the hills of Córdoba, in Bariloche, or in Mar del Plata, you simply can't go back home without taking a couple of dozens for your family or friends.

The best: the alfajor cordobés
A batch of the alfajores filled with dulce the leche that I prepared recently.

Now, I wouldn't be a true Argie if I didn't claim that our alfajores from Córdoba are the best, would I? But the truth be told, I prefer alfajores that taste as artesanales (handmade) and are light and fluffy rather than creamy or chocolatey such as those you buy in any kiosco or supermarket in Argentina.
The classic alfajor cordobés is made with two layers of a crumbly, airy pastry hugging, so to speak, the fruit jam or dulce de leche in between. The most comon fruit jams used to fill them are quince, fig or apricot. The sandwich biscuits are either covered in a dusting of icing sugar or coated in an egg white glaze.

The Challenge: 

Once again, my blogger friend Katie from Seashells and Sunflowers came up with a challenge for bloggers in / from Argentina and this time it was a sweet one:  each one of the participant bloggers had to make her own regional version of alfajores.
On this occasion, the participants are (besides myself, of course):
Katie, from blog Seashells and Sunflowers
Ana, from blog Ana's Travels
Meag, from blog A Domestic Disturbance
Rebecca, from blog From Argentina, with Love
Paula, from blog Buenos Aires Foodies

Please visit Katie's, Ana's, Meag's, Rebecca's and Paula's blogs to find the other recipes for more Alfajor Heaven!

Now, if you are not so lucky as to have a work colleague, neighbour, cousin, best friend or even a certain blogger contact kind enough to bring you Chammás alfajores from Córdoba, you can always try to make your own. Here is...

the recipe for alfajores cordobeses:

Ingredients: (this recipe made me 20 alfajores, cutting the biscuits of the size of an espresso cup)

200 grams of icing sugar
6 egg yokes
50 grams of butter, melted
the zest of 1 lemon
150 grams of plain flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
dulce de leche or fruit jam to fill the biscuits

For the glazing:

3 spoons of icing sugar
1 egg white
100 grams of caster sugar
75 cc. of water
the juice of half a lemon


  1. Beat the icing sugar and the egg yokes until the mixture is foamy. You can do this au bain marie (placing the bowl with the mixture on top of pan with warm -not too hot- water).
  2. Add the melted butter, the plain flour, the baking powder and the lemon zest, then mix until you get a soft dough. If necessary, add some more plain flour until you see that you can lift the dough easily from the bowl. Shape the dough into two balls and place in the fridge to cool for at least 20 minutes.
  3. Preheat the oven to 160/170°C. On a floured work surface work the dough until you get a thickness of about 1/2 cm. Cut the dough into 4 cm circles using a pasta cutter or the rim of a small glass or cup.
  4. Place the biscuits obtained on an oven plaque lined with baking paper and take to the oven. 
  5. Bake for about 10 to 12 minutes until done (dry but not brown), take them out and let them cool.
  6. Take one biscuit and spread some dulce de leche or the fruit jam of your choice on it, then top it with another biscuit. Repeat the process until you have used all the biscuits. 

The glazing:

  1.  Beat the egg whites and the icing sugar for about 10 minutes you obtain a thick cream.
  2. Prepare a syrup with 100 grams of caster sugar and the water (do not add much, just enough to more or less cover the amount of sugar) and put it on the gas until the sugar dissolves. 
  3. Add the syrup to the egg white mix and coat the alfajores immediately. 
  4. Let the glazing dry before serving or storing the alfajores.
The final result: my alfajores cordobeses with a white sugar and egg white coating.

A sneak preview of the other girls' alfajores for this challenge:
(you can click on the link below the photo to go to the recipes)


Thanks to my friend Claudia from "The Baker's Dozen" (Córdoba, Argentina) for letting me use her picture of the delicious alfajores de maicena.
Please, visit The Baker's Dozen Facebook page for information on their chocolaterie/patisserie and confectionery products for birthday parties and events in the city of Córdoba.Questions and orders can be sent to consultasbaker [at] hotmail [dot] com or call (54 351) 424 8715.

    Sunday, 19 June 2011

    Spotted in Belgium: Kwak beer

    (para leer este post en español, sigue este enlace)

    Actually, I first spotted this beer here in the Netherlands - at the café/restaurant De Belgische Keizer (the Belgian Emperor) in Zwolle, to be more precise. But during our recent mini-vacation in the Ardennes in Belgium, we stopped at the tavern/restaurant Le Miroir (site in French and Dutch only) in Dochamps (province of Luxemburg) for dinner and when I saw that they had Pauwel Kwak beer, I couldn't resist the temptation to order one while we waited for our dinner.

    Kwak beer is always served in glasses that have a very distinctive shape: they have a round bottom and look more like an hour-glass than like a traditional beer glass. The "hour-glass" is held upright in a wooden stand and the whole thing looks like a piece of scientific tool more fit to be displayed in a lab than in a bar. It is certainly quite original.

     I have had Kwak many times before but I never got round to finding more about the origin of this beer. This time as  soon as I came back from our holiday and started working on my vacation photos, I thought I would just do some research and see what I could find about it.

    Back in Napoleon's times, Pauwel Kwak was a beer brewer and owner of an inn called "De Hoorn" (the horn) in Dendermonde, East Flanders. Every day the stage-coaches passing by would stop at the inn to take a break. In those days, the coachman was not allowed to leave the horses and the coach outside and join his passengers for a drink inside the inn, so Mr. Kwak, the owner of this particular inn came up with an idea.
    He had a special Kwak glass made: round-bottomed, which could be hung from a wooden holder to prevent it from spilling the precious liquid. In this way, the thirsty coachman, could safely enjoy his Kwak beer without leaving his coach and the horses unattended.

    Kwak beer is still today brewed and served in the traditional way: in the Kwak glass. But what about the taste? I do not know much about beers, but I can tell you that this one is delicious, like many other Belgian beers that I have tasted so far. To the eye it has a deep clear amber colour and a creamy thick foam. It also has a soft  fruity  and a malty aroma with a light herbal character. When you drink it, the taste starts with the fruit - maybe bananas or ananas... and it is sweet: it always makes me think of caramel. After you drink it, there is a light bitterness and spiciness that remains in the back of your tongue.

    Pauwel Kwak is a traditional Belgian beer with a story behind it. Original and lekker (delicious) - definitely at the top of my list of favourite beers.

    Friday, 10 June 2011

    Visitng Zeeland II: The Oosterscheldekering or Eastern Scheldt storm surge barrier

    (Si prefieres leer este post en español, sigue este enlace)
    The piers and slides of the Eastern Scheldt barrier in the province of Zeeland.

    With the official inauguration of the storm surge barrier in the Oosterschelde (the Eastern Scheldt river) on 4 October 1986, Queen Beatrix declared the Delta Plan works in the Netherlands completed. More than ten years later she did that again when she opened the last section of the Nieuwe Waterweg Dam on 10 May 1997. It doesn't matter how many times it needs to be said; one thing is for sure: The Netherlands has definitely tamed the power of the sea - or at least, that is what we like to hear from those who have in their charge the management and the overseeing of the dikes and dams in this country.

    With 60% of its territory under the sea level, the Netherlands is world renowned for its Delta works - a series of construction projects designed to protect a large area of the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt delta from the destructive power of the sea. Bearing these facts in mind when I moved to the Netherlands,  I thought that I had to pay a visit to the monumental sea barrier  and see for myself this ingenious work of engineering.

    This is why the main purpose of our holiday in the southern province of Zeeland was to stop at the Oosterscheldekering or Eastern Scheldt Storm Surge Barrier - the most impressive storm surging structure in the Netherlands.

    The Oosterschelde or Eastern Scheldt Storm Surge Barrier.
    This is what the Oosterschelde Storm Surge Barrier looks like on Google Maps:

    The construction of this sea barrier cost an impressive total amount of 2.5 billion euros; but even more impressive is what it is supposed to have achieved: thanks to this monumental barrier the chances of having a destructive flood like the one that the country suffered in 1953, have gone down to one in every ... 4.000 years!

    Driving on the Oosterschelde barrier you can get a closer look at the piers and slides that make up the construction.

    The alternative plans for the Oosterschelde: 
    Initially, this section of the Eastern Scheldt delta was to be closed with a regular dam that would completely block the sea. But even though safety was the top priority, there were serious concerns about the consequences that this kind of barrier would have on the ecosystem of the delta. The alternative then, was to build a barrier consisting of piers with slides that were to be kept open, but which could be closed if there was any risk of flood.
    The cost of executing this plan as it was originally intended would have been astronomical and therefore, after much discussion in Parliament, it was finally decided that the best alternative was to build two auxiliary dams (the Philips dam and the Oester dam) to reduce the surface of the open barrier and, at the same time, allow for a better control of the tidal movement. The new plan also included a tide-free shipping route between Antwerp and the Rhine.

    Everything seem to be working properly when I "inspected" the Oosterschelde Storm Surge Barrier in 2008.

    Nature in the Oosterschelde:
    The sea/ landscape and wild life in the Oosterschelde is now quite unique with a rich variety of fish, water plants and algae. The reserve is also a favourite with an amazing number of birds that feed or hibernate on the land. All this wonderful natural environment would have been completely lost if the original plan to close the Eastern Scheldt had been carried out and also mussel and oyster farming would have been affected with disastrous economic conseequences for the entire region.
    Fortunately, the alternative chosen for this amazing piece of engineering seems to have been a success; not only to keep the sea level under control, but also for the preservation of the natural habitat of hundreds of different species.

    The Oosterschelde storm surge barrier is a must-see for anyone who wants to know what makes the Dutch people proud. Windmills, tulips, cheese and wooden shoes you can take back with you as souvenirs (you will find plenty of these at the Schiphol Duty Free shop and you can even order them online); but the water works and what they have done for the safety of the Dutch coast can only be truly appreciated in-situ. Open your eyes, take it in, enjoy ... and learn.

    There is a fun way to get to know  more about the Delta Works and sea life in Zeeland: the Delta park Neeltje-Jan, built on an artificial island on the Oosterschelde offers exhibitions and educational activities together with fun attractions like a sealion theatre, a hurricane simulator and many, many more interesting things to do or see, making it is an ideal place to spend time with the children. On their website you can find all the information necessary to plan your visit.

    A plaque placed at one of the ends of the barrier reads in Dutch:

    "Hier gaan over het tij, de wind, de maan en wij."
    (Here rule over the tide, the wind, the moon and us)

    You may also like to read: The light breeze of Zeeland and Visiting Zeeland I: Middelburg.