This is Highly Recommend, a column dedicated to what people in the food industry are obsessed with eating, drinking, and buying right now.
My dad is from Buenos Aires, but even though I spent much of my childhood in Latin America, trips to his home country of Argentina were rare. It was always more convenient—or, when we were living in the States, more exciting—for his relatives to come and visit us, bringing with them stories of home, Lionel Messi jerseys, and suitcases brimming with snacks. Some of the suitcase foods were a bit above my head. Six-year-old me hadn’t developed a taste for vizcacha escabeche, a pickled rodent dish beloved in Patagonian cuisine, sold in colorful jars. But, even as my palate has expanded, one treat continues to reign supreme: Havanna alfajores.
Argentina is often celebrated for its meats, but our cuisine has an incredible sweet side: Whimsically named facturas (pastries like nun’s sighs, vigilantes, and friar’s balls, to name a few), heavy slices of cakey chocotorta, and my personal go-to, alfajores. Alfajores are common throughout Latin American cultures, but the iconic Havanna brand got its start at the Confitería Havanna, a Cuban cafe in Buenos Aires. They’re roughly palm-sized pastries, made up of two light and crumbly biscuits sandwiching a layer of sticky dulce de leche. My favorites are coated in either sweet white meringue or rich dark chocolate, but my dad swears by the nut-filled Nuez flavor while my sweet-toothed younger brothers always reach for the white chocolate. Havanna packages the confections in a case similar to a sturdy cigar box, a nod to the brand’s blended heritage, but I’ve always thought of it as a treasure chest.
As a kid, finding a Havanna box in my aunt’s carry-on felt like every holiday at once. I called them “Oreos Argentinos” and would eagerly dip them in hot chocolate, watching the coating dissolve before each bite. Havanna’s dulce de leche, which you can also get by the jarful, is the perfect mix of sticky and smooth. It clings to your molars for a few moments before melting away, careful not to overstay its welcome.
Havanna alfajores used to be a rare treat, difficult to find outside of Argentina and reserved on the top shelf as rewards for good behavior, but they’ve become easier to find over the years. I was delighted to see them at a pastry shop in Paris a couple years ago and can reliably find them at Latin grocers in New York now. Still, my life truly changed the day I realized I could just order them online. These days I keep a box in my pantry to serve with coffee on slow weekend mornings, as an afternoon treat when life calls for a bit of sugar, or whenever I want to feel closer to a place that’s always felt a bit far away.
Or you could make your own: