Julie Stalmer 9:30 a.m., May 22
Little cookies, long story at El Cuervo
Hillcrest taco shop serves shortbread cookies with history baked in.
I don’t usually go to El Cuervo (110 West Washington Street, Hillcrest, 619-295-9713) because it’s very average and on the wrong side of the street. Really, it’s virtually identical to Los Panchos--both restaurants even use the same style of menu board--but not quite as good. Nevertheless, I strolled into El Cuervo during a gastronomic “emergency” and ate a not-very-good fish burrito. At least it cost me less than $4.
This isn’t about that burrito, however, as I don’t recommend El Cuervo to anyone when taco time rolls around. This is about cookies. There were cookies sitting in a covered cake stand on the counter. Each one was a sandwich cookie filled with caramel cream. On an impulse, I picked one up for the road. It was like $1.50 and I’m glad I made the choice.
What a cookie! The twin biscuits were a crumbly, lightly sweetened shortbread with a slight nuttiness. I suspect some almonds got involve in the baking, but I can’t quite prove it. What I can prove was the stroke of genius on behalf of the baker who laced the cookies with anise or caraway seeds. Perfect! The licorice bite of the seeds was like an exclamation point (or “bang,” if you will) at the end of the story told by shortbread and caramel.
After doing a little research, I learned that the cookies are properly called alfajores and that they are the evolved descendant of a confection first baked in Moorish Spain hundreds of years ago. Through the Spanish diaspora, alfajores landed in Latin and South America and have taken regional variations in different countries. The version I had at El Cuervo used cajeta, a Mexican milk caramel, but there are alfajores that use coconut, molasses, or chocolate. For such humble cookies, they have a long and colorful history. Just eating one is a lesson in history and geography! That, and a delicious experience.
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