Monday, April 28, 2008

La Natilla de Elda (Custard)

Saturday we spent the afternoon at Elda's house learning how to make traditional Cuban Natilla -(nah-tee-yah). The recipe she shared with us was her mother's - so it was truly sharing a recipe between generations.
Natilla (custard) is one of those dishes that is a bit idiosyncratic - there are all sorts of little tricks and secrets that make the difference between an OK Natilla and a great Natilla. So bear with the quirks and the results will be a fantastic Natilla.

The Ingredients:

3 ½ cups whole milk (set an additional ½ cup aside to dilute corn starch)
12 oz. evaporated milk
1 cup half and half
6 egg yolks
4 heaping tbsp Corn Starch
¼ tsp sea salt
4 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cinnamon stick
2 inch lemon peel
1 cup of Sugar (set an additional ½ cup aside)
Ground cinnamon (as garnish)

NOTE: Elda recommends using a heavy gauge stainless steel pot (to provide slow and even heat conduction) and wooden spoons.
The Process:

  1. Combine whole milk, evaporated milk, half and half, lemon peel, whole cinnamon stick, sugar, butter and salt in heavy gauge pot.

  1. In a separate container add the cornstarch, and then add ½ cup of milk. Stir to dissolve all lumps.

  1. Add egg yolks to corn starch mixture. Stir until thoroughly mixed.

  1. Strain to eliminate hard bits of starch and stray egg whites.

  1. Place pot on stove (make sure the burner is smaller than the pot) and set to High. Heat the mixture until it comes to a simmering boil and then lower to Medium.
  1. Taste the milk mixture. It should taste like very sweet milk, not gritty but sugary. Slowly add additional sugar to taste, stirring to completely dissolve each addition. Typically anywhere between 1/8 and ½ cup of sugar are added.

  2. Slowly stir about three ladles of the heated milk mixture to the egg and cornstarch mixture to temper the eggs.

  1. Remove the cinnamon stick and lemon peel from the milk mixture.

  2. Add the tempered eggs to the pot stirring constantly and in one direction.

  3. When the mixture comes to a boil again, lower the temperature to Medium Low and cook for 3 minutes or until it coats the spoon.

  1. Remove from heat.

  2. Stir in the vanilla extract.

  3. Pour into a glass or ceramic container and cover with plastic wrap so that the plastic is touching the Natilla – this will avoid a skin from forming on the top. Do not cover with a lid until it cools in order to avoid condensation.

  1. Allow to cool before refrigerating.

  2. Sprinkle with powdered cinnamon when served.
  • TIP: Making Natilla is all about patience - bringing ingredients together slowly and stirring often so that they completely incorporate and not burn to the bottom of your pan. You can’t over stir but you can add too much sugar, so be careful.

VariationFor a slightly different flavor, you can replace the cup of half & half with a 14 oz. can of condensed milk. If you do so, rather than starting off with 1 cup of sugar, start with ¾ cup and then add sugar to taste. We were told this method requires more diligence in combining the milks.
Served cool, Natilla makes a great summer dessert.
We spent a wonderful afternoon among friends sharing stories, champagne and best of all a wonderful family recipe. Thank you Elda!
¡Buen provecho!