Natilla – Comfort in a Bowl

Ooooo, I am so full…I had two bowls of natilla, which a sweet custard or in other words: really awesome velvety rich vanilla pudding.

On my way home from work today I was dreaming of having some leftover picadillo in a sandwich of Cuban bread, but when I opened the fridge it was gone…all gone.  My dad ate it.  This was a little saddening but on the brightside, my dad, who is not a fan of picadillo, thought it was great, so that means something!  I ended up having a disappointing Lean Cuisine for dinner since I didn’t feel like spending a long time cooking dinner so I decided, why not make dessert?

I thought I had never had natilla before but as soon as I put it in my mouth the memories came back.  Warm natilla poured into a serving dish by my grandmother.  Warm natilla melting in my mouth.  In fact, everywhere I’ve read about natilla, people have always regarded it with nostalgia, memories of the beautiful island they left.  It’s definitely a Cuban comfort food that everyone had as a kid.  Before I started this cooking project, my mom told me how great her mother’s natilla was.  (My Abuela passed away when I was a kid.)  That’s why I was thrilled when I found some small notes, possibly Abuela’s, in an old Cuban cookbook we have.

Natilla, like flan, is a food everyone has their own recipe of.  This was overwhelming at first but I decided to use the proportions of ingredients in the old Cuban cookbook with the handwritten notes and the directions of Memories of a Cuban Kitchen.  The ingredients are 4 cups of milk, 1 can of evaporated milk, 1 can of condensed milk, a dash of cinnamon, a pinch of salt, 10 egg yolks, 1 cup of sugar, 4-5 tablespoon of maicena (cornstarch), and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.

First mix the egg yolks with a cup of milk.  In a large saucepan mix a cup of milk with the cornstarch, then add the sugar and the rest of the milk and stir well.  Strain the egg yolk mixture while pouring into the saucepan to get the little globs out.  Then add the evaporated and condensed milk and a dash of cinnamon and mix.  Put the burner on medium heat and stir *constantly* until thick (about 20 minutes).  When it’s thick take it off the heat, pour it into a serving dish.  The topping on natilla varies.  The easiest (which I did since it’s my first time around) is spinkling some cinnamon on top.  The other ways are carmelizing some sugar, pouring it on top and refridgerating, or some pour sugar on top then put it in a preheated broiler to create a crispy sugar crust kind of like creme brullee (sp?).  I’ve read that they used to do this with a clothing iron back in the day. :D

So once you put your topping, in my case cinnamon, let it cool at room temperature then refridgerate.  Or you can eat warm and fresh which is just about the damn best thing you’ve ever tasted.  I’m telling you, it really IS comfort food.  It turned out fabulously.  When my mom tasted it she said, “You’ve made me sad.”  “Why?” I asked.
“It’s just like my mom’s.”

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