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What Are Natillas?

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  • Written By: Eugene P.
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 04 November 2016
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Natilla is a custard-like dessert from Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries. It is made from milk, sugar and eggs that are cooked together, whipped and chilled until the consistency has become thick and creamy. Flavorings such as vanilla or chocolate can be added to natillas, although a generous amount of cinnamon is usually the primary flavoring. The custard can be served on its own or have a lightly sweetened cookie floating in its center, or it can be served with a type of fried dough known as bunuelos on the side. In some countries, such as Colombia, the dish is known as manjar blanco and natillas are a slightly different dish that does not include eggs.

The recipe for making traditional Spanish natillas begins by infusing the flavor of cinnamon with the milk in the dish. Although milk is the most common liquid, heavy cream also can be used. Cinnamon sticks are simmered with milk until the cinnamon flavor is transferred, after which the sticks are removed.

Eggs — usually a good number of them — are then separated into yolks and whites. The egg yolks are whipped until smooth and mixed with sugar and a thickening agent such as corn starch or flour. The next step involves mixing the hot milk with the eggs, meaning the eggs will first need to be tempered.

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Tempering the eggs is one way to help ensure that natillas are smooth and creamy. The heat from the milk, if added directly to the egg yolks, could be hot enough to actually cook them, creating a lumpy, scrambled egg-like substance. Instead, a small amount of the hot milk should be poured into the yolks while they are being constantly whisked. This will slowly increase the temperature of the egg yolks and, once warmed, they can be added to the hot milk without the threat of cooking into a solid so long as the mixture is constantly being whisked during the pouring process.

The combined milk and yolks are allowed to cook together for a time, but they are not allowed to boil. This can be done easily by using a double boiler help better control the heat and prevent hot spots from scalding the liquid on the bottom of the pan. Once the ingredients have come together fully and thickened, natillas are taken off of the heat and allowed to cool.

Meanwhile, the egg whites are whipped until they become firm and solid. The whites are then folded gently into the milk and yolk mixture, adding a lightness and volume to it. The entire dessert is then placed in a refrigerator and allowed to chill. Completed natillas can be served in bowls or glasses with powdered cinnamon sprinkled in a thin layer on the top.

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