As mentioned in my previous post, nata is cream freshly skimmed from whole milk, and natilla is a diminutive form that names a creamy custard. The original dessert was probably created in European convents, where nuns took advantage of the few bucolic staples at hand: milk, sugar and eggs; some flavourings such as citrus zest, or cinnamon, would be added, as well. All those ingredients were introduced to Mexico from Spain during colonial times. Classic natilla recipes have been true survivors both in Spain and in Latin America, changing very little throughout the centuries; however, nowadays, corn starch is often added so less eggs are required for the thickening of the mix, and flavourings such as vanilla and chocolate (both originally from Mexico) are common, even in recipes from Spain. Hence, my recipe is based on a classic Spanish recipe, and for a Mexican touch, with no apologies, I was game to add vanilla as the main flavouring, along with lime for the citrus component, which, although not native, has become an emblematic flavour in Mexican cuisine.
Classic Spanish Custard – Natilla Clásica
Ingredients (for 8 portions)
6 cups whole cow’s milk
1 ½ cups sugar
4 eggs (only yolks needed)
¼ cup corn starch
¼ cup water; at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp lime zest
8 plain biscuits, such as Maria; optional
More lime zest, or ground cinnamon, for garnish; optional
Place milk in a pot over medium heat, and add sugar:
Warm up, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves, and the mix becomes foamy, but it does not boil.
Meanwhile, separate eggs, reserving whites for another recipe, and placing yolks in a bowl (photo below, left). Place water (at room temperature) in a separate mixing bowl or large measuring cup, and add corn starch (photo below, right):
Stir with a whisk until corn starch dissolves, then continue beating, while adding egg yolks, one by one (photo below, left). Add vanilla and continue beating (photo below, right):
Add freshly grated lime zest (photo below, left). Beat until all gets incorporated. To temper this mixture before adding to the pot, scoop about half a cup of the warm milk, and slowly add to the egg mixture, while beating with the whisk (photo below, right):
Now slowly pour the tempered mixture into the pot, while beating with the whisk (photo below, left). Continue cooking over medium heat, between five and ten minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mix thickens, coating the pot wall and the back of the spoon (photo below, right):
Remove from heat and allow to cool down for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring a few times. This natilla may be transferred to a container with lid and kept in the fridge until serving time.
To serve, pour natilla into individual bowls, and if desired, sprinkle lime zest or ground cinnamon on top, and add a biscuit to each bowl:
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