Thursday, February 23, 2012

Spanish Natillas


Travel has a way of awakening all of the senses. The minute you arrive at a new destination, you are surrounded by new and exciting things. You experience a change of pace, either in the rush of a fast moving city or the slow tranquility of a tropical destination. Before arriving, you may have preconceived notions of a place and may be surprised once you arrive and find it is nothing like you had imagined. This adds to the adventure of exploring a new place.

One of my favorite things about travel is having the opportunity to try new foods. In my travel research, I will often make a list of the foods I want to try and make it a point to find those things as quickly as possible upon arrival.

A few years back, my husband and I went with some friends to Spain. Our friend was originally from Spain and was making the trip back to visit his relatives and old friends. This trip was especially exciting because we had the rare opportunity of seeing the country through the eyes of the locals and actually feeling like one of the locals. We had the inside scoop on all of the best sights and foods. We sampled the tastiest dishes, including Paella, Jamon, Chorizo, Tortillas, Conejo (rabbit), and Croquetas. I especially enjoyed the pastries and sweets. One of my favorite desserts was Spanish Natillas, which is a type of egg custard. I vowed to find the recipe and make it when I returned from my trip.

Since then, I have tried a few different recipes and haven't been satisfied with the results until now. I found this recipe, but I decided to tweak it a bit because the recipe called for lemon and I specifically remembered tasting cinnamon in the batches I had tasted in Spain. Aside from the lemon, the other ingredients seemed accurate, so I gave it a try, adapting it based on the ingredients I had on hand.

The resulting custard was mostly as I remembered from Spain, but was a bit more runny. The next time I make it, I will add more cornstarch; the recipe below takes that into account, adding 6 Tablespoons instead of the 5 from the original recipe.

Spanish Natillas

4 Egg Yolks
2 Cups Heavy Cream
2 Cups Milk (I only had skim milk on hand, which is why I decided to incorporate the heavy cream to add the richness this custard needs)
5 Tablespoons of Cornstarch (original recipe called for 4, but it was too runny)
8 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
1/2 of a Vanilla Bean (split so that it will release the little vanilla seeds when cooking)
1 Cinnamon Stick
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
Maria Cookies (optional); shown here:

1. In a bowl, mix half of the milk and half of the cream in a bowl with the egg yolks and corn starch. Set aside.

2. In a sauce pan on the stovetop (set to medium heat), add the remaining milk and sugar. At this point, you can also add the cinnamon stick, ground cinnamon and split vanilla bean. Mix slowly, but stir constantly to prevent milk from burning. It should be hot, but not boiling. Keep stirring.

3. Take a few spoonfuls of the heated milk mixture from the saucepan and add it to the bowl of milk/eggs that you have set aside. Stir well. This will help temper (bring up to temperature) the mixture to avoid scrambling the eggs once you add the eggs and milk to the mixture on the stovetop. Slowly add the mixture from the bowl to the milk and sugar that are heating on the stovetop. Continue stirring and allow the mixture to cook for another couple of minutes. The mixture will begin to thicken a bit and should no longer taste like cornstarch. If you still taste cornstarch, allow it to cook a bit longer.

4. Remove the mixture from the stovetop and strain into a bowl with a fine sieve. This will remove any clumps you have and you won't have to worry about trying to fish out the cinnamon stick or vanilla bean from the hot custard.

5. Pour the custard into small ramekins (or into one large dish, if you prefer); Add a Maria cookie on top for decoration (this is how I remember them from Spain; luckily, I was able to find them here in my local market).

6. Allow these to cool at room temperature and then put them in the fridge so they will firm up. Keep refrigerated until serving.


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