Natillas (Spanish custard): the first dessert I learnt to cook
When you get to learn the fundamentals of cooking desserts the beginnings are quite hard. Every ingredient must be precisely measured, every step has to be followed in strict order and if you fail any of these it’s over. I remember when I attempted my first cake bake: I tried to impress my girlfriend with a simple chocolate sponge and I burnt it-not to mention the batter tasted worse than a salted black coffee. A WMD if it had been found in Iraq back to the Tony Blair days.
We never want to feed our food bin nor waste any ingredient-because in the end it’s money that goes down the drain. So if you want to immerse in the wonderful world of the sweet my advice is to start with simple recipes, not too much time consuming and involving cooking techniques that you are familiar with. The classic and traditional Spanish natillas (our national version of custard) are cheap, effortless and there is no room to fail. At all.
Along withArroz con leche, the Spanish custard is one of the most popular household desserts in the country. It seems to have originated in the nunneries given the low economic cost of the ingredients involved. The main difference with the English recipe is the use of cinnamon and citrus peels that provide a unique, aromatic flavour. This way, you can eat it on its own because it becomes a single dish-actually, the perfect one to crown up a good meal. However, we also love including a solid element in order to make it more filling. While you usually choose a sponge cake, we go for a biscuit instead.
This last thing once made me think a lot. In Spain, I would definitively use either Maria Fontaneda or Cuetara oro, the two kinds that both of my grandmothers always have at home-I recently learnt the latter is sold in the UK, but in very few physical shops. In Britain, you can substitute them for a Rich Tea or Malted Milk biscuits if you don’t manage to get hold of the above. I’ve tried that myself and all I can say is your natillas will be 99,99 per cent true to the original recipe. Not bad at all.
Egg yolks (4)
Whole milk (500 ml)
Sugar (75 g)
Corn flour (20 g)
Lemon peel (1)
Cinnamon stick (1)
Rich tea biscuits (4)
DIRECTIONS FOR COOKING
Separate some milk in a small glass. Heat up the rest of it in a sauce pan with the lemon peel and the cinnamon stick-do it at low power. Once it begins to boil, set aside with the lid on until you need it again.
2. In a bowl, mix the egg yolks with the sugar with a manual whisker. Dissolve the corn flour in the glass of milk, pour it in the bowl and integrate it with the previous mixture. If some egg yolk sticks to the whisker, it will easily fall after getting in contact with the milk. All in all, it will result in a yellowish, pale liquid.
3. Pass the flavoured milk set aside earlier through a strainer and pour it in the bowl. Whisk the mixture until everything is fully integrated. Make sure there are no flour lumps at this stage.
4. Get the sauce pan back and pour the liquid in. Heat at medium power and start whisking in circles. Very important: you cannot stop the motion until it thickens. Once you reach a thick, gravy-like texture, stop the heating.
5. Serve in recipients of your choice and let it cool until they are lukewarm or below. Place a biscuit on top of each one and sprinkle some ground cinnamon. Cover with cling film and chill in the fridge for a couple of hours before they are eaten.