Sunday, December 11, 2011

La natilla

In spite of being, you know, Jewish, I am seriously missing the endless Christmas cookies implicit in any December in the U.S. Sooner or later something will have to be done to rectify that situation; I´m thinking gingersnaps and rugelach. Felipe on his end has been a bit nostalgic for Colombian December which always involves consuming massive amounts of natilla, buñuelos and fruit conserves. Natilla in Colombia is often made from a box mix, but the homemade version is incredibly easy to make. It's very similar to a cornstarch-based stovetop pudding, but it has a far higher percentage of cornstarch, so much so that it can be cut into slices when cool. Despite the hot weather, December in Colombia tends to involve an abundance of warming spices-- cinnamon, cloves, star anise. Natilla primarily tastes of panela, with its warm cane sugar taste, and of cinnamon, and although I wasn't an instant convert (the texture threw me for a loop-- I think we don't have anything quite like it in the states), I soon learned that it is amazing to snack on. I carve off sliver after sliver, cup of coffee in hand. It's not heavy in the same way that many American holiday desserts are so you don't feel it in, and then without noticing you've eaten half the dish. Some people make natilla in fancy flan molds, but most families just use plain baking dishes, which is what we did. I highly recommend it.


4 c. whole milk
8.8 oz. panela, grated (panela or piloncillo can be found in Latin markets; to be honest, I had to replace about a 1/4 of the panela with muscovado sugar because I ran out of panela and we didn't notice any difference in taste)
1 1/2 c. (6.4 oz.) cornstarch (Maizena)
zest of 1 lime
1 vanilla bean left over from some other recipe (the seeds already scraped out), completely optional

ground cinnamon for sprinkling on top

Have a clean flan mold or medium-sized baking dish ready. (The size doesn't matter all that much, but an 8 in x 8 in. brownie pan should be just fine.) Whisk all of the ingredients together in a large, heavy bottom pot.  Turn on the heat to medium and continue to whisk, making sure to scrape the bottom well. The mixture will begin to thicken as it heats, and you just want to continue whisking. Lumps will start to form; continue whisking, they will smooth out at the end. When the mixture gets very thick so that it's almost hard to stir, and you can see the bottom of the pan when you pass a spoon through the mixture, the natilla is done. (Remove the vanilla bean if you used it.) Immediately pour the mixture into the pan. Sprinkle with cinnamon and let cool completely, either on the counter or in the fridge (it cools fairly quickly; it shouldn't take more than 15-30 min.) Cut into slices and serve. 


1 litro de leche entera
1 1/2 taza (180 g.) de almidón de maíz (Maizena)
250 g. de panela rallada (para ser honesta, solo tenía 190 g. de panela y tuve que echar 60 g. de azúcar moscovado, pero no notamos la diferencia)
cascara de 1 limón (verde) rallada
1 vaina de vainilla, ya raspada de otro uso, totalmente opcional

canela molida para salpicar encima

Ten un molde o una bandeja mediana lista para echar la natilla. Bate todos los ingredientes en una olla grande de fondo grueso. Prende una hornalla al fuego medio y sigue batiendo, teniendo cuidado de raspar el fondo bien. La mezcla va a ir espesando mientras se calienta, y quieres seguir batiendo sin parar, raspando el fondo. Grumos van a empezar a formar; sigue batiendo, se van a desaparecer al final. Cuando la mezcla esté tan espesa que está casi difícil revolver y puedes ver el fondo de la olla al pasar una cucharada por la mezcla, la natilla está lista. (Saca la vaina de vainilla si la echaste.) Inmediatamente echa la mezcla al molde o la bandeja. Salpica con canela y dejala enfriar, al aire o en la nevera (se enfria bastante rápida; no debería demorar más que 15-30 min.) Corta en tajadas y sirve.  


  1. I'm Jewish too, and married to a woman from Popayan (as I mentioned on my comment to your Popayan article).

    I'll be there for Chanukah, I'll have to teach my Colombian family about it. When I saw the Natilla, the first thing I thought was hummus :)

    Chag sameach!

  2. Ha, that is hilarious that natilla looked like hummus to you! That would be a pretty huge shock if that´s what you were expecting when you tried it for the first time.
    I feel like Colombians have a natural affinity for Chanukah given their love of all things fried. Chag sameach to you too!

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