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A direct descendant of Spanish Crema Catalana, natilla is a rich, creamy milk custard made without the crispy burnt sugar topping. This custard is sweet, thick, comforting and perfect for entertaining, because it can be prepared up to a day ahead.
One thing I love about Latin desserts is that they’re usually very simple to make, yet super elegant. Only a few key ingredients are needed to make crowd pleasing faves like flan, tres leches, and arroz con leche. The most important ingredient that these dishes share? Besides love (of course), the key ingredient for all these recipes and more…is MILK! Milk-based desserts are the foundation of so many Latin desserts, and it’s no surprise why! Real dairy milk is wholesome, simple and affordable – it enhances some of life’s most loved moments. Natilla in Puerto Rico is typically served around the Christmas season in small cups, with cinnamon sprinkled on top. This creamy, dreamy custard always reminds me of family and love, with each delicious bite.
Milk is the foundation for many American favorites and tastes from around the world, and has been for centuries. From creamy macaroni and cheese to a classic alfredo sauce to a delectable crème brulée, milk adds dimension, accentuates the flavor and serves as a decadent base to many of your favorite dishes. I always have two types of milk at home, 2% for splashing into my coffee or mixing with cereal, and whole milk for baking and desserts. There is just no substitute that compares. My recipe for natilla is inspired by my Abuela Yolly, who is known for her legendary version of this dish. She’s the self proclaimed natilla queen, so much so, that she’s the only one who makes it for our family. No one else even tries to compete, because she’s got the recipe for success!
My Puerto Rican natilla recipe features pantry and fridge staples like whole milk, egg yolks, lemon peel, cinnamon, sugar and cornstarch. Whenever I make this dish, it amazes me how such simple ingredients can combine to make something so rich and comforting…something that tastes just like home. I value simple ingredients and easy recipes that I can feel good about feeding to my loved ones. That’s why I love milk!
When it comes to keeping my food simple and fresh, I always rely on real dairy milk. Dairy milk, a simple and wholesome beverage, has just three ingredients – milk, vitamin A, and vitamin D. It is minimally processed and farm fresh. When you compare the ingredient list on milk to non-dairy milk alternatives, you may be surprised at what you find. Many non-dairy alternatives have 10 or more added ingredients including salt, sugar or thickeners like gums.
Milk has nine essential nutrients including:
- B vitamins (riboflavin, B-12 and niacin) for converting your food into energy
- High-quality protein for lean muscle
Unlike many non-dairy milk alternatives, farm fresh, real dairy milk is naturally nutrient-rich. The naturally-occurring nutrients in many non-dairy milk alternatives, like almond milk, soy milk and coconut milk, are not the same as in cow’s milk. In fact, few can match the full nutrient package found naturally in milk, which contains calcium, phosphorus, protein, potassium and B vitamins. This means that many non-dairy milk alternatives often fortify their products with these nutrients. Besides being a nutritional powerhouse, milk is part of the moments that make us press pause on the day-to-day craziness of life, the moments that make us happy.
This is why I love making natilla, because it makes me feel connected to both my Puerto Rican heritage, and also my Spanish ancestry. I visited Barcelona, Spain for my 33rd birthday in 2018, and I immediately felt connected to the culture in a way that hasn’t happened to me before. A dish similar to natilla is crema catalana, AKA the Spanish version of crème brûlée. I may or may not have had a crema catalana every day that I was in Spain…I’ll never tell! Anyhow, at first bite, I instantly remembered this natilla recipe from my Abuelita, and I knew I had to make it again and share it with all of you.
Visit https://milklife.com/milk-love-whats-real to learn more about the different types of real milk for you and your family.
Natilla (Puerto Rican Custard Dessert)
- 2 cups whole dairy milk
- 2 tbsp corn starch
- 4 egg yolks
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 2 inch pieces of lemon peel
- 1 whole cinnamon stick
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ground cinnamon for garnish
In a sauce pot, dissolve the corn starch with 1/2 cup of the milk. Add the rest of the milk, eggs, sugar, lemon peel, cinnamon stick, and salt. Whisk to combine.
Heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly to prevent the mixture from curdling.
Cook for 10-15 minutes, until the mixture thickens, and until you can draw a line across the back of your wooden spoon.
Turn the heat off, then remove lemon peel and cinnamon stick. Whisk in the vanilla extract.
Pour the mixture into 4 equal sizes ramekins. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a minimum of 4 hours.
To serve, remove the plastic wrap and sprinkle the surface of the natillas with ground cinnamon.
You can also pour the mixture into a single container, and scoop servings into small desserts cups after cooling.
I have a high lactose intolerance, what can I substitute for the milk?
Coconut milk (full fat) would be a great substitute.
As a kid, my mother would serve it hot for breakfast, like you would with harina de maiz. Is it supposed to be chilled?
Traditionally this dessert is served cold.
OMG! My mom would serve it fresh and hot for breakfast too. My sister just sent this to me and I think I’m going to make it. I’m gonna try it fresh like she used to make but I’ll also save part of it as instructed to see the difference. OMG this brings me so many memories.
Is the pudding supposed to be very thick or did I cook too long?
It should be spoonable.
You just brought me back in time many decades ago when my abuelita used to make this for us kids as a special treat. I loved eating it when it was still warm. Natilla, to me, is the ultimate comfort food and synonymous with my grandmother’s love.
Abuela’s recipes are the best!
I just made the recipe it’s so smooth and that lemon peel makes so much difference, I love it , I’m filling a Puerto Rican cake with it, thank you for this amazing recipe
Thank you Darines!
This looks so good and I am home in quarantine and want to make some!!! However, I only have 2% milk will that work the same? I also have half and half or heavy cream. Lol. Gracias!!!
Thank you! Use 1/2 2% milk and 1/2 half-and-half, I think that’s the best compromise. Enjoy!
Titi, I am doing natilla for a project in math, and I just happened to tell guela, “LETS CHECK TITI’S SITE!!”
And I found the dessert I love most!
It looks very tempting and very yummy, I will give it a try.
That’s my wonderful aunt! I’m so happy you feel this way about it, I love her Natilla!
Honestly this is amazing. I served it in little ramekins and I can assure you, you can easily tarte this up, which I have but did that for “show”.
Lemon peels and cinnamon stick is not negotiable with this recipe – it adds a grounding yet refreshing taste that you won’t get otherwise.
I’ve been cooking Puerto Rican thanks to this author (Jannese)(upload more!! Even “basic” seasoning of chicken breast etc – we would all LOVE IT) I went on a huge chase for ají dulces with success!
Better than any flan I’ve made prior! Natillas are where it’s at
Thank you Pete! You’d love my recipe for grilled chicken, Puerto Rican style. https://www.delishdlites.com/recipe-index/puerto-rican-recipes-2/pollo-asado-latin-marinated-grilled-chicken/