Cuban Natilla and Merengue Recipe
"If you think my Salsa is good, you should see my Merengue!"
I must begin with a small confession, I am not Marta. Marta has called in sick. I am just a substitute; a Mini-Marta.
My name is Amy, her eldest daughter. Don’t worry! I know my way around the kitchen! I’ve learned from the master herself! Of my 4 siblings, I speak the most Spanish and love to dance salsa especially with some fancy footwork variations (anyone who went to Cuba Nostalgia can attest to that). So I consider myself the most Cuban and therefore the best choice for a substitute.
I live with my Abuela, my mom’s mom. Well, when I told my Abuela that mom was sick, she suggested we make Mami’s favorite childhood treat, Natilla.
Excited to learn a new family recipe, I readily agreed. The fact that it might help Mami feel better also helped my decision. So I’ll tell you how we made it to Marta’s liking, which is not the way my Tia Ofelia likes it, which is not the way my Tio likes it, nor the way Abeula does.
So here is my recipe for Natilla “al gusto de Marta,” but afterwards I’ll let you know where the variations can come in.
- 1 can of evaporated milk
- 5 egg yokes (but save the egg whites)
- 6 tablespoons of cornstarch
- 1 cup of sugar
- 1 can of water (you can use the empty milk can)
- 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
- 3 cinnamon sticks (optional)
- Ground cinnamon (for garnish)
1) In a blender, combine the evaporated milk, egg yokes, sugar, cornstarch, and just a bit of the water (if you put in the whole can of water it is likely the blender will overflow).
2) Pour the now blended items into a large pot and add the rest of the water. Cook on medium heat stirring “de vez en cuando” (in this case it should be most of the time).
IMPORTANT: Whatever direction you begin stirring is the only direction you can stir for that batch of natilla. If you begin stirring clockwise, don’t change to counter-clockwise because the natilla will begin to separate and the batch will be ruined.
As you are stirring, eventually you will feel the natilla thicken.
3) Once it is thick all the way around the edges, turn off the heat. Now add the vanilla. (If you like cinnamon IN your natilla, this is the moment to add it). With a whisk or spoon or even a fork, begin to stir (in the direction you originally started) with all your might. Your stirring should make a sound along the lines of “taca, taca, taca.” The goal here is to rid the natilla of the little bumps that have formed (from the cornstarch) so stir well. It usually takes about 3 minutes of solid stirring and you should be good. Serve in ramekins or small ceramic or glass bowls. And enjoy licking the stirring spoon!
And now . . . The Variations:
1) Mami likes her natilla cold and with an artistic sprinkle of cinnamon on top, so her natilla needs to sit in the refrigerator for about an hour.
2) My Tio likes his hot with that same sprinkle of cinnamon.
Tia Ofelia does not like her natilla as thick, so she uses the same amount of cornstarch (tablespoons) as egg yokes.
You can use up to 6 egg yokes, but no less than 4.
3) Abuela likes her natilla with a small topping of Merengue. What? You don’t know how to make merengue? No problem; today we have a double-feature! Turn on some Elvis Crespo and away we go!
- 5 egg whites
- 15 tablespoons of sugar
- 1 tsp. Cream of Tartar
Remember the egg whites from before? Now is their moment. You will also need 3 tablespoons of sugar for every egg (since we used 5, we will need 15 tablespoons of sugar), and 1 teaspoon of Cream of Tartar.
Put the egg whites in a medium to large mixing bowl (I know there aren’t that many, but trust me on this). Add the cream of tartar, get out the egg beaters and get comfortable, this is going to take a while. Keep beating those egg whites on medium speed until you can turn the bowl upside down and nothing moves.
Now slowly sprinkle and beat in the tablespoons of sugar one at a time making sure they are getting comepletely mixed in.
Beat some more.
Once you have again reached the moment where everything is beaten and nothing will move when tipped over, your merengue is ready to be served on top of the natilla that has had time to cool to room temperature the way my Abuela likes it.
But now you have way too much Merengue to just eat on top of natilla, so preheat your oven to 375, cover a cake pan with foil, lightly greased, and drop spoonfuls of the merengue about ½ and inch apart. Cook until light golden brown (try 8 minutes, but it could go for as long as 15 minutes). Cool for 2 minutes.
FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO LIKE “CREMA CATELANA,” here’s how to get that crunchy top layer:
Wait until the natilla is room temperature and then sprinkle it with a light layer of sugar. Now torch the sugar. For a thicker layer; repeat.
If it comes out good, be sure to let Marta know.
If not . . . hey, I’m just the substitute!