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Spanish Custard (Natillas de Leche) Recipe

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Simple, sweet, and so much fun, my Spanish custard recipe, or natillas de leche, promises creamy, gooey goodness with every spoonful. It’s a beloved dessert in both Spain and many Spanish-speaking countries, and it’s very simple to make.

Spanish Custard (Natillas de Leche) Recipe

What is Natillas de Leche?

Very simply, natillas de leche, meaning “milk custard,” is a delicately sweet and wholesome custard typically made from a mixture of milk, egg yolks, sugar, and cornstarch. It can be sweetened and flavored with the likes of vanilla, cinnamon, and citrus peel, among other ingredients.

Unlike, say, English custard, which is used as a pouring custard, natillas de leche is served as a dessert in its own right. It is typically served chilled, which gives it a flan or egg custard-like texture, topped with a Maria cookie and cinnamon.

My recipe is inspired by this classic Spanish dessert. Together we’ll learn not only how to make it but also ideas for tweaking it to your personal preference.

Ingredients

To make my Spanish custard recipe, you’ll first need the following ingredients:

These quantities make about 6 servings.

  • Milk – 4 cups whole milk
  • Lemon Peel – lemon peel from 1 lemon
  • Orange Peel – orange peel from 1 orange
  • Cinnamon stick – 1 cinnamon stick
  • Cornstarch – 4 tbsp (or 1/4 cup) cornstarch
  • Sugar – 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • Eggs – 6 egg yolks
  • Vanilla – 2 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • Salt – pinch of salt
  • Galletas/Maria Cookies – 6 Maria cookies (one to top each serving)
  • Ground Cinnamon – 1 tsp cinnamon (optional, for sprinkling on top)

Ingredient Notes & Tips

Vanilla – If you’re using vanilla bean, add it at the beginning with the lemon and orange skin to infuse the milk. If using vanilla bean paste, you can add it at any point. If using an alcohol-based vanilla extract, add the vanilla as written in the recipe (once you remove the custard from the heat). I recommend using vanilla bean paste or vanilla bean.

Lemon/Orange – You could use just lemon or orange peel. I prefer the combination of the two for this recipe.

Sugar – If you prefer less sweet desserts, I recommend using only 1/2 cup of sugar.

Maria Cookies/Galletas Maria – It shouldn’t be difficult to find these at the local grocery store. However, if you don’t have them, you could use any tea cookies or other cookies you prefer. You can add the cookies while the custard is still warm, as I have done, in which case, the cookies will be partially soft). Alternatively, you can wait and add them just before serving the custard (after the custard has chilled in the fridge), in which case the cookies will remain hard. It’s your preference. You can also add one Maria cookie at the bottom of the custard and one on top.

Cinnamon – The cinnamon powder on top is optional.

Serving bowls – You can also serve this in individual serving bowls/glasses or even in one giant bowl with several cookies on top and let everyone spoon however much they wish on their dessert plate.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Step 1 – Peel the lemon and orange, trying to get just the yellow or orange part of the skin and none of the white pith. You can remove any white bits with a butter knife or a spoon. The white part is what can make the custard bitter, so that’s why we want to remove as much of it as we can.

Step 2 – To a pot, add 3 cups of milk, the cinnamon stick, the lemon peel, and the orange peel. Set it over medium heat until it just about starts to boil (for me, it took about 10 minutes). Stir continuously so the milk doesn’t burn on the bottom. Also, I recommend using a pot with a thicker bottom to ensure the milk doesn’t burn.

Step 3 – Turn the heat off, removing the pot from the heat. Remove the lemon peel, orange peel, and cinnamon stick.

Step 4 – Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites. Reserve the egg whites for another recipe like meringue or pavlova. Add the egg yolks to a bowl, and mix them well with a whisk.

Step 5 – To a mixing cup or medium-sized bowl, add the cornstarch and the remaining 1 cup of cold milk, and mix well with a whisk.

Step 6 – Add the cornstarch-milk mixture over the beaten egg yolks and mix everything well, again using a whisk.

Step 7 – Add some of the warm milk (about 1 cup worth) over the egg yolks and milk-cornstarch mixture slowly while whisking constantly. This is called ‘tempering’ the egg yolks, meaning we’re slowly bringing them up to a higher temperature so that they don’t curdle or scramble when we add them to the hot milk in the pot. It will help create the silky, rich texture we’re looking for in this custard.

Step 8 – Now add the egg yolk mixture to the warm milk in the pot while mixing constantly. Again, we want to add them in a slow stream while constantly whisking.

Step 9 – Add the sugar and the salt, and keep whisking.

Step 10 – Set the pot over medium-low heat, mixing constantly, until thick (about 10-15 minutes). Once thickened, turn the heat off and remove the pot from the heat.

Step 11 – Add the vanilla bean paste or extract.

Step 12 (optional) – Strain the mixture using a fine-mesh sieve to remove any lumps. Ours didn’t have any lumps, so I skipped this step. If you’re cooking for guests and want to make sure you have the perfect texture, I recommend doing this step.

Step 13 – Pour it into small bowls, ramekins, or serving glasses.

Step 14 – Add a Maria cookie/Galleta to each on top and (optionally) sprinkle some cinnamon powder on top.

Step 15 – Cover with cling film and refrigerate for 2-3 hours until completely chilled before serving.

This dessert is so much fun, simple to make, and sweet and creamy. You can prepare one batch to serve several people, and dishes like this are a great gateway into Spanish cooking.

Recipe Card

Natilla

Spanish Custard (Natillas de Leche)

5 from 2 votes
Print Pin Rate
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Additional Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours 40 minutes
Author: Nomad Paradise
Course: Desserts
Cuisine: Spanish
Servings: 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 4 cups whole milk
  • lemon peel from 1 lemon
  • orange peel from 1 orange
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 4 tbsp or 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 2 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • a pinch of salt
  • 6 Maria cookies one to top each serving
  • 1 tsp cinnamon optional, for sprinkling on top

Instructions

  • Peel the lemon and orange, trying to get just the yellow or orange part of the skin and none of the white pith. You can remove any white bits with a butter knife or a spoon. The white part is what can make the custard bitter, so that’s why we want to remove as much of it as we can.
  • To a pot, add 3 cups of milk, the cinnamon stick, the lemon peel, and the orange peel. Set it over medium heat, stirring continuously, until it just about starts to boil (for me, it took about 10 minutes).
  • Turn the heat off, removing the pot from the heat. Remove the lemon peel, orange peel, and cinnamon stick.
  • Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites. Reserve the egg whites for another recipe like meringue or pavlova. Add the egg yolks to a bowl, and mix them well with a whisk.
  • To a mixing cup or medium-sized bowl, add the cornstarch and the remaining 1 cup of cold milk, and mix well with a whisk.
  • Add the cornstarch-milk mixture over the beaten egg yolks and mix everything well, again using a whisk.
  • Add some of the warm milk (about 1 cup worth) over the egg yolks and milk-cornstarch mixture slowly while whisking constantly. This is called ‘tempering’ the egg yolks, meaning we’re slowly bringing them up to a higher temperature so that they don’t curdle or scramble when we add them to the hot milk in the pot. It will help create the silky, rich texture we’re looking for in this custard.
  • Now add the egg yolk mixture to the warm milk in the pot while mixing constantly. Again, we want to add them in a slow stream while constantly whisking.
  • Add the sugar and the salt, and keep whisking.
  • Set the pot over medium-low heat, mixing constantly, until thick (about 10-15 minutes). Once thickened, turn the heat off and remove the pot from the heat.
  • Add the vanilla bean paste or extract.
  • Strain the mixture using a fine-mesh sieve to remove any lumps. Ours didn’t have any lumps, so I skipped this step. If you’re cooking for guests and want to make sure you have the perfect texture, I recommend doing this step.
  • Pour it into small bowls, ramekins, or serving glasses.
  • Add a Maria cookie/Galleta to each on top, and (optionally) sprinkle some cinnamon powder on top.
  • Cover with cling film/plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2-3 hours until completely chilled before serving.
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Authors

  • Doina Johnson is a recipe developer and writer. Doina has been cooking for most of her life, and her style draws from many different influences. She cooked with her mother and grandma growing up in Eastern Europe, before adding modern, western influences to her style when living in the United States for about a decade. Then, she traveled full-time for several years, trying food in Europe, Asia, and South America, and bringing those influences into her own cooking. She strives to introduce passionate homecooks to world cuisine, generally by trying the food herself abroad and then recreating it at home and, at times, enlisting the help of local foodies and chefs.

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  • Hey there! We are Dale and Doina, the founders of Nomad Paradise. We traveled full-time for over three years, and while we now have a home base in the U.K., continue to take trips abroad to visit new places and try new cuisines and foods. Our food guides are curated with the guidance of local foodies, and their contribution is indicated under each article. We also cook the foods we try abroad, and you can discover how to make them in our 'recipes from around the world' category.

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