Natillas and flan–New Mexico desserts

Today I made chocolate natillas (nah-TEE-yahs) with coffee bean granita.  I had been going through back issues of Bon Appetit Magazine and pulling out recipes that looked interesting.  The presentation was lovely–creamy chocolate pudding in a small narrow glass topped with beige crystals of granita–and I’m looking for something different to serve at our high teas.  I followed my curiosity to look up the traditional New Mexican version of natillas.  It also appears in a variety of forms throughout Cuba, Spain and Latin America.  Apparently, in Colombia it is much thicker and can be cut into squares, and in Spain it’s more like a custard, similar to a flan.

So what’s the difference between natillas and flanNatillas have more milk and fewer eggs, which makes it thinner and creamier, and it’s cooked in a pan on top of the stove, cooled and spooned into serving dishes.  Flan has less milk and more eggs to make it thicker, is poured into custard cups, baked in a hot water bath, then cooled and the custard is inverted onto a serving plate.

Below are recipes for both natillas and flan from the Cocinas de New Mexico cookbook published by the Public Service Company of New Mexico.

Flan Caramelisado (Caramel Custard)

From Cocinas de New Mexico, published by Public Service Company of New Mexico
Yield:  6 servings

2 cups sugar
3 1/2 cups milk
1 cinnamon stick
6 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Place 1 cup of sugar in a heavy pan. Stir sugar at low heat until it is liquid and light golden brown.  Pour caramelized sugar evenly into six warm custard cups. Set cups aside.  Place milk and cinnamon stick in a medium-sized saucepan. Scald milk at medium heat and allow to cool.  Beat eggs until foamy. Gradually add remaining sugar to eggs and beat well.  Gradually add scalded milk to egg mixture, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add vanilla. Pour mixture into caramel-lined cups. Place cups in a pan of hot water and bake in a 350°F oven for 1 hour and 10 minutes.  Cool completely.  To serve, loosen custard from cups and invert onto a plate.

Natillas (Soft Custard)

From Cocinas de New Mexico, published by Public Service Company of New Mexico
Yield:  6 servings

4 eggs, separated
1/4 cup flour
4 cups milk
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
nutmeg
cinnamon

Place egg yolks, flour and 1 cup of milk in a small mixing bowl.  Stir to make a smooth paste.  Set aside.  Place the remaining milk, sugar and salt in a medium-sized saucepan and scald at medium heat.  Add the egg mixture to the scalded milk and continue to cook at medium heat until a soft custard consistency is reached.  Remove custard from heat and allow to cook to room temperature.  Beat the egg whites in a medium-sized mixing bowl until they are stiff but not dry.  Fold the egg whites into the custard and chill.  To serve, spoon into individual dishes and garnish with nutmeg and cinnamon.