This being the last weekend before Epiphany, it is likely the last Christmas parties will take place among those determined to celebrate the full twelve days of Christmas. Since I’ve been promising my great-grandmother’s recipe for natilla (my favorite Colombian Christmas dessert) since the posts about the Advent novena, I suppose it is now or never, in case anyone wants to get adventurous this weekend. Without further ado, I give you Balin’s Famous Natilla:
200 grams of cornstarch (sorry to get all metric on you, the equivalent is just about 7 oz)
8 cups of whole milk
1 block of panela/piloncillo (A dark brown block of highly unrefined sugar, which can often be found in the Hispanic Foods section of a regular grocery store. Goya is one of the most common brands. If the regular supermarket fails you, try a specialty store. You should find it in flat, round blocks, but if you find it in the cone-shaped version, then get two cones.)
2 cups of sugar
3-4 sticks of cinammon
3 tablespoons of butter
Ground cinnamon for decoration (to taste)
Mix cornstarch in 2 cups of milk and leave aside in a bowl. Break down the block of panela into smaller chunks and put them, along with the sticks of cinnamon, into the remaining 6 cups of milk in a large pot. Stirring constantly, begin heating up the milk using medium-low heat. Keep stirring until the panela dissolves fully (this may take a while, but you can do it faster by breaking down the pieces of panela with your spoon once they start soaking through). Make sure the milk does not get too close to boiling until the panela is dissolved. Once it dissolves, pour in the sugar and the 2 cups of milk mixed with cornstarch. Turn up the heat to medium-high. Keep stirring constantly, and scrape the bottom of the pot with your spoon. Remove the cinnamon sticks before the mixture gets thick. Once the mixture has thickened to the point of a cream, add the butter. Keep stirring quickly until you can see the bottom of the pan when scraping with your spoon, and then pour the mixture into a large serving dish. Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon and let it cool for at least an hour.
In case you need some inspiration, a reader wrote to me recently, saying that not only had she and her boyfriend done the Advent novena together, but they had even dug up recipes for natilla and Colombian buñuelos online and tried them out. Here’s to making it yearly tradition!