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Natilla: Custard with a Flair for Flavor

Updated: Jun 15

Natilla served in three ramekins is a custard based Cuban dessert, which is enhanced by sprinkle of cinnamon.

You’re probably wondering what Natilla is. If so, you've come to the right place. Natilla is one of the many delicious desserts widely popular among Spanish and Latin American cultures. This sweet treat is a light custard comprised of sugar, eggs, milk and a couple other ingredients detailed in this post.

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Natilla holds a special place in my heart. Having been raised in a Cuban-American family, I’ve sampled many variants of Natilla, some of which were made in the most expensive of restaurants. None come close to my Abuela’s (Spanish for grandmother) version of this classically simple dessert. Making it conjures up warm memories of the times my Abuela prepared Natilla for me and --- if there were any leftovers when I was done --- the other grandkids. Ahhh, the fragrant notes of fresh ground cinnamon. The sweet scent of vanilla permeating her kitchen. Me eagerly rushing to her side to help with the all important task of slowly stirring the custard with a wooden spoon later used to scoop individual servings in the ramekins she’d laid out. Over the years she saw that my help was a reflection of my love of cooking and baking. For me, it was more than a hobby, and she honored me with the gift of her most treasured recipes. Natilla is one of my favorites, and I'm excited to share it out with you, my Desserts Capital familia, in the hope it becomes one of yours.


Ingredients needed to prepare Natilla including lemon peel, cinnamon stick, salt, granulated sugar, vanilla extract, whole milk, eight egg yolks, corn starch and water mise en place

Most of the ingredients called for in this recipe are ones you'll likely have on hand. The strip of lemon peel will enhance the sweetness of the Natilla with it's subtle bright citrus flavor and the cinnamon complements the complex spicy notes of the vanilla. I highly recommend you use vanilla extract instead of imitation vanilla extract as it'll result in a smoother tasting experience; the imitation vanilla tends to leave an artificial aftertaste in a custard based recipe. *Baker's tip - for recipes that call for the item to be baked, such as cookies, cakes, brownies and pies, the artificial taste of imitation vanilla is barely noticeable, which makes it a more affordable and acceptable substitute.

To prepare the Natilla you'll need:

4 cups (1032 grams) whole milk

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 stick of cinnamon

1 strip of lemon peel (flesh removed)

8 large egg yolks

1 1/2 cups (300 grams) granulated sugar

4 tablespoons (30 grams) corn starch

1/4 cup water

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Three ramekins containing Cuban custard based dessert, Natilla sitting atop John Boo maple cutting board


A perk about this Natilla recipe is that most of the cooking instruments called for are common items you probably have in your kitchen. They are:

Whole milk being poured out of a 2 cup capacity pyrex measuring cup into large cusinart saucepan brought to a boil using a VonChef hotplate sitting atop a marble pastry board

2-cup capacity measuring cup - the culinary experts at Cook's Illustrated have tested countless brands and the Pyrex 2 cup capacity liquid measuring cup gets high ratings for it's precise measures, clear indication marks and durability. This size is the standard for an array of recipes that call for measuring liquid-based ingredients; however, if you would like to build your collection of measuring cups for the quantities called for in this recipe, here is the link for the 1-cup capacity measuring cup and the 4-cup capacity measuring cup.

3-quart capacity stainless steel saucepan - any large saucepan of a similar size will do just fine with this recipe. The one featured in this post is the same one featured in the video tutorial below. I've had this saucepan for 12 years and counting and have used it for countless recipes as it's oven safe --- withstands temperatures of up to 550 degrees Fahrenheit --- and doesn't contain any chemical coating and is a solid workhorse in the kitchen.

Large wooden spoon - you'll be stirring up the custard mixture as it boils and if you were to use a metal spoon it'll eventually get too hot to handle, which makes using a wooden spoon a safe option as it won't conduct heat.

Natilla being poured out of stainless steel cusinart large saucepan by a silicone spatula into a fine mesh strainer sitting atop a stainless steel mixing bowl

Large fine mesh strainer - one of the secret tips this Natilla recipe includes that I haven't seen in other Natilla recipes is the final step of straining your cooked custard mixture through a strainer. Believe me when I tell you that this is step is essential. Otherwise, your Natilla will have lumps and trust me, lumps affects the taste. I also use a silicone spatula to press the custard mixture as it has just the right amount of flexibility to fit in the curve of the strainer, but you can reuse the wooden spoon or any other spoon you have on hand for this step if you prefer.

Ramekin cups - the ramekins shown in the pictures and video featured in this post are of 6 ounce capacity; however, small food storage containers or coffee mugs will also work nicely as a storage vessel for the Natilla, so use what you have on hand.


Method for making Natilla Cuban custard dessert
  1. Pour 4 cups of milk into a large saucepan.

  2. Add 1/4 teaspoon (table) salt.

  3. Add 1 cinnamon stick.

  4. Add 1 strip of lemon peel (flesh removed).

  5. Set heat to high and bring milk to a boil. Remove the saucepan from heat and let it cool for approximately 5 minutes.

Method for preparing Natilla Cuban custard dessert

6. Add 8 egg yolks to a large mixing bowl.

7. Add 1 1/2 cups sugar.

8. Add 4 tablespoons corn starch.

9. Pour 1/4 cup water into mixing bowl.

Method for preparing Natilla Cuban custard dessert

10.Combine ingredients with a whisk.

11. Beat until completely smooth.

12. Remove cinammon stick from saucepan.

13. Remove lemon peel from saucepan.

Method for preparing Natilla Cuban custard dessert

14. Slowly pour the milk into the mixing bowl containing the egg mixture and set aside the saucepan.

15. Using a wooden spoon stir ingredients until thoroughly combined.

16. Pour the custard mixture into the same saucepan used to boil the milk and set heat to medium.

17. Constantly stir the custard until it comes to a boil. You'll notice the custard starts to thicken right before it boils.

Method for preparing Natilla Cuban custard dessert

18. Remove the saucepan from heat and add the vanilla extract and give the custard a final stir. 19. Set a fine mesh strainer over a clean bowl and pour the custard into the strainer. Using a rubber spatula (or backside of a large spoon) press all of the custard through the strainer.

20. Carefully spoon the custard into individual sized ramekins/custard cups and allow to cool to room temperature for approximately 45 minutes. Once cooled, cover rame-kins/custard cups and refrigerate for a minimum of 4 hours or overnight. Optional - sprinkle top of custard with a dash of cinnamon. Serve & enjoy!

Video tutorial

Before you venture off to cook up this delectable dessert, check out the video below as it'll walk you through the steps as indicated in the recipe card below.

Thank you for visiting my blog post and kindly let me know how you fared on this sweet adventure by including your comments below.

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