Let’s head to El Salvador for a dessert that will warms your heart: leche poleada.
What is leche poleada?
Leche poleada is a dessert that is halfway between custard and blancmange. It is relatively quick to prepare and can be tasted just lukewarm or cold at tea time. Its aroma of cinnamon is irresistible and you won’t be able to get enough of this dessert!
How to make leche poleada
Leche poleada is a Salvadoran dessert made from eggs, sugar, milk and cornstarch. Its consistency, which can be more or less thick, varies from one region to another. Indeed, in some regions, its texture is closer to pastry cream than custard. Some Salvadorans prefer their leche poleada more liquid. You should then just adjust the amount of milk in the recipe. For a thicker texture, the amount of milk should be reduced to 4 cups. For a more liquid texture, 6 cups of milk should be used, just as in this recipe.
Leche poleda is also called manjar blanco. It is a white pudding that can be eaten by itself or used as a filling in pastries. In Guatemala, El Salvador and other Central American countries, it is called manjar de leche. It is also referred to as a pudding or a custard made from milk, cornstarch and sugar. It is not uncommon to add other ingredients such as vanilla, cinnamon or other flavors. But the name can be misleading in Latin and Central America where manjar de leche often refers to dulce de leche.
The gastronomy of El Salvador is characterized by the fusion of two main gastronomic cultures: indigenous culture (Pipil and Lenca) and Spanish culture. Later, it was also influenced by the Italian culture and that of the United States.
There aren’t that many Salvadoran desserts. The main ones include the Marquesas, the torrejas, the salpores, the leche poleada, the arroz con leche (rice pudding), the atole de café (drink) or the banana empanadas.
Leche poleada around the world
Leche poleada probably originates from the Spanish dessert called natilla. It is a custard that is very similar in terms of both the ingredients and the consistency of leche poleada. The term natillas refers to a variety of custards and other similar foods in the Hispanic world. In Spain, this term refers to a cream made from milk and eggs, that is similar to other European creams.
Natilla is a diminutive of nata (cream). The differences between Spanish natillas, custard and creme anglaise are vague. But we can suppose that their difference rests mainly on their consistency, which can be more or less thick. However, natilla differs clearly from custard. Indeed, it uses the cinnamon flavor unlike flan, which uses caramel in its preparation.
In New Mexico, the natillas are directly inspired by Spanish recipes from the Spanish conquest and Spanish descendants. These natillas have a consistency similar to that of a pastry cream or leche poleada. It is true that in some recipes, natillas may contain flour in addition to egg whites.
In Cuba and Puerto Rico, you will also find leche poleada under the name of natilla. The natillas consist of the same ingredients as the leche poleada but they are consumed cold. The natillas consist of cornstarch, vanilla, sugar, eggs, lemon zest, cinnamon, milk and unsweetened condensed milk. Tradition has it that they are served at Christmas in small cups with cinnamon sprinkled on top. In Puerto Rico, natillas can be bought all year round in supermarkets and are also sold as pre-packaged powder that only requires heating the milk. A less sweet version is also served for breakfast in Puerto Rico. It contains honey and more milk. Once cooked, it is garnished with fruits and cinnamon.
However, although natillas are widespread throughout Latin and Central America, the term natilla refers to an entirely different type of dessert in many countries. For example, in Costa Rica, the term natilla refers to a product resembling buttermilk, with a fat content ranging from 12% (liviana) to 14%, sold in stores in plastic pouches. It is used as a condiment in dishes such as gallo pinto, baked potatoes or steamed vegetables.
Enjoy these deliciously flavored custards!
- ¾ cup cornstarch
- 6 cups whole milk
- 4 egg yolks
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 1 cup caster sugar
- 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
- 1 pinch salt
- Cinnamon powder
- Raisins (optional)
In a blender, mix 2 cups (500 ml) of milk with the salt, sugar, egg yolks, and cornstarch. Blend for 1 minute, and set aside.
- In a large saucepan, bring the remaining milk to a boil.
- Stir the mixture that is in the blender and add it to the saucepan with the milk.
- Add the cinnamon stick and vanilla and mix well.
- Bring to a boil over low heat, stirring constantly until thick.
- Remove from heat. Pour into a large bowl or individual cups and let cool.
- Sprinkle the leche poleada with cinnamon and raisins (optional) at the time of serving.