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November 27, 2014

Natilya: A Filipino Pudding

Natilya is a traditional Filipino dessert I first tasted at Tita Regina’s house, one of my grandfather’s sisters. It’s a simple milk pudding made with carabao (Philippine Water Buffalo) milk. When I first tasted it, it reminded me of pastilyas de leche, a Filipino soft milk candy. Traditionally prepared pastilyas is labor intensive as you need to evaporate most of the water out of the milk to make it. Natilya has a quick and easy recipe to get the pastilyas taste without the sweat.

Traditionally, natilya’s caramelized musc ovado topping was made using a plancha, a cast iron turner. Colloquially, a turner is known as syanse. Cast iron turners are a rarity these days, so a kitchen blowtorch is used instead. If you don’t have a kitchen blowtorch, you can skip adding the muscovado.

Natilya is also the name of a Cuban milk pudding, but it uses cinnamon and vanilla as flavoring.  These aren’t standard Filipino flavorings, as they are usually imported into the country. I like this version of natilya as it highlights the rich, creamy taste of carabao milk.

Carabao milk is one of the richest milks you can get. It has one of highest milk-fat ratios for any commercially available milk. If you don’t have carabao milk, the closest approximate you can get is half-and-half. Personally, I find that half-and-half lacks the flavors unique to carabao milk. Unfortunately, carabao milk spoils very easily. When you get it, but don’t drink it within a few days, it will turn sour. To make it last longer, it is usually cooked into leche flan, pastilyas de leche, or natilya.



  •   1 liter fresh carabao milk
  •   134 grams (⅔ cup) white sugar
  •   40 grams (⅓ cup) cornstarch
  •   ½ teaspoon salt
  •   ⅓ cup cold water
  •   muscovado for toppings (optional)


  1. Dissolve cornstarch. In a small container, add cold water. Add 1 teaspoon cornstarch. With a fork or whisk, mix cornstarch into water until fully dissolved. Make sure that you whisk out any lumps. Keep adding cornstarch 1 teaspoon at a time until all the cornstarch has been added to the water. Set aside.
  2. Prepare a double boiler. Get a bowl that can fit over a saucepan. The bowl should not touch the bottom of the saucepan. Add water to the saucepan until it covers the bottom but when the bowl is placed over it, the bowl will not touch the water. Place double boiler set up on stove.
  3. Place carabao milk, sugar, and salt into double boiler. Turn heat to medium. Slowly stir the milk mixture until all the sugar has dissolved.
  4. Set heat to low. While slowing stirring the milk mixture, slowly add cornstarch. Keep stirring until the mixture thickens. You want the mixture to be thick, but still pourable.
  5. Pour into a serving tray or individual containers. Place in refrigerator to cool.
  6. If desired, top with muscovado when the natilya has cooled. Using a blowtorch, heat the sugar until it is caramelized on top.
  7. Serve. You can opt to serve it with muscovado sugar on the side if your guests want an extra sweet kick.

Photo by Louise Hagedorn

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