How to Make Natas for Torta de Garbanzo

Last week when I wrote about, and made, Torta de Garbanzo, many of you must have wondered what in the world I was foisting on you. A bean torte? Sweetened garbanzo beans with cajeta? Yet, you gamely read on, some of you even writing that you wanted to make this unusual Mexican Lenten dish. The torta recipe called for natas, cooked, thickened cream, which I didn’t have, and I’ll admit, didn’t know much about. I substituted evaporated milk, but Leslie of The Mija Chronicles, a wonderful Mexican food blog, wondered if I would make natas and write about it. OK, Leslie. You have made your share of interesting, unheard-of-before recipes for us, so I’ll gamely take my turn, instead of waiting for you to make it first.

My Cassell’s Spanish Dictionary defines nata as “cream, the main part of a thing, the prime part”. Diana Kennedy, British by birth, writes in From My Mexican Kitchen, that natas are the same as clotted cream, so beloved with cream tea in England where it is spread on scones. Now we are getting somewhere. In my youth, when my family lived in England, we had cream tea. I was too young to know, or care, that it was clotted cream we were gobbling up. I just knew it was rich and delicious, and could I have more, please?

There isn’t much in my Mexican cookbooks about making natas, so I went to my friend Guillermina and my neighbor Lupita, both excellent cooks, to ask about their method. They gave the same instructions: slowly bring whole raw milk just to a boil over low heat, turn off the heat, let the milk reach room temperature, refrigerate until cool, then skim off the thick cream that has clotted on the surface. This thick, skimmed fat, the cooked cream, are the natas.

But Guillermina knew the easy way. She opened her fridge and showed me a carton of natas she had just brought home from Mega supermercado. If I hadn’t had two gallons of milk crying to be used up, I would have considered the easy way, too. But then I would I have lost my bragging rights about making natas, if it is anything to brag about.

After skimming the clotted cream, two gallons of raw milk yielded one cup of natas. What could I do with it, except make Torta de Garbanzo again, the way it should have been made in the first place, using natas instead of evaporated milk. This torta was wonderfully smooth, creamy and rich. Evaporated milk will do in a pinch, but for an authentic torta, you need natas.

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22 thoughts on “How to Make Natas for Torta de Garbanzo

  1. Thanks Kathleen, I have always wanted to try Nata, my mom loves it, she had it as a child..I must make this with your torta de garbanzo when she visits me next week!

    sweetlife

  2. I would love to make some as haven’t found “nata” here in Toronto and don’t even know where to buy raw milk either to make it! :S Grrrr!! hahahahah I want some of that to use it for my Mexican recipes!!

  3. Kathleen,
    I think this is very interesting, I like the interesting, unheard of recipes too. It sounds delicious, so creamy. I was wondering about the skimming part too, thanks for explaining.

  4. Darlene

    Kathleen,
    I love how your cooking is so organic and gets back to the basics.
    Watching how it is done, writing it down, then making it, sometimes we need to revisit the fundamentals. Always a pleasure to go along for the ride.

  5. Wow, super cool. My only question is where to find raw milk in Mexico City. I might ask at my next tianguis. If anything I can buy natas there — I think a few stands sell them. Thanks for the tutorial!

  6. Laurie

    Thank you for explaining nata! I’ve been wondering for all 6 years I’ve lived here. I was hesitant to buy it, thought it was lard or something similar. What else do the locals use it for? Clotted cream and scones are great, but aren’t really a common treat here in Mexico. So how do the locals use it?

    1. Natas are used in a variety of Mexican recipes, such as a wonderful pie made in the San Patricio area, other baked goods, like cakes and cookies, stirred into sauces or vegetable dishes and as a spread for sweet rolls.
      Enjoy your trip to Oaxaca, Laurie, and be sure to tell me all about the great food when you return. ¡Buen viaje!

    1. Some milk would be higher in cream content, so would result in more natas. After the natas are skimmed off, there is most of the two gallons left for other uses — drinking as fresh, skimmed milk or for making yogurt.

  7. Lorin Johnson

    Kathleen,

    I am not sure that I understand. Did it require two gallons of milk to produce that small amount or could I just begin with a quart and skim it? What you want is what is skimmed, correct? What did/do you do with the already heated milk?

    I get great organic raw milk here, but it is not cheap! I wouldn’t want to waste any, there is actually organic evaporated milk available at New Seasons.

    1. I used two gallons of milk, skimming off the cream when it had cooled and clotted. The cooked, cooled cream is what I was after, the natas. I was left with more than 1 3/4 gallons of skimmed milk for drinking. I used some of this skimmed milk to make 3 quarts of yogurt. There is no waste, except for water evaporation during the heating.

  8. Pingback: Torta de garbanzo for Lent « Cooking in Mexico

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