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Many Latin cultures and cuisines have a version of milk and egg-based custard that is served primarily for dessert.
Spain is famous for its flan, also known as crème caramel. It is a creamy egg custard made with whole eggs, egg yolks, and milk. It is baked in a bain-marie (water bath), usually in individual ramekins. It is topped with caramel. In Mexico, there is a simpler version of this dessert that has milk, eggs, and sugar. There isn’t any caramel, but the top of the custard is torched to give it a bit of caramel color. This dessert is called jericalla.
In Venezuela, the version of flan is a creamy custard known as quesillo. It is prepared with whole eggs and condensed milk. The custard itself is less creamy than flan or jericalla and a bit more spongey than the other two. The custard has little pockets or holes that are said to resemble cheese. This is perhaps why the dish is named quesillo, as queso is Spanish for cheese. The custard is poured into a flan mold or a cake pan that is coated with caramel. Like flan, this dessert is cooked in a water bath.
The water bath method of baking gently cooks the custard and envelopes it in steam. This ensures the eggs don’t scramble or curdle. The water bath is important for the success of this recipe. Otherwise, the custard could overcook, dry out, and even crack from the heat of the oven.
This quesillo recipe is made with very basic ingredients: Granulated sugar, eggs, sweetened condensed milk, whole milk, and pure vanilla extract. You also need a tea kettle or pot, saucepan, blender, 7-inch custard mold with a lid or a small cake pan and aluminum foil, and a large baking dish or roasting pan wide enough to hold the mold. Of course, you also need an oven.
Quesillo is a perfect gluten-free dessert. It is also vegetarian, though not vegan. The milk and sugar make this a win/win with kids. It is sweet and has calcium from the milk and protein from the eggs.
- 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
- 6 whole eggs
- 1 can 14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
- 1 ¾ cups whole milk
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- All ingredients ready? Let's begin!
- Place one oven rack directly in the center of the oven. Preheat your oven to 375°F. Place a tea kettle or medium saucepot filled with water over high heat.
- As soon as the water boils. Remove it from the heat and allow it to cool down a bit while you prepare the caramel and the custard
- In a heavy-bottomed saucepan placed over medium-high heat, add the sugar and heat it until it resembles a caramel color, stirring constantly.
- Turn the heat down to low and continue stirring until the sugar dissolves, being careful not to burn it. It should be amber-colored and pourable.
- Spoon or pour the caramel into the custard mold or 7-inch cake pan. Tilt and swirl the pan so that the caramel coats the bottom and sides of the pan. Set the pan aside for the caramel to set up while you prepare the custard.
- Crack the eggs into the blender jar. Add the condensed milk, whole milk, and vanilla. Blend until smooth, approximately 2 ½ minutes.
- Pour the custard into the caramel-coated mold or pan.
- Cover the mold with the secure lid or place aluminum foil tightly over the pan.
- Place the custard-filled mold or pan inside the baking dish or roasting pan. Pour the warm water around the mold, approximately 1-inch in depth.
- Carefully put the baking dish inside the oven on the center rack. Bake for 1 hour or until the custard has just set or firmed up. It should still be a bit jiggly.
- Using oven mitts, transfer the custard mold or pan to a wire rack and allow it to cool completely. Once cooled, place the custard in the refrigerator for about 4 hours until chilled.
- Remove the lid or foil from the pan. Run a knife around the perimeter edge of the custard. Place a serving platter over the pan and turn it over. Tap gently to loosen until the custard releases from the mold in one piece.
- Slice into wedges, serve and enjoy.
Notes & Tips
- It is important to note that condensed milk and evaporated milk are not the same thing and shouldn’t be confused in this recipe. Condensed or sweetened condensed milk has added sugar. Evaporated milk does not have sugar. The sugar in the condensed milk is what contributes to the custard’s sweetness.
- When you add the water bath to the baking dish or roasting pan, make sure it is just very warm, not boiling. Boiling water could cause the custard to curdle or separate.
- The art of making caramel may take some getting used to. My best advice is to place close attention to the heat so the caramel doesn’t burn. Also, you want to keep stirring it to encourage the sugar not to clump up. If you mess it up the first time, just say “oh well” and try again.
Additions to the Recipe
Spices are a great addition to the custard. Some cooks add cinnamon. I am partial to a little bit of nutmeg. You can also serve the quesillo with fresh lemon or orange zest grated over the top and fresh berries on the side. This makes a really satisfying breakfast.
Roasted pistachios are delicious when chopped and sprinkled over the top of quesillo. Or, try baking crunchy pine nut cookies and placing a couple on each plate for a contrast in textures.
I love serving any custard with a cup of espresso. Coffee goes so nicely with a creamy and sweet milk-based dessert. While not Venezuelan, I also enjoy a mug of warm chai tea with quesillo or flan.