tocinillo de cielo, a traditional Spanish custard

tocinillo de cielo, a traditional Spanish custard

“Tocinillo de cielo” translates to something like “little bacon from heaven.” I’m not sure how “bacon-y” it is, but it’s definitely a heavenly dessert.

This is probably one of those recipes that came about long ago when egg whites were used to clarify wine. You can’t throw away all those extra yolks, certainly not in a thrifty and egg-loving Spanish kitchen, so somebody whipped up tocinillo with the extra yolks. Tocinillo is not as popular as flan outside of Spain, but it’s a favorite in my house.

If you’re lactose intolerant, this is a great alternative to flan without any need for milk substitutes.

tocinillo de cielo, a traditional Spanish custard
Here is a serving of tocinillo de cielo that I made in a baking dish. If you’re feeling fancy, you can use ramekins for individual servings.

The recipe is simple and very similar to flan. I left it in the metric measurements. For the most part when it comes to baking I really prefer the metric system!

tocinillo de cielo

  • 8 egg yolks
  • 3 whole eggs
  • 400 g sugar
  • 250 ml water
  • 100 g sugar
  • 1 Tbsp water

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a small saucepan, cook 100 g sugar and 1 Tbsp water over medium-low heat and stir regularly until it comes to a medium amber color. Remove from heat and divide evenly into eight flan ramekins. Set aside. If ramekins are too fussy for you, you can use a single baking dish and it works equally well.

In another small saucepan, combine remaining sugar with water. Bring to a boil. Using a candy thermometer, cook until sugar reaches 220°-225°F. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. If you don’t have a candy thermometer, the syrup should coat the back of a spoon after it has cool down. If not, cook it for a few more minutes.

At this point, traditional recipes call for a little vanilla extract, lemon zest, or orange juice. Instead, I kept my recipe very plain to enjoy the rich flavor of the yolks.

In a large bowl, whisk yolks and whole eggs to combine. Whisk in cooled sugar syrup until well combined. Strain mixture into a large measuring cup or bowl with a spout so you can pour neatly into the prepared ramekins.

Pour egg yolk mixture into prepared ramekins, dividing mixture evenly between them. Ramekins may not be completely full.

Place ramekins into a shallow baking dish (I use a 9×9-inch pan) and place into the oven. Carefully pour hot water into the baking dish, making sure that the hot water comes about 2/3 of the way up the sides of the ramekins. Make sure no water gets in the ramekins.

Bake for 40-50 minutes, until custards are set. A sharp knife inserted gently into the center of one of the custards should come out clean, and they should jiggle only very slightly when moved.

Carefully remove ramekins from water bath and allow to cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, until cold, before serving.
To serve, slide a sharp knife around the edge of the custard and invert onto a serving dish.

Buen provecho!

notes from the windowsill: cocoa nibs

cocoa pod

Something very special ended up on my windowsill–a cocoa pod! Just in time for Valentine’s Day.

I decided to see what takes to get from pod to cocoa. After all, chocolate is king this time of year–though it usually comes in the shape of a heart!

cocoa pod
Here’s the cocoa pod that was on my windowsill this week. Let’s experiment!

The most fun I had was probably as I cut into the pod. The inside looks like a fuzzy experimental corn cob, and smelled very much like the inside of a pumpkin.

In following the process I gathered up the beans to let them ferment. This stops them from germinating and starts the flavoring of the nib. The white stuff on the outside helps with this, and in six days they are ready to dry. A couple more days and they are dry, and ready for roasting. This is similar to roasting coffee, and a key part of the process of giving the nib its final flavor. I think by now most everyone has had cocoa nibs in fancy candy bars or as a dessert garnish. The ones I toasted had the familiar little bitter crunch of nibs I’ve eaten before. I ground the nibs in my kitchen pestle and then I had my cocoa powder.

Long preparations like these with so many steps always make me wonder how people discovered that we could eat the final product in this particular way. Accident or not, you gotta love the inquisitive mind of those people over two thousand years ago, the first chocolatiers! It was definably worth cutting that pod open.

cocoa beans
These are the cocoa beans outside of the pod as they begin to ferment
cocoa nib
Here is a cocoa nib – a piece of the bean after fermentation and drying.
toasted cocoa beans
This is what the beans look like after they are toasted.
homemade cocoa powder
I used my mortar and pestle to grind the nibs into cocoa powder.