One of my most vivid childhood memories is the smell of simmering milk or even burnt milk on the stove. Until about 25 years ago or maybe less, my grandparents had raw milk delivered to the pastry shop once a day from a farm just 3 km away. The milk came in large metal containers and it was my grandmother’s job to cook it and pasteurize it for everyone to use in the shop.
The cream that rose to the top after the milk was heated, the milk skin or esne natak, was later used to bake pound cakes for us to eat at home. I remember that like it was yesterday.
During this last trip, we visited my grandmother every afternoon. She is not doing so well and more than speaking herself, she listened to our conversations. My uncle J., who is a great storyteller, was remembering the times as kids when they ate the milk skin on bread sprinkled with sugar. I know it might sound odd to most, but it was also a snack I grew up eating and miss to this day.
This conversation is what got me thinking about the idea of baking with milk skin again, but getting my hands on good raw milk would proof to be a challenge.
When I arrived back in Florida, I went to Whole Foods inquiring about raw milk, which turns out is illegal in Florida. I did find out however, that it is sold for animal consumption and they do carry it right there in the store. So there I was buying pet food for baking purposes.
I pulled out an old recipe that my mom gave me for the milk skin pound cake (esne natazko opile) and adapted it incorporating chocolate and hazelnut flour into it. The final texture is very similar to a pound cake made with butter, so you could make the entire recipe with butter instead, but for me it was more than about making a chocolate cake. It was about a memory.
Milk Skin or Natas de Leche
Note: The original recipe only uses raw milk but because I heard that the milk here does not contain as much fat, I added heavy cream to it. Not necessary though.
1 liter of raw cow’s milk
500 ml heavy cream
Place the milk and cream in a shallow but wide pan. The more surface the better as we will be able to get more of the skin.
Heat the mixture on low heat until low simmer is achieved. A yellow skin will start to form. Gently spoon the skin into a clean glass container or ceramic bowl. Let it cool slightly and then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 24 hours. I like to wait 2 days to use it so it acquires a bit of a sour flavor.
Chocolate, Hazelnut and Milk Skin Tea Cakes
Note: when I made the milk skin, I didn’t get enough quantity for the entire recipe so I used regular unsalted butter for the rest.
180 grams natas de leche
100 grams sugar
140 grams flour
50 grams hazelnut flour
30 grams cocoa powder, sifted
6 grams baking powder
pinch of salt
50 grams chocolate chunks
After the milk skin has been refrigerated, it will have similar consistency to cool butter but once it starts to soften, it might appear a bit broken. Because of this, I like to start creaming the butter and the sugar with the paddle attachment, but once I start adding the eggs, if the mixture looks a bit separated, I use a hand whisk to bring back the emulsion. Just whisk the eggs in a bit and it will be fine.
Combine the flour, hazelnut flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the base and mix until combined. Fold in the chocolate chunks.
Divide the batter between four mini loaf pans (mine are 3″x2″) and pipe the rest into mini muffin cups or silicon pan.
Bake at 350F until center done. insert a toothpick in the center and if it comes out clean, they are done.