This dessert is super popular all over Spain. Families all over the country might have this as a treat, just about any time, the way American families get chocolate chip cookies. Somehow, I had never seen or heard of it until a Spanish friend served some at a party last year. Since then, I seem to see some reference to it just about once a week from all kinds of sources. I’m not going to delve into the any of the numerous arguments I’ve read over its origins, but, suffice to say, a lot of different areas claim it as their own invention.
“Leche frita” literally translates to “fried milk.” It is actually a mildly sweet, aromatic, very thick milk custard, thickened only with cornstarch. You cool the custard down, so that it sets up very solidly, at which point you cut it into pieces, flour it, and fry it. Usually, it is garnished with a light dusting of sugar and cinnamon. Because there’s often milk in the house, it’s a quick easy thing to throw together when you need to make a sweet treat on short notice.
The most traditional and typical flavorings for the leche frita are cinnamon with lemon and orange. I love adding cardamom to those. Vanilla works well, and you can experiment with anything from fennel seed to coffee to cocoa. Don’t be fooled by how incredibly simple this dessert is. It’s an addictive crowd pleaser suitable for just about any occasion.
6 cups (1 ½ quarts) of milk
Small pinch of salt
1 cinnamon stick
1 ½ Tbsp unsalted butter
Zest from 1 lemon
Zest from 1 orange
Flour for dredging
2 eggs beaten
Oil for fying
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cinammon
1. Line a casserole dish with plastic wrap.
2. Place 4 cups of the milk in a heavy bottomed pot, along with the cinnamon stick and small pinch of salt. Warm up on a medium low flame until simmering, stirring regularly with a whisk, to be sure the bottom doesn’t burn. When it reaches a simmer, whisk in the sugar and return to a simmer. Let simmer for a minute or two, stirring regularly, then remove the cinnamon stick and stir in the butter.
3. In a separate bowl, combine the remaining 2 cups of cold milk with the corn starch, whisking to mix very thoroughly. Slowly pour this mixture into the simmering milk, while whisking aggressively. You need to pour slowly and whisk aggressively to make sure that you don’t get lumps. This will thicken very quickly – as soon as it gets very thick, remove from heat. Quickly whisk in the citrus zest, and pour out the custard into the prepared dish (from step 1). Gently shake the pan to get rid of air bubbles and use a spoon or spatula to flatten out the top surface. Let cool to room temperature, than place a layer of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard and refrigerate. Allow to set up in the fridge for at least 2 or 3 hours before proceeding to the next step. I usually will do this the day before I want to eat it.
4. Pop the custard out of the pan onto a flat surface and cut into pieces of your desired size and shape. Some people do squares, some do longer rectangular pieces, And you can even get out fun cookie cutters to make different shapes.
5. Put a scoop of flour in a baking dish or wide plate, and place the eggs in a small bowl. Get oil heated to 350°F. Dredge the pieces thoroughly in the flour and shake off the excess. Roll them around in the egg to coat on all sides, letting any excess egg drip off. Fry until golden brown, then let drain out on paper towels. Note: You can fry the leche frita in a pan or in a deep fryer.
Mix the cinnamon and sugar together and sprinkle on top as soon as the pieces come out of the fryer. Leche frita is excellent when served still hot from frying, but is still quite good when it has cooled to room temperature. They are often made several hours before serving.