Pastillas de Leche Are a Smooth and Creamy Filipino Treat

How to make the festive, milky candies at home.

5/6/2021 9:00:00 PM

How to make the festive, milky candies at home.

Smooth and creamy Filipino milk-based candies made from milk, heavy cream, sugar, and powdered milk.

Stirring and scraping further prevents the milk solids from scorching.Powdered milk adds a second layer of rich dairy flavor and contributes to a firmer, slightly chewy texture.I have fond childhood memories of the sweet milk-based treat known as pastillas de leche, which my family often received as pasalubong

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,or gifts, from relatives visiting from the Philippines. Traditionally made from carabao, or water buffalo, milk and white sugar, pastillas de leche are now more commonly made from a combination of cow milk, condensed milk, sugar, and/or powdered milk. While we’d sometimes receive ones flavored with ube (purple yam) or macapuno (also known as coconut sport, the soft flesh of the coconut from a dwarf mutant tree), which have become more popular, my favorite then and now continues to be the original, because of its rich, creamy dairy-forward flavor. 

When I set out to recreate pastillas at home, my priority was nailing the specific flavor and texture of the sweets I’d eaten as a child. Since carabao milk isn’t readily available in the United States, I've combined cow milk and heavy cream to replicate its higher fat content and richer flavor. Heavy cream also helps to prevent the milk from curdling during the cooking process (thanks to its larger concentration of fat). As a result, you can use any kind of milk you have on hand for the rest of the mixture–from skim to whole milk.

I discovered during testing that simply cooking down a mixture of milk, cream, and sugar into a paste-like consistency and forming little candies yielded pastillas that were too soft and didn’t hold their shape well; they were also bland. Adding powdered milk (along with a pinch of salt) to the cooked, thickened milk provided the pastilla dough with a more complex dairy flavor and a firmer texture. I tested both whole and nonfat powdered milk, but nonfat powdered milk ultimately produced a grainy candy, in part because it wasn’t as easy to dissolve into the mixture. Whole powdered milk, however, blended seamlessly into the mixture, producing smooth, creamy candies. (I also tested a combination of condensed milk and powdered milk, a quick no-cook method for making pastillas at home, which resulted in stiff candies with an off-putting canned flavor). 

To make the candies, I chill the dough and then form it into a cylinder from which I cut pieces and shape them into bite-size logs. Tossing the logs in sugar gives them a touch of crunch and extra sweetness. They look just like the pastillas de leche I'd eat as a kid, even if their flavor is a little different because of the lack of carabao milk. But I've been sharing the pastillas with my toddler, who is creating his own memories of enjoying these unique Filipino treats. 

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