Colombian Christmas Custard (Natilla Colombiana)

Natilla Colombian Christmas custard recipe

The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

  • Total: 45 mins
  • Prep: 15 mins
  • Cook: 30 mins
  • Yield: 16 pieces (serve 16)

Natilla is a rich, custard-like dessert that is traditionally enjoyed at Christmas, especially in Colombia. It is usually served alongside round deep-fried cheese fritters called buñuelos. Natilla is somewhat similar to dulce de leche, but it is thickened with cornstarch and flavored with panela, a dark molasses-like sugar that is a by-product of sugarcane processing. (Dark brown sugar makes a pretty good substitute). Colombian-style natilla tends to be firmer and sliceable, though it can also be served in a creamier pudding form. Many recipes for natilla include shredded fresh coconut, raisins, or nuts—or some combination of all three.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 8 ounces panela (or 1 cup packed light or dark brown sugar, plus 1 tablespoon molasses)
  • 2 to 3 cloves
  • 3 to 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Optional: 1 cup coconut (frozen or fresh, shredded)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Optional: 3/4 cup chopped nuts and/or 1/2 cup raisins

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for Natilla Colombian Christmas custard
    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga
  2. Place the cornstarch in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in 1 cup of the milk (or more if needed) until cornstarch is well incorporated and you have a smooth mixture. Pour the remaining milk into a heavy saucepan. The cornstarch has a detectable flavor at first, which goes away once the natilla is thoroughly cooked.

    Add cornstarch
    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga
  3. Grate the panela and add it to the milk mixture (or add the brown sugar and molasses).

    Grate panela
    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga
  4. Add the baking soda, cinnamon sticks, and salt. Whisk to mix well.

    Add baking soda
    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga 
  5. Heat the milk-sugar mixture over medium-low heat, stirring, and bring just to a boil. Take out the cinnamon sticks and cloves. 

    Heat sugar milk mixture
    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga
  6. Whisk in the milk-cornstarch mixture and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until it starts to thicken. Stir in the coconut, if using.

    Whisk in milk cornstarch
    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga 
  7. Cook the mixture until has thickened enough that you can see the bottom of the pan for several seconds when you stir (do not let it come all the way to a boil), about 10 to 12 minutes. Stir constantly so that the cornstarch doesn't clump, and the mixture doesn't burn. 

    Cook the mixture
    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga
  8. Add raisins and/or nuts if desired, and remove from heat. Stir in the butter and vanilla.

    Add raisins and nuts
    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga
  9. Pour the mixture into a greased 8-inch square glass pan or in any greased mold. Refrigerate until firm. 

    Pour mixture into pan
    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga
  10. Sprinkle natilla generously with powdered sugar. Cut into 3-inch rectangular pieces to serve. 

    Sprinkle natilla
    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga