Watalappan- A classic Srilankan dessert ! This delicious and creamy coconut custard is made with only a handful of ingredients and resembles a creme caramel flan. Spiced with cardamom and pure, unrefined palm sugar it’s gluten free and dairy free.
This is a modified and much detailed version of my previous recipe which can be found here. You can also see my photos way back when I just started blogging 🙂
I never planned to write a post on Watalappan. When my friend Didi asked whether I could contribute an article related to food culture for her emagazine I opted to write about this classic Sri Lankan dessert. A dessert that represents Sri Lanka and it’s diversity.
Being under Portuguese, Dutch and English rule, it’s strategic locations that made it a crucial pit stop in trade routes and it’s diverse ethnic and multicultural society all contributed to the unique and diverse cuisine of Sri Lanka. Watalappan, this humble cardamom spiced coconut custard is an excellent example of it.
It’s believed to have been originated with Sri Lankan Malays during Dutch rule. Malays from Malaysia and Indonesia were posted as soldiers or were exiled and posted in Sri Lanka. This dessert brought in by the Malays uses local ingredients; coconut milk and unrefined sugar called ‘kitul’ jaggery in Sri Lanka.
And is very similar to the creme caramel, flan or creme brulee. The only difference is that the sugar doesn’t need any caramalization due to the molasses like flavor from the jaggery.
The star ingredient in the watalappan is the “kitul” jaggery. Jaggery is a hardened block of cane sugar. But in Sri Lanka it is made from the sap of a palm tree called ‘Kitul’. It’s the maple tree of Sri Lanka. The Kitul tree is found in Sri Lanka and some parts of India. The kitul jaggery is a dark brown molassy block of sugar which is softer than cane sugar jaggery and grates easily. The kitul sap is turned into both jaggery and treacle similar to maple syrup and taste delicious on it’s own. We used to drizzle the treacle on curd or top it with shaved jaggery. Makes me nostalgic.
You can find kitul jaggery and treacle in Sri Lankan specialty stores all across North America. Some sites do sell online but I haven’t used them.
If you can’t find kitul jaggery or would rather prefer a substitution I would recommend using a dark brown molasses sugar. Plain jaggery or ones made with cane sugar is very pale and will not give the beautiful molasses color or flavor to the watalappan.
I keep it simple and use only green cardamom for the spice and aroma. Cardamom powder can be bought in store. Or grind your own using 1 or 2 tbsp cardamom pods in a coffee or spice grinder.
Canned full fat coconut milk is the best. Low fat coconut milk doesn’t yield the best results.
Tips for a luscious creamy watalappan
Making watalappan is easy as it’s ingredients. However, there are some points to note to get that luscious creamy and porous texture.
- Heat the jaggery/brown molasses sugar only until it is melted. Don’t overheat.
- Only use a whisk, not a beater. You don’t want a frothy mixture. Whisk ever so slightly to beat the eggs and to mix everything in.
- Strain the mixture before adding it to ramekins or a baking dish.
- Fill the moulds only up to 3/4th to prevent over spill when steaming.
Traditionally, it’s steamed in a large pot with a weighted lid on top and steamed for about 30 to 45 minutes depending on the type of dish used.
I use the oven and bake it in a water bath If I’m making watalappan for a large crowd.
But my favorite way to steam is in the Instant Pot. It’s easy and quick and satisfies my watalappan cravings in a jiffy.
It’s gluten free and dairy free. So what’s not to like ? Try it today and let me know how it turned out. Tag me in your pictures with @loveandotherspices or #loveandotherspices. I’d love to see your creations.
Watalappan-Coconut Custard Recipe
- 5 eggs large
- 250 g kitul jaggery/ brown molasses sugar
- 1 cup canned coconut milk
- ¼ tsp cardomom powder
- Pinch of salt
- Roasted cashews to garnish
- If using jaggery, shave the jaggery using a sharp knife on a cutting board or grate.
- Heat a pan in medium, add the grated jaggery or sugar along with 2 tbsp of water. Cook until dissolved.
- Take the pan off heat and let it cool.
- Whisk the coconut milk into the sugar syrup.
- Whisk the eggs, with a pinch of salt and cardamom powder in a separate bowl.
- Add the coconut milk mixture to the eggs and whisk until combined. Don’t whisk until it’s frothy.
- Strain the mixture and discard the solids. Pour into 6 x 1/2 cup ramekins . Or one large dish.
- Place the ramekins in a large pot and fill the pot with water so that quarter of the dish is submerged in water. Cover and seal the lid with a heavy object on top. Steam for 30 minutes for the ramekins or 40 minutes for a large dish.
- Place the steaming insert in Instant Pot and add 2 cups of water. Place the ramekins on the insert. Close the lid and put the vent in sealing position. Steam for 15 minutes. Once done,force the pressure out by turning the vent. Take the ramekins and let it cool.
Baking in the oven:
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Place the ramekins in a large dish and fill it half way with hot water. Cover the ramekins loosely with a foil.
- Place the dish in the oven.
- Bake for 30-40 minutes. You want the custard to set and the middle to be wobbly.
- Remove from the oven and let it cool.
- You can serve the watalappan as it is or chill for a few hours. Garnish with roasted cashews when serving.