Wattalappam  –  A  Creamy Tropical Custard From Sri Lanka

Wattalappam The tropical Custard From Sri Lanka
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Wattalappam is  a popular  Sri Lankan  dessert.    The  first  time  I came across  it was  years back in a small  bakery by the beach in Kerala.   Ports  of  Kerala    and  Tamilnadu   had    commercial   ties  with this  island  nation  and  many of  these  Sri Lankan recipes   found  fans among us.  For us  ingredients were  familiar  but  the  interpretation was   different and  a welcome  change.

Wattalappam The tropical Custard From Sri Lanka

I had  forgotten  about  this  dessert  until  I spied  it  on the  GRT  menu   a   few years  back.  We  were  enroute  to Kochi  from Bangalore.  GRT   at  Selam was  our  favorite  spot  to  break  the  journey.    Sit  down ,  grab an  quick  lunch  and  be   on our  way.  But spying  this on the  menu  changed  the  schedule.   It   took longer  than   we  expected ,  and   my family looked  at   it  and  wondered  what is so special about  this  ‘blah’  looking  thing.

The  traditional wattalappam is a   brown   custard, usually un adorned.  It  is  quite  ordinary looking and   will scarcely win any presentation  points.  But  don’t  be  deceived  by its  looks –   the  taste   is  complex,  the  texture  soft  and  sooth   and  everything  just melts  in the  mouth.

Taste  of  jaggery  is an   acquired   one.   It is  not  just  sugar ,  there is  calcium and  trace  minerals in   there, not  to mention   a  whole  world  of  flavors.   The  typical  south Indian  jaggery   is  made   with    cane  juice  while   the  one  used in this  recipe –  kithul  jaggery is  made  form a  variety of  palms.   Palm jaggery   is  usually  a  good  source of  calcium and  iron  and  tastes  very different  from  sugar.

Wattalappam Ingredients

Here are all the  ingredients  for  this  recipe –  jagery ,  coconut milk ,  eggs  and  spices.   The  dark brown, almost  black looking  block in the picture is  kithul jaggery.   I used a   grater   to  grate it.   The  powdered  version  will look  much  lighter.  Grating   it  is a  little  bit  of  work –  it is   the hardest  part  in this  recipe.  Use a  grater,  or  knife or  cut  it  into   smaller  chunks   and pulse in the  blender –  that  is   if  you have a   heavy duty blender.  Kithul   Jaggery  is  usually  available in   stores  selling  Sri Lankan  groceries. I  would  suggest that  you definitely use  the  powdered  version, if  you are  lucky enough to find  it.

The  spices   used could  very from cook to cook. Some  prefer it  without  any spices, but cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and  nutmeg  are  the  popular  spices  to add. Use  one  spice  or a  combination of  spices.  Usually freshly ground  spices  are  used  and a  little  goes a  long  way in this  recipe.

It may not  be easy to  find  Kithul jaggery  if  you  don’t  live  near a  Sri Lankan  store.  Kithul  jaggery  is darker   jaggery than  the   traditional  Indian  ones  and  even  a  shade  darker  than  piloncillo that  I usually find  here. The  good  news is  that  you can  pretty much   substitute  any Asian jaggery or  piloncillo or panela  or  even  dark  brown  sugar.

This  is  as  true  to the  traditional home  made  recipe  as  I can  get.  As  recipes  go it  is  an easy one.  The recipe  and  ingredients  are  very much  similar  to that of a   flan but unlike  the  flan the margin of error  is  very little. Here you mix  all the ingredients for the  custard  together  and just  bake or  steam .

Making Wattalappam Steps

The  steps  to make  wattalappam are as  follows.

  • Melt jaggery in a little  water/coconut milk
  • Mix  in the  eggs
  • Mix  spices  and  coconut milk
  • Pour into  containers
  • Steam/bake till set

The  biggest  risk in this  recipe  is  not  getting  the  custard smooth.  So  it is important  to  strain the  custard  and   pour  into the   waiting  molds.

You can  use  fresh  squeezed  coconut  milk  –  this   recipe  will  use  about  ¾ of a  coconut  or  use  canned  coconut milk.  Follow  the  link to  see  how  to make  coconut milk at  home.  If   you are making  fresh  coconut  milk – use  the  first  extraction  for this recipe.

I have  baked  these  in a  water bath (bain-marie), but  the  home  made  versions  were  usually steamed.  I like  the  baked  version a  little  better , because  I   am baker   !  Not  really,  the  baked  versions  seem a  little  firmer  to me (just  my  personal  opinion)  and  it is  easier to bake.   Whether baked  or  steamed, wattalappam tastes  good.

Wattalappam  can  be  served  warm,  but  allowing  it  to cool  and   refrigerating for   a few hours  allows  the  flavors  to  mature  and  mellow.

This is the  recipe  to make for  someone  who is  lactose intolerant  but  still a  lover of  flan !  So here is  the  recipe  for  Sri Lankan   Wattalappam.

5 from 3 votes
Wattalappam The tropical Custard From Sri Lanka
Wattalappam
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
1 hr
Resting/Cooling Time
40 mins
Total Time
2 hrs
 

Think of  wattalappam  as  a  tropical  cream  caramel.  This is a perfect  custard for  those  with milk  allergies. It  is  a  a popular  Sri Lankan custard  made with  eggs, coconut  milk and  jaggery.  Jaggery gives it more  earthy, caramel like  flavors  and the  brown color.   Coconut  milk and  jaggery are  a  typical  dessert  pairing  found  in many of   desserts  from that region, and  works beautifully here.

Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Sri Lankan
Author: Syama
Ingredients
  • 200 - 250 g Grated Kithul Jaggery Notes
  • 4 Eggs
  • 2 Egg Yolks
  • 1  ½ Cup Coconut milk Thick (Notes)
  • 3-4  Cardamom
  • ¼   Tsp Nutmeg
Instructions
  1. Pre heat  the  oven  to  350°F (170°C).  Lightly grease  4  one  cup   custard   molds.  Place   them in an oven proof  container . 

    Heat  about   4 - 5   cups of  water. 

  2. Mix ¼ C of  coconut  milk  with the  jaggery (notes)  and mix  into a  smooth paste. Add the eggs  and  the  yolks  into the  jaggery mix  and  beat  until  mixed  well.  The  mix  should look uniform  and  seems  to have  thickened  and  bulked  a  bit   without  air pockets in it.

  3. Powder the  cardamom  seeds  (about  1/2 Tsp powder)  and   grate the  nutmeg  a  few  times to make  about ¼ tsp powder . Mix  the  spices  with the  jaggery egg  syrup.
  4. Add  the coconut milk   and  mix  with a  spatula. Strain the mix  and  portion into the prepared custard  cups. Cover  the  tops  of  the  cups  with  foil. 

  5. Pour hot  water  about  into the  pan  holding  the  custard  cups. Add  enough  water  into the  pan  to   reach half  way up the  sides  of the   cups. .

  6. Place in the preheated oven  and  bake  for 50 minutes to 1 hour  (if  using  different  size  pans  adjust  baking  times).

  7. Open the oven and slightly jiggle one cup. The custard should set but have a little give in the center. If too wiggly, bake for another 10 to 15 minutes before testing again.

  8. Remove  from the  oven  and  cool  on the  counter  for at least  30 minutes  before  serving. 

    Alternately after  30 minutes , transfer the  custards  to  the fridge  for  at  least  3  hours .  Take out of the  fridge  just  before  serving. 

Recipe Notes
  • Kithul  Jaggery is  made  by processing the  sap of  Kithul palms.  Dark brown  sugar, Indian Jaggery,  Piloncillo are all  good  substitutes. 
  • Premium canned  coconut  milk   (not lite) can be  used  in  this  recipe, or  use  the   first  extraction of   freshly prepared  coconut  milk. 
  • Traditionally jaggery is  melted  over  heat   with a  little  water  added  to it. Once  completely melted  it  is  strained  to  remove impurities  before. Follow this process if  you are  not  sure  about  the  quality of the  jaggery. 
  • Wattalappam  can also be  steamed.  Place  the  containers  covered  on  a  steamer  rack and  steam  at  medium heat  for  30 to 40 minutes.  Test  and  steam  longer  if  necessary. 
  • The  cooking times  vary depending on the  container  used  as  well.  Thinner  custards  take  much less  time  than the  thick ones. 
  • Optionally  raisins  and  cashew nuts are  added  as  garnishes  or   to the custard  mix.  
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    6 thoughts on “Wattalappam  –  A  Creamy Tropical Custard From Sri Lanka

    1. This sounds absolutely wonderful. I’m not sure if I can find the jaggery here in Italy, but if I can, I’d love to try it!

      1. Brown sugar or molasses are easy substitutes. But this particular version of jaggery – Kithul jaggery- has its own unique flavors. Hope you come across some 🙂

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