Natilla Colombiana is a firm sweet milk custard flavoured with cinnamon and coconut.
This treat is traditionally served alongside fried buñuelos at Christmas.
I feel like I've been in a rut with my holiday recipes lately, so I've been asking my friends what they usually eat during Christmastime.
Most people said they enjoy shortbread cookies, fruitcake, or cinnamon rolls, but my friend Jeyson told me about two Colombian dishes that his family makes during the holidays: natilla and buñuelos.
I wanted to try making Colombian buñuelos, because they sound DELICIOUS (deep-fried cheese balls!), but I couldn't find queso fresco anywhere.
Luckily for me, the ingredients for Jeyson's natilla were fairly easy to find.
Note: This is not a traditional natilla recipe, as some of the original ingredients are difficult to find here. Also, coconut milk has been added to boost the overall coconut flavour of the dish.
Like many recipes, there are many variations of the Colombian natilla recipe.
Some people add raisins, cloves or nuts to their custard, while others prefer to keep theirs more plain.
The one thing they all do seem to have in common is a strong cinnamon flavour, which you get from steeping cinnamon sticks in warm milk (which, by the way, smells pretty great).
The one thing they do have in common is that hey all contain grated or shredded coconut, which adds both flavour and texture to this creamy treat.
One thing to note with this natilla recipe though is that while it is referred to as a custard, it does not actually contain any eggs.
Spanish versions of the recipe, called natillas, include lemon zest and egg yolks and has a texture similar to crème anglaise.
While the Colombian version doesn't have eggs, it does contain cornstarch. This thickens the mixture, and allows it to set up firm enough that you can cut it into slices (if you want to).
- Whole Milk
- Coconut Milk (not traditional, but it does add a nice flavour)
- Grated Coconut
- Cinnamon Sticks
- Condensed Milk
- Dark Brown Sugar (or Panela, if you can find it)
- Vanilla Extract
- Ground cloves
Choosing the Right Dairy Product
The main ingredient in natilla is dairy milk. Ordinarily, whole milk is used, but real whole milk isn't really a thing here in Canada.
Actual whole milk has a milk fat content of 3.5% or more. I used Homogenized 3.25% milk in this recipe instead, and found that worked just fine.
Homogenized milk is unique to Canada, though, so feel free to use whatever counts as whole milk (or full-fat milk) in your country.
TIP: A reader named Marilyn has suggested adding 1 tablespoon of whipping cream to 1 cup 1% milk, to create something similar to whole milk. That might be worth trying if you're stuck!
How to Use Coconut Milk From a Can
Coconut milk adds extra coconut flavour, but isn't typically used in traditional recipes. You can substitute the amount of coconut milk in this recipe for plain cow's milk, if you'd like to.
If you do want to use the coconut milk, you'll want to use canned coconut milk. The kind that comes in a carton or tetrapak doesn't have the right texture.
My favourite brands are Aroy-D and Grace Foods.
Regardless of the brand you use, you'll want to pour the contents of the can into a measuring cup or a bowl and stir it before measuring the amount you need.
This is important because the fat content (the tasty part) of the coconut milk separates from the water in the can. Especially in cold weather! So you'll want to stir it until everything is one smooth consistency before you measure out the amount you need.
The coconut milk gets blended with the grated coconut, so it will get blended properly, but you need to make sure that you get an equal amount of the fat and the water from the can before blending.
In traditional recipes, natilla is sweetened with an unrefined sugar called panela, which is commonly used in Latin America.
Since panela can be difficult to find in parts of North America, people will often use brown sugar, white sugar and/or condensed milk instead.
In this recipe, you'll need one entire 14 oz can of condensed milk. I use Eagle Brand, which seems to be the most popular brand here in Canada.
Now, I realize that using an entire can of condensed milk sounds like a lot, and it is, but it adds really tasty flavour.
There's a tiny bit of brown sugar in this recipe too, which I like because it adds a slight caramel note to the dessert.
You can add more brown sugar and less condensed milk if you want to, or substitute one for the other entirely.
🥣 A Tip for Adding the Cornstarch
The cornstarch is a crucial element in this recipe if you want your Natilla to have a flan-like texture, and be firm enough to cut.
When I was discussing the dish with Jeyson, he told me that his family traditionally serves in slices and eats it with a spoon.
Although some people do eat the slices by hand, or make a looser version of the dish that has more of a pudding-like texture.
One thing to note with the cornstarch is that if you mix it with cold milk, and set it aside, the mixture will begin to harden before you can pour it in.
You can eliminate that problem by warming the milk up a bit, and then whisking the cornstarch right before adding it to the pan.
🧑🏽🍳 Making the Dish
The cinnamon cooks in the milk for about 20 minutes total before you remove it, which gives it just enough time to infuse its flavour.
Once the cinnamon has infused into the milk, you'll add the coconut milk mixture, condensed milk, sugar, vanilla etc.
Be careful with the heat on this dish, because if your heat is too high the mixture will scorch before you can finish making the dish.
Milk can burn really easily, so keep an eye on your heat and be sure to stir the mixture often to prevent sticking.
Once you add the cornstarch, the mixture will begin to firm up pretty quickly. It's important to keep stirring until the mixture starts to come together, and you can see the bottom of the pan.
You'll want to make sure that you have your loaf pan, serving dish or mini ramekins ready to go near the stove. Trust me, this makes things a lot easier!
Also, it helps to use a silicone or rubber spatula to pour the thickened mixture into whatever vessel you're filling.
You need to let the Natilla cool down at room temperature for an hour or two, depending on the size of your serving dish. Once it's cooled, you can garnish and eat it, or set it in the fridge for later (for up to 5 days).
I like eating this at room temperature, so I'll take it out of the fridge for a bit before I enjoy a slice. But it's not uncommon to serve this cold, too.
In fact, the ideal way to enjoy this is to eat a bite of cold natilla, with a bite of warm crispy buñuelos, which apparently creates the perfect Colombian Christmas bite.
Hopefully I'll be able to try that combination myself someday!
🖨 Printable Recipe
Natilla (Colombian Custard)
- 3 cups Homogenized 3.25% Milk, or whole milk
- 18 tablespoons cornstarch, (18 tablespoon = 1 cup + 2 tbsp)
- 1 cup coconut milk, (from a can, mixed well)
- ¾ cup grated coconut, (preferably frozen, not dried)
- 3 sticks cinnamon
- 14 ounces condensed milk, (1 can of Eagle Brand)
- 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 pinch ground clove, optional
- pinch salt
- ground cinnamon, to garnish
- Place the coconut milk and grated coconut in a blender, and puree until smooth. Set aside.
- Place 2 cups of milk in a medium pot and set over medium-low heat. Add the cinnamon sticks, and warm through for 8-10 minutes, or until the milk is slightly steaming.
- Add the coconut mixture to the warm milk, and stir to combine. Allow the mixture to warm through, then add the condensed milk, sugar, vanilla, clove (if using) and salt. Stir again.
- Increase heat to medium-high, and cook the mixture for another 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently so the milk doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan.
- Meanwhile, combine the remaining 1 cup of milk with cornstarch in a small bowl. Whisk until dissolved.
- Remove and discard the cinnamon sticks.
- Reduce heat back to medium-low, and stir in the cornstarch mixture. Stir continuously for about 5 minutes, or until the Natilla thickens*. Remove from heat, and pour into a loaf pan or small dessert cups. A plastic spatula is useful for getting all of the Natilla out of the pot.
- Allow the Natilla to cool at room temperature for 2 hours before serving. Garnish with ground cinnamon and serve. Refrigerate unused portions, tightly wrapped, for up to 5 days.
Please read the blog post for detailed tips and explanations.
Nutrition Disclaimer: this nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of this information cannot be guaranteed.
Riz | Chocolates & Chai
What a lovely post, Shareba! I've never tried natilla or buo...buono...bunotill...--I've never tried either of these two wonderful sounding dishes, but you've definitely sparked my curiosity!
Thanks Riz! The natilla was really good - I'm hoping my Colombian friend will help me track down the ingredients for Buñuelos so I can share that recipe too! Thanks for stopping by 🙂
Colombian natilly doesn't have coconut milk, neither sugar. It is made with panela or piloncillo. The ingredients are: caw milk, panela, coconut, cinnamon, vanilla extract, and a cup of aguardiente. Is optional add raisins and many people add a tablespoon of butter. I'm Colombian and I love to cook, specially traditional Colombian food. Thanks for sharing Colombian recipes.
Hello Elizabeth, thank you for sharing your thoughts. This recipe was shared with me by my Colombian friend. As I'm sure you read in my blog post, I noted that the traditional recipe is made with panela. I also mentioned that some people add raisins. I understand that what I have shared is not a traditional recipe. This recipe has been adapted by my friend's family to use ingredients that are easy to find at our grocery stores. The coconut milk is also an addition that his family adds to it.
If it helps at all. I read if you add a tablespoon of whipping cream to one cup 1% milk, that gives you whole milk. I have tried this a number of times and it has worked well.
I never buy whole milk, I think the USA has 4% fat in their whole milk.
I am a Canadian living in the USA so have had to make all sorts of adjustments because ingredients are different here.
Thanks for sharing that Marilyn, that's good to know!
Whole milk in the US is actually only 3.25% fat.
Ah, ok so it's the same as Canada. I believe it's 3.7% in the UK.
This sounds incredible! Book marking to try once I get some cornstarch.
Thanks Redawna! Let me know how you like it when you get a chance to make it 🙂
You can find homogenized milk in the US in the baking aisle (usually where the condensed and evaporated milk are located). It's shelf stable, so I always keep some on hand in case of a hurricane. I've even purchased Natrel (it's really good for cooking and baking).
Oh, that's good to know! I don't think I've seen homogenized milk in cans here. I've seen condensed and evaporated, but I'll have to take a look in the baking aisle the next time I go to the grocery.
I've only seen homogenized in boxes/cartons here, but never canned. Parmalat and Organic Valley are two good brands I've found at the grocery store. If you need a certain fat content, you can find fat-free, 2%, and whole if you search around online. Good luck! 😊
Thanks for the info!
Have A Good Day
Thanks Laurie! You too 🙂