Sri Lankan Watalappan (Sri Lankan-Style Crème Caramel)



25 min


1 h 10 min


4 to 6

Sri Lankan Watalappan (Sri Lankan-Style Crème Caramel)

(Illustration: Emily Dakin)

Spiced with cardamom and sweetened with jaggery, this classic Sri Lankan dessert puts a cozy spin on crème caramel. This recipe is excerpted from Ruwanmali Samarakoon-Amunugama's cookbook, Milk, Spice and Curry Leaves: Hill Country Recipes from the Heart of Sri Lanka.


  • 225 g jaggery , preferably Sri Lankan kithul jaggery (palm sugar)
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla
  • 5 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp ground cardamom

Chantilly Cream

  • 1 cup 35% cream
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp orange blossom water or extract from oranges
  • 1/4 cup icing sugar
  • Crushed lightly toasted cashews or sliced almonds , optional


  1. Watalappan: Fill a large pot with water only a few inches above the base. Place a round metal steamer rack trivet inside (one without handles because you will need to ensure a tightly closed lid when you begin steaming). Set the pot on the stove over high heat. Have a 4-cup tempered glass bowl ready that will easily fit into the pot.
  2. Using a sharp knife, finely shred the jaggery into pieces (draw your knife along the edge of the block, as if you are shredding a piece of hard cheese).
  3. Combine shredded jaggery with a few tbsp of warm water in a small saucepan set over medium-low. Cook, stirring often with a wooden spoon, until jaggery melts to a syrupy consistency. Stir in vanilla for 1 to 2 min. Remove from heat. Set aside and let cool slightly.
  4. Vigorously whisk eggs in a large bowl for several minutes. Set aside.
  5. Add coconut milk, nutmeg and cardamom to the melted jaggery. Add a pinch of salt. Stir well to combine.
  6. Slowly pour the jaggery mixture into the whisked eggs and whisk again. Pour the mixture into the Pyrex bowl. Place the bowl in the pot, and cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid. (You may wish to tie a tea towel around the rim of the lid to help prevent steam from escaping.) Steam over low heat for 40 to 45 min.
  7. Carefully remove the bowl of watalappan from the pot. The watalappan will jiggle and have a soft-looking centre on top, yet will be cooked and firm enough to cut through without breaking.
  8. Chantilly cream: Whisk cream with vanilla and orange blossom water until soft peaks form. Add icing sugar; whisk until stiff peaks form.
  9. Garnish plated servings of watalappan with a dollop of Chantilly cream. Alternatively, sprinkle the top of the watalappan with toasted nuts, if desired. Serve warm or cool, with tea or coffee.

Kitchen tip

Traditional watalappan uses palm sugar made from the sap of the kithul palm tree, which grows in Sri Lanka. It’s available online or at local Sri Lankan food stores, though some other types of jaggery may do in a pinch. Substituting brown sugar or molasses is not recommended.