Sunday, December 9, 2012

Colombian Natilla

Without exaggerating, the Christmas season in Colombia is absolutely insane. Throughout the entire month of December you cannot miss the parties, the music, the novena, and the food, especially natilla. Did you know that natilla is the most popular dessert in Colombia during this time of year? Every household starts making their own natilla and buñuelos (cheese fritters) at the very beginning of the month, not only to share at home but also to share with their neighbors, family and friends. By New Year's you've shared and eaten all kinds of natilla, even your cousin's, aunt's, bother's neighbor's.

Back in the day, the natilla was made by our grandmothers after cooking and grinding the corn, they also added panela (hardened sugarcane), and cooked it on a wood stove while stirring heavily with a wooden spoon. Nowadays everything is so much easier because you can find ready-made natilla mix in many Latin grocery stores. Super easy! But what happens if we don't want to make something that comes out of a box? Or if we live abroad where we can hardly find precooked corn meal to make arepas, let alone a ready-made mix to make natilla? That's where the idea was born to make our Colombian natilla with ingredients you can easily find anywhere. Now, the original natilla contains panela, the ingredient that gives the traditional recipe its caramel color but which is very hard to find abroad. In many places you can find piloncillo, a Mexican ingredient kind of similar to the panela, however, it really doesn't have the same flavor we find in Colombia. So, in this recipe we will be using brown sugar which gives it the same color and flavor found in the Colombian natilla. If you're not a big fan of panela or brown sugar, you can use regular granulated sugar.

Below is a video that shows you step by step how I prepare natilla at home. Unlike the Spanish natillas which are made with eggs, our Colombian natilla contains cornstarch thanks to our ancestors who added corn to everything, and I'm not kidding, when I say say everything, I mean EVERYTHING.

I hope you enjoy it!


Printable Recipe


12-14 servings

4 ½   cups (1080 ml) of milk (divided)
¼      cup (50 g) white sugar
½      cup (107 g) packed brown sugar
1         dash ground cloves (optional)
4        cinnamon sticks

¾      cup (45 g) shredded coconut (optional), I use sweetened shredded coconut
¾      cup (90 g) cornstarch
1         tbs cinnamon powder (for decoration)


 1. Pour 3½ cups (840 ml) of milk into a big pot. Then add white sugar, brown sugar, cloves and cinnamon sticks. Stir all ingredients with a wooden spoon and bring milk to a boil over medium low heat.

2. As soon as milk comes to a boil, remove from the stove and let it rest for about 5 minutes.

3. In the meantime, mix the cornstarch with the remaining cup (240 ml) of milk until it completely dissolves.

4. Once the 5 minutes have passed, put the pot back on the stove over medium low heat. Remove the cinnamon sticks and add the shredded coconut. Then pour the dissolved cornstarch into the hot milk. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until it thickens and you can see the bottom of the pot.

5. Pour immediately into a serving dish or casserole and let it cool for at least an hour. Decorate with the cinnamon powder. Serve with
buñuelos if desired.

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Thank you!



  1. Thanks for the Natilla recipe. My daughter had to make an authentic Colombian recipe for her Spanish class and this was super easy and delicious!

    1. Wow! Thank you so much for your comment and I'm really glad it turned out well. Congratulations. =)

  2. has intentado usar jaggery (panela de India) como sustituto de panela?

    1. No, esa no la he tratado, si la veo la compro. Pero, sí he tratado con piloncillo que es la panela mexicana y la verdad es que no me gusta mucho el sabor. Este fin de semana encontré panela colombiana en la tienda latina de mi ciudad y me salió extremadamente simple.

  3. Hello, I do have access to panela. How much do you think I should use instead of sugar?

    1. Hi yomaira, it all depends on how big your panela is. Last year I made it with one whole panela and they turned out fine, but you can start with ½ a panela and if you think it's too bland, then you can add the other ½. Keep in mind that you have to do this before you add the cornstarch. =)

  4. Thank you for the recipes and encouragement. I Made the Natilla and required Bunuelos for a lovely Colombian woman I recently began seeing. It was apparently a big hit. After sharing it with coworkers and her Colombian friends it was rated (and perhaps me, by extension) an A++++. By following your instructions there were no explosions and everything appeared EXACTLY as your pictures indicated it should. I hope you have enough bandwidth to handle my explorations of your other exciting Colombian recipes.

    1. I applaud you, Kevin for wanting to make your new Colombian lady happy with the natilla and buñuelos, which are soooooooo popular and traditional in Colombia. I'm so happy to hear that everything turned out great and that everybody enjoyed them! Let me know if you have questions about any of the recipes that I have on the blog!!! =)

  5. Did you use whole milk or 2%? Or does it matter which one?

    1. It's best to use whole milk because of the fat content.

  6. Hola! Se guarda en la nevera? O al clima?

    1. Hola Paula, como la natilla contiene leche, es mejor guardarla en la nevera.


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