From French crème caramel to Filipino leche flan, steamed caramel custards can be found around the globe. Sri Lanka’s version, watalappan, uses coconut milk, a ubiquitous ingredient on this coconut palm-fringed tropical island. This rich, silky dessert, thought to have Malay origins and particularly favoured by Sri Lanka’s Muslim community, is embellished with roasted cashews for a counterpoint of crunch.






Skill level

Average: 3.7 (206 votes)


  • 110 g jaggery (see Note), grated  
  • 200 ml coconut milk
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 cinnamon quill
  • 2 cardamom pods, bruised 
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs
  • 25 g unsalted roasted cashews, halved, plus extra roughly chopped, to serve

Cook's notes

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.


Cooling time 15 minutes
Chilling time 2 hours
You will need 4 x 185 ml-capacity moulds for this recipe.

Preheat oven to 150°C. Place jaggery, coconut milk, spices and vanilla in a small saucepan over low heat and stir for 4 minutes or until sugar dissolves. Set aside to cool slightly.

Place eggs in a bowl and whisk until pale and creamy. Add coconut milk mixture and whisk to combine. Strain mixture through a fine sieve into a jug. Divide between 4 x 185 ml-capacity moulds and place in a large roasting pan. Fill roasting pan with enough boiling water to come halfway up sides of moulds.

Bake for 35 minutes, sprinkle over cashews and cook for a further 10 minutes or until just set but still wobbly. Remove from roasting pan. Set aside to cool slightly, then refrigerate for 2 hours or until chilled. Sprinkle with extra roasted cashews to serve.


• Jaggery is an unrefined sugar typically made from sugarcane sap or date palm sap and often used in both sweet and savoury dishes in India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. It is available from select delis, specialist spice shops and Indian or Asian food shops. Substitute palm sugar.



Photography Ben Dearnley. Food preparation Kirsten Jenkins. Styling Justine Poole.


As seen in Feast magazine, October 2014, Issue 36.