Atolillo (Simple Custard) Recipe

Simple pleasures. María del Mar Sacasa

I grew up in a household where dessert was always served, and atolillo was frequently on the menu. It was a crowd-pleaser and easy enough to pull together even on a busy weeknight. Atolillo is a humble little custard made with milk, egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and lightly flavored with cinnamon. It's thick enough that you can eat it with a spoon, but not so thick that sipping it would be out of the question. It's wonderfully comforting served warm just as soon as it's made, but it's refreshing served chilled, too.

I've seen Nicaraguan recipes for atolillo thickened with rice and Guatamelan versions made with corn. Although rice and corn are common in Central American dishes and beverages, I'm sure the sheer convenience and smooth texture of cornstarch made it a perfect substitute for this recipe.

Notes: The atolillo will thicken only to the consistency of yogurt, so don't expect it to be thick and pudding-like. However, since this is a starch-bound custard, once the atolillo comes to a boil you must allow it to boil for an additional 1 to 2 minutes to avoid weepy results.

Recipe Facts

Active: 20 mins
Total: 20 mins
Serves: 4 to 6 servings

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  • 3 cups milk

  • 3/4 cup sugar

  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch

  • 3 large egg yolks

  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

  • 1 cinnamon stick

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 2 pieces

  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon


  1. Bring milk to boil on stovetop in small saucepan or in microwave-safe bowl in microwave.

  2. In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan whisk together sugar, cornstarch, egg yolks, and salt. While vigorously whisking, add 1/4 cup hot milk to temper, then continue whisking and add remaining milk in a slow, steady stream.

  3. Add cinnamon stick and bring the mixture to boil over medium heat, whisking constantly; mixture will thicken to the consistency of yogurt. Continue to boil for 1 to 2 minutes.

  4. Remove from heat and stir in butter and vanilla extract. Remove and discard cinnamon stick.

  5. Strain custard into large bowl and serve warm with a dusting of ground cinnamon. Alternatively, press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the atolillo’s surface and refrigerate until cold, then serve chilled.

Special equipment

heavy-bottomed medium saucepan, strainer

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
240 Calories
7g Fat
36g Carbs
8g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4 to 6
Amount per serving
Calories 240
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 7g 10%
Saturated Fat 4g 19%
Cholesterol 139mg 46%
Sodium 138mg 6%
Total Carbohydrate 36g 13%
Dietary Fiber 1g 2%
Total Sugars 31g
Protein 8g
Vitamin C 0mg 1%
Calcium 176mg 14%
Iron 1mg 4%
Potassium 215mg 5%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)