Nicuatole is a sweet corn-based delight (usually) found with a bright red layer in the streets of Oaxaca, where it is adored by locals and tourists alike. This pre-Hispanic dessert is one of my favorites with the endless possibilities of flavor combinations, and it is super easy to make with only a few simple ingredients.
Why This Recipe Works
This delicious no-bake, flan-like dessert is vegan, gluten-free, and perfect for any season. You can change up the fruit combinations according to seasonality and it can be made ahead of time. It can also be made into any shape you like by using the silicone molds of your choice.
The word nicuatole stems from two Nahuatl words, the first being necuatl which means honey or syrup, and the second being atolli meaning corn porridge.
On the streets of Oaxaca, you can see the traditional preparation of this dessert. It starts with corn masa, sweetener (historically speaking, this would have been either bee honey or agave syrup), cooking it until it thickens, pouring it into large clay pots to let cool, and topped with a reddish-pink carmine-based powder for color.
The standard top red layer comes from what is known in Spanish as la cochinilla, a tiny insect found on cactus paddles that, when dried and crushed into a powder, turns into a highly pigmented natural dye.
Coconut Water: This can be replaced with regular water, but I strongly recommend that you use coconut extract. This will result in a better overall flavor.
Coconut milk: You want to use canned coconut milk for this recipe. It has the perfect fat content for this dessert.
Passion Fruit: If you can get your hands on fresh passion fruit, that would work best however, frozen pulp works just as well. Don’t use the passion fruit juice that you find at the store with the rest of the regular fruit juices. You can also substitute with mango, pineapple, berries, mamey, or any other fruit that can be pureed.
Fresh corn masa: If you don’t have access to fresh corn masa you can use masa harina (nixtamalized corn flour). To make it with masa harina, combine 2 cups of masa flour and 1 ½ cups of water to make 500g of masa, give or take.
Sugar: I’ve taken the liberty of adding a good range when it comes to the amount of sugar in the recipe as everyone has their own preferred level of sweetness. You can substitute the sugar with agave syrup.
Step-by Step instructions
- Puree masa, milk, and coconut water until you get a smooth mixture. Reserve 2 1/2 cups of this mixture.
- Pour this mixture into a pot and add sugar.
- Break cinnamon stick and add it to the pot.
- Heat mixture until it thickens like shown in the photo above. Set aside.
5. Pour the remaining masa mixture into a pot and add passion fruit puree.
6. Add sugar to the pot and mix to combine.
7. Heat until it thickens.
8. It should be like a thick cake batter, as shown above.
Pour the passion fruit mixture into the molds first.
Followed by the coconut masa mixture. Let cool at room temp then refrigerate for 6 hours.
Expert Tips and Tricks
The most important part of this process is the thickening of the mixture, regardless of which fruit/flavor you’re using; the thicker the final mixture the firmer the nicuatole will set. Like it says in the recipe, it should resemble a thick cake batter allowing it to set so it’s firm enough to not fall apart but still have a softness to it that it melts in your mouth. Once set, the nicuatole should resemble a firmer flan.
Once the nicuatole has cooled in the fridge, unmold it and serve it on banana leaves like they do in the streets of Oaxaca.
These should be stored in an air-tight container in the fridge to prevent drying and cracking of the dessert. Consume within 4-5 days.
You can use passion fruit, mango, pineapple, berries, mamey, or any other fruit that can be pureed.
Passion Fruit Coconut Nicuatole
- 4 ¼ cups coconut water (1 L)
- 1 can Coconut milk (13.5 oz) (400 ml)
- 4 cups Masa harina (500g)
- ½ - 1 Cup Sugar
- 1 Ceylon cinnamon stick 4-5 inch
- 1 tsp coconut or vanilla extract (optional)
Passion fruit layer:
- ½ cup Passion fruit pulp
- 2 ½ cups reserved coconut/masa mixture
- 2-4 tbsp. sugar
To make the Coconut Layer
- In a blender, combine the coconut water, milk, and fresh masa blending until fully combined. If you are using fresh masa, strain the mixture for a smooth result. Reserve 2 ½ cups of this mixture.
- For the coconut layer, we’re going to combine the remaining coconut milk mixture with sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla extract in a pot over medium heat. Stir while sugar dissolves and mixture thickens. Taste for sweetness and adjust to preference.
- Bringing this mixture to a boil, we are going to continue to cook this for another 5-10 minutes until the consistency is that of a thick cake batter. Once this is achieved, fish out the cinnamon stick and set (the mixture) aside while we work on the passion fruit layer.
To make the Passion Fruit Layer
- Combine the reserved coconut milk/masa mixture with the pulp and sugar and follow the same steps as we did for the coconut layer; combining everything together, bringing it to a boil, and cooking it for 5 minutes stirring constantly until a thick batter-like consistency is achieved.
- Once both mixtures have been cooked and thickened, pour into silicone molds of choice starting with the passion fruit mixture and filling in the rest with the coconut mixture. You want to this while the mixture is still hot. As it cools a thin skin will form at the top of the mixture which could result in a lumpy texture.
- Allow to cool at room temperature and then place in the fridge to fully set for a minimum of 6 hours or overnight for best results. Once fully set, serve and enjoy!
- The most important part of this process is the thickening of the mixture, regardless of which fruit/flavor you’re using; the thicker the final mixture the firmer the nicuatole will set. It should be like a thick cake batter.
- Serving: Once the nicuatole has cooled in the fridge, unmold it and serve it on banana leaves like they do in the streets of Oaxaca.
- Storing: These should be stored in an air-tight container in the fridge to prevent drying and cracking of the dessert. Consume within 4-5 days.