This piloncillo pudding has the brown sugar sweetness of butterscotch

Bubble tea birthday cake
Piloncillo pudding is the same tan shade as milk tea, making it the base of this boba cake-in-a-cup.
(Evan Sung / For The Times)

Creamy and velvety, this pudding combines the richness of custard with the irresistible brown sugar sweetness of butterscotch. It’s the base of a Boba Birthday Cake because it’s the same pretty shade of tan as milk tea but is also delicious on its own. The key is the use of piloncillo, which has a deep, earthy sweetness. It’s also known as panela and is sold in supermarkets. To use it in this recipe, you need to grate it on the large holes of a box grater or thinly slice it with a serrated knife. You can substitute packed dark brown sugar for the piloncillo in equal volume, but the resulting pudding won’t taste as complex.

Kids are easy to please with homemade birthday cakes. This surprising boba birthday cake for teenagers can have the same effect.

Piloncillo Pudding

40 minutes plus chilling. Makes about 7 1/2 cups.



  • ½ cup cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 5 cups whole milk
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 6 tablespoons salted butter
  • 12 ounces (340 grams) piloncillo, coarsely grated (1 1/2 cups)
  • 2 cups heavy cream


  1. Whisk the cornstarch and salt in a large bowl. While whisking continuously, pour in the milk in a steady stream and whisk until smooth. Add the egg yolks and whisk until smooth.
  2. Put the butter in a large saucepan and melt over medium-high heat. Add the piloncillo and cook, whisking continuously, until very smooth and a darker shade of brown, about 5 minutes. The mixture will separate and look grainy before it comes together again and smooths out. Remove from heat.
  3. Carefully whisk the piloncillo mixture continuously while adding the cream in a slow, steady stream. Whisk quickly to help the bubbles dissipate and to prevent the sugar from clumping and seizing. Keep whisking until smooth. Place over medium heat.
  4. Whisk the yolk mixture again and continue whisking while adding about half of the cream mixture in a slow, steady stream. Pour the yolk-cream blend back into the saucepan with the remaining cream mixture while whisking and then bring to a boil, whisking occasionally. Once large bubbles pop on the surface, continue to boil for 2 minutes, whisking occasionally.
  5. Remove from heat and scrape into a large bowl. Set the bowl over another large bowl filled with ice. Stir the pudding occasionally until cool to the touch, about 10 minutes. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly against the surface of the pudding and refrigerate until cold and set, at least 3 hours. Use in the Boba Birthday Cake or enjoy on its own.

Make ahead
The pudding can be refrigerated for up to 2 days. Whisk well to loosen before serving.