Melktert (milk tart)

Every South African knows the joy that melktert brings to the home. The slight sweet, cinnamon smell that lingers in the house when a melktert has been served is something we grow up with. There is no other dessert like it on earth! And the greatest thing about melktert? Every household has their own recipe and take on it.

In some families the crust/ bottom is made from digestive biscuits, puff pastry or shortcrust pastry, where in others, it’s a cardinal sin to use anything but a homemade smeer kors. Some families make a filling and set it in the fridge and others bake the filling in the crust. Everyone thinks that their family recipe for melktert is the best, and everyone is right. I’ve never met ‘n melktert I did not like!

When I make melktert I use my Ouma Marie’s recipe, which she got from her mother. She adapted it specifically for an oven dish that’s in our family and has a specific ‘tablespoon’ she uses as the measuring tool. It took us a whole while to get the base of the tart right because we don’t have that specific tablespoon. It was probably a way for her to safeguard the recipe and make sure that no other Tannie’s melktert is as good as hers, even if they used her recipe!

I think it’s very appropriate to post this recipe over heritage week in South Africa, as this is sort of a family heirloom for me. One could say that a small part of my heritage is rooted in this melktert.

So; for my non South African followers a melktert is a tart made with a base of either biscuits or a batter spread on the inside of the baking dish and then topped with a custard filling and a layer of cinnamon on top. Melktert dates back to the Dutch settlers that came to Cape Town in the 1600’s. There is a very interesting article called ‘a short history of milk tart’ on the food24 website that even goes into why cinnamon is added on top. A really good read for melktert virgins and aficionados alike.

Without any further useless info, the recipe:

Ingredients:

*this recipe is for a 21 cm square baking dish that’s about 5 cm deep

For the crust:

  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1/4 cup of white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter (it needs to be a big tablespoon, and heap it!)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • a splash of milk
  • a pinch of salt

For the filling:

  • 4 cups of milk
  • 3/4 cup of white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter (again, big tablespoons)
  • 5 tablespoons flour (big ass, heaped tablespoons)
  • 4 eggs (separated)
  • pinch of salt

Method:

  1. For the filling: Cream the butter and sugar together until soft and then mix in the egg. Slowly incorporate the flour, baking powder and salt. Add some milk to thin out the batter slightly. The batter needs to be thicker than cake batter and so that you can use a spatula to spread a thin layer on the base and sides of the baking dish.
  2. For the filling: over a medium heat, warm the milk and butter.
  3. In a separate bowl mix together the egg yolks, flour, sugar and salt.
  4. While whisking, slowly add the warm milk to the egg yolk mixture. Once all the milk is incorporated, pour the mixture back into the pot and cook on a low heat, while stirring regularly. The mixture needs to become a thick custard.
  5. When the custard has thickened remove it from the heat and stir in the vanilla, leave the mixture to cool fully.
  6. While the custard is cooling, whisk the egg whites into stiff peaks. Fold the egg whites into the cooled custard and then pour the filling onto the raw crust.
  7. Bake @160 °C for 35 – 45 min or until the crust turns a nice golden brown on the sides and bottom.
  8. Cool the tart fully before serving and dust it with a good amount of cinnamon.

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