Traditional South African Milk Tart (also known as Melktert) has a soft buttery sweet crust pastry that is filled with creamy custard and sprinkled with cinnamon. For this version the crust is pre-baked and the filling is cooked separately on the stove before being poured into the pie crust and left to set in the refrigerator.
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What is Milk Tart?
A traditional South African Milk Tart (Melktert) is a South African dessert very similar to an English custard tart but made with more milk and fewer eggs.
It originated from the Dutch settlers who arrived in Cape Town in the mid 17th Century, and has become firmly entrenched in every South African household. You will find homemade milk tarts for sale at every School Bazaar or Church Fete. And whilst the basic recipe remains the same you will find every household has its own favourite version
This particular version of a milk tart calls for the pastry to be baked in the oven. The filling is made on the stovetop and poured into the baked pastry shells. It is then placed in the fridge to set, so there is no need to bake the filling in the oven.
The pastry is soft and buttery. In fact, it’s so soft you have to press it into the tin rather than roll it out. It has the perfect melt-in-the-mouth texture. The filling is creamy but not too sweet and is further enhanced with the light dusting of cinnamon. This version of milk tart should be always eaten ice-cold out of the refrigerator.
Some recipes (like this one) call for the cinnamon to be sprinkled on top. Other recipes call for the cinnamon to be infused into the milk. You can use different types of pastry – puff pastry, shortcrust, sweet crust. There are variations in how the filling is prepared – either on the stovetop or baked in the pastry shell in the oven. The variations are endless.
But however you make it, it is the most delicious tea-time treat and you will find it impossible to stop at ‘just one slice’.
What you will need
You will need a couple of mixing bowls for making the pastry and custard, as well as a balloon whisk. You will also need a saucepan for the custard and a 9″ loose-bottomed pie dish for baking the pastry.
This recipe will make one 9″ round milk tart.
**You can get the complete list of ingredients and full instructions for making your own milk tart on the printable recipe card at the end of this post**
For the sweet crust pastry
- Butter – you can use either salted or unsalted butter. If you use salted butter then don’t add any extra salt to the pastry.
- Sugar – this should be caster sugar if possible as it dissolves more easily into the butter than granulated sugar
- Egg – I used a large egg.
- Plain Flour – you can also use self-raising flour and omit the baking powder
- Baking Powder if using plain flour. I realise that it sounds counter-intuitive to add baking powder to pastry because we don’t want the pastry to rise like a cake. However, this is a very soft pastry and the baking powder adds lightness to it.
- Salt – only if using unsalted butter
This recipe has been created and tested at sea level where the atmospheric pressure is at its highest. If you are making this recipe at a high altitude, you may find that you should use plain flour and omit the baking powder altogether.
For the custard filling
- Milk – I used whole milk, but if you only use semi-skimmed that will be fine too.
- Butter – don’t substitute this with brick margarine – it will make the custard oily. I would also be inclined to use unsalted butter for the custard.
- Flour – used to thicken the custard
- Cornflour – mixed with the flour and used for thickening
- Sugar – caster sugar is preferable, but you can get away with using granulated sugar.
- Vanilla essence – for flavouring
- Cinnamon – for sprinkling on top of the custard.
How to make milk tart
For the pastry
This is a very soft pastry and you won’t be able to roll it. Instead, the pastry is pressed with your fingers into the pie dish before being baked in the oven.
Cream the butter and sugar together until pale yellow in colour and the sugar has dissolved. Add the egg and beat well to combine.
Sift in the flour, salt and baking powder and blend it all together.
I find it easiest to use my hands to do this. I just spread my fingers and stir the dough until it comes together in a very soft ball.
You may find you need to add a small amount of flour at this stage to prevent the dough from sticking to your fingers. Don’t add too much or the pastry will become tough. Likewise, don’t overwork the dough, just mix it sufficiently to bring it all together.
Press the pastry into a greased 9″ flan dish. Don’t try to roll it, the pastry is far too soft for that.
Place the pastry into a pre-heated oven at 190C/350F for 12 to 15 minutes until it just starts to turn golden (keep your eye on it_. Then remove it from the oven and leave it to cool.
My top tip when lining the dish with the dough is to start with the sides. Press an even layer of pastry all around the sides of the dish. Then press the remaining pastry onto the bottom of the pie dish. Doing it this way means that you won’t get a thick rim of pastry where the base of the dish meets the sides.
You will notice the pastry will be quite puffed up when you first take it out of the oven but it will sink as the pastry cools. If you are worried that it is too puffy, place a clean tea towel on top of the cooled pastry and press it gently down.
For the filling
Mix the flour, cornflour and sugar in a bowl and beat in 2 eggs until all the lumps are gone. Set aside.
Heat the milk, vanilla and butter in a large saucepan until it just comes to a boil and the butter has melted. Remove from the heat.
Take about 1/2 a cup of the hot milk and stir it into the egg and flour mixture. Then stir all the egg and flour mixture into the hot milk in the saucepan.
Mixing a little of the hot milk to the flour mixture prevents lumps from forming.
Return the saucepan to the heat, and let it simmer (stirring continuously) until it thickens. When it is thick enough it will start to make ‘blooping’ sounds, and it will look as though air bubbles are escaping.
Pour the mixture into the baked pie shell, and spread it evenly to the edges.
Sprinkle with cinnamon, let it cool, and pop it into the fridge to chill. The filling will thicken when it is cold and you will be able to cut slices with a sharp knife.
To easily remove the milk tart from the baking dish, stand it on an upturned glass or even on a can of food. The base will remain on the upturned glass and the outer rim will drop down.
Some people like to eat milk tart warm, but I find it is still too runny. For me, the only way to eat it is chilled, straight from the fridge.
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Freezing and storage
Unfortunately, a milk tart is not suitable for freezing as the texture of the custard will be affected by freezing and defrosting.
You can store the milk tart in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
Save for later
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Not quite what you are looking for? Why not try one of these instead?
- Easy coconut pie. This pie is mixed in one bowl but separates during cooking to form three distinct layers – a pastry base, a soft custard filling and a crispy coconut topping.
- Chocolate Magic Cake. Another one-bowl cake that separates on cooking into three distinct layers.
- Peppermint Crisp Fridge Tart. A traditional South African dessert made with condensed milk, biscuits and crunchy mint chocolate.
- Homemade cream puffs. Classic choux pastry cream-filled buns.
- Koeksisters – a traditional South African delicacy.
- Chelsea Buns
- Blackberry and apple pie
Recipe – Milk Tart
(Click the stars to rate this recipe)
For the sweetcrust pastry
- 2 ounces / 60 grams butter
- ½ cup / 100 grams caster sugar
- 1 large Egg
- 1 cup / 140 grams plain all-purpose flour or use Self-Raising flour and omit the baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking powder if using plain flour
- ½ teaspoon Salt optional
For the filling
- 2 cups 480 ml milk
- 1 tablespoon / 15g butter
- 1 tablespoon / 10g flour
- 1½ tablespoon / 15g cornflour / cornstarch
- ½ cup /100 grams sugar
- 1 large egg
- ½ teaspoon vanilla essence
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon to sprinkle
For the sweetcrust pastry
- Pre-heat oven to 190°C/375°F
- Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. The mixture should be a pale yellow colour and all the sugar should be dissolved.2 ounces / 60 grams butter, ½ cup / 100 grams caster sugar
- Add the egg and beat well1 large Egg
- Sift the flour, baking powder and salt and add to the mixture. Mix well to combine. The mixture will be very soft and quite sticky.1 cup / 140 grams plain all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, ½ teaspoon Salt
- Grease a 9" pie dish and press the mixture evenly to cover the sides and base.
- Cover the pie dish with cling film and rest in the fridge for 30 minutes to allow the pastry time to settle, and prevent shrinkage as the pastry cooks
- Bake the shell for 12 to 15 minutes in a pre-heated oven until light golden brown.
- Remove from oven and allow to cool.
For the filling
- Combine the flour, cornflour and sugar together in a bowl. Beat in the egg until you have a smooth runny paste. There shouled be no lumps. Set aside.1 tablespoon / 10g flour, 1½ tablespoon / 15g cornflour / cornstarch, ½ cup /100 grams sugar, 1 large egg
- Pour the milk into a large saucepan2 cups 480 ml milk
- Add the vanilla and butter and bring to the boil until the butter has melted.½ teaspoon vanilla essence, 1 tablespoon / 15g butter
- Remove from the heat.
- Take about 1/2 a cup of hot milk and stir it into the egg and flour mixture. Then stir all the egg and flour mixture into the hot milk in the saucepan.
- Return the saucepan to the heat and cook gently, stirring continuously, until the mixture is thickened.
- Pour into the baked pastry case and sprinkle with cinnamon.½ teaspoon cinnamon
- Allow to cool then place into the fridge to set.
I am not a nutritionist. The nutrition information has been calculated using an on-line calculator, and is intended for information and guidance purposes only. If the nutrition information is important to you, you should consider calculating it yourself, using your preferred tool.
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