Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Melktert (South African Milk Tart)

I miss South Africa -- and my in-laws -- like crazy. So it didn't take much for my husband to persuade me to make a melktert on Sunday.

Melkwhaaaat? Melktert. Milk tart if you insist on English. Sheesh.

Few foods are more traditionally South African than melktert, a custard pie brought by the Dutch settlers. What differentiates melktert from European and American custard pies is the higher ratio of milk to egg -- milk which is infused with cinnamon and, occasionally, tangerine peel, almond and/or nutmeg. There are many variations, and everyone's ouma (grandmother) has "the best" (secret!) recipe, but the crust is typically puff or short pastry and the filling is often lightened with egg whites.

I've used several different recipes for melktert and this one from Epicurious is my favorite. With a few adaptations, of course:

- Infuse the milk with 3 cinnamon sticks, broken into pieces, and two whole nutmeg
- Substitute cornstarch for wheat flour (i.e., omit flour and use 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon cornstarch)
- Increase sugar to 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons
- Substitute vanilla bean paste for vanilla extract
- Reduce baking time for assembled tart to 30 minutes (10 minutes at 400 degrees F, then 20 minutes at 350)
- Sprinkle tart with cinnamon sugar before baking, as well as cinnamon before serving

The finished tart is light and barely sweet, the ideal companion to afternoon or evening tea, all of which makes me dream of sitting around the table with my in-laws in South Africa. {sigh}

And last night? Well, last night I made a gluten-free, vegan version that's been chilling overnight. I'll share the recipe if it's not a total disaster when I slice into it this evening...


  1. My wife is from SA and introduced me to Melktert. I have to confess it is not my favorite, the ratio of milk to egg changes it from a pudding or custard into something a little too "snotty" ;) And as you probably know already, Americans are addicted to sugar and SA and UK treats are not as sweet as we are used to. Still, nice recipe and for some reason I always take a bit just to remind me of SA. I would just add that using whole cinnamon sticks and especially 2 whole nutmeg seems very wasteful. I imagine the only reason for not using them powdered is to keep specs out of the finished product? If that is the case, I would use a tea infuser or with a small mesh or cloth bag and grate both spices coarsely with a microplane grater. You would only need a several grates of each. I usually don't care about nutmeg flecks and 1 seed lasts me for months.