Every so often, Cameron will randomly pipe up with something he wants me to bake him. Something I usually forget about 20 minutes later. So I got him to join Pinterest, set up a board and asked him to pin things he wanted me to make. And then, like a devoted girlfriend, I forget to refer to it ever.
So when I’m excitedly chattering away about the next dessert idea I’m conjuring up in my head, he’ll subtly nudge me about the thing he really wants. The last few times the dessert of choice has been a milk tart. Last weekend we were both off doing different things and I got home before he did, so while I had some time to myself I thought I’d surprise him by finally knocking this pastry off of his wishlist.
Milk tart, or melktert in Afrikaans, is a dessert that hails from South Africa. He first tried when a South African colleague of his bought one to work for the Big Cake Bake, a charity event they were hosting at work. Ever since, he’s intermittently nudged me about making one.
Part of the reason for my being so slow in fulfilling this wish was how bland it sounded. I don’t know about you guys, but any treat with milk in the name that isn’t a milkshake doesn’t really inspire my appetite. Dilute and bland were the first words that struck my mind upon the mention of it, so I procrastibaked and found something else to try.
I was more than happy to discover how wrong I was.
As I started poking around the web to find out why he liked this dessert so much and what it involved, the answer became quickly apparent: cinnamon and custard. Only two of his favourite things. I have to admit to be quite partial to cinnamon myself.
As I infused the milk with cinnamon and set about making the custard the smells that filled the kitchen were a little intoxicating. Cameron arrived home just as the tart was midway through baking and immediately followed his nose to the kitchen to see what was going on. I made him guess and he mentioned some half a dozen desserts before he finally hit upon milk tart: the rest of the night mostly involved him asking me when he was allowed to eat some.
Much like a regular custard tart, there were a plethora of ways to make it. Different pastries, different cooking methods… some methods didn’t involve cooking at all. I picked out my favourite parts of a few different recipes and set about making it. For the base I stuck with a basic shortcrust pastry. If you need tips on making the perfect shortcrust, check out my rambles on this one.
For the centre I went with a baked version. After it baked it emerged from the oven with a puffed and swollen belly, but as it cools it sinks down to create a perfect surface. Then you dust the entire thing with cinnamon and icing sugar.
One of the first things he asked me the next morning was whether he could have a slice. I told him I had to take photos first so he hovered over my shoulder the whole time. As I sliced into the tart he muttered, “Mmm, look at that cut.” When I asked him what he was talking about he replied, “Just look at the way it springs and bounces back and cuts so smoothly. Like a pillow.” In that moment I thought he might give up waiting and just shove his face into the whole thing right then and there: his patience was definitely hanging by a thread.
It’s the greatest thing when you cook for people you love and the result is so eagerly received. When I finally settled down to trying it myself I understood the love for the dessert. It’s everything you could want in a custard tart, but the lightness created by the meringue in the filling gives it a refreshing quality that’s missing from its cousins. Cameron said it reminded him a lot of a baked cheesecake, his favourite cake, but lacked the heaviness of the cheesecake that makes you feel bloated and full afterwards. This was all to easy to squeeze in a second slice.
I served it up with some whipped cream I added some of the spare cinnamon sugar to and fresh strawberries. A lot of places recommended serving it with ice cream as well. But it’s the type of dessert that does just as well all on its own. It disappeared incredibly quickly, helped along by how easy it is to squeeze in.
Here’s how you’ll make your very own.
1 1/2 cups (225g/8 oz) plain (all-purpose) flour
1/3 cup (60g/2oz) icing (confectioners) sugar
125g (4.5oz) unsalted butter, chilled & chopped
1 free range egg yolk
1-2 tbsp (20-40ml/7-14 fl oz) cold water
2 cups (500ml/17fl oz) milk
1 cinnamon stick
3 free range eggs, separated
1 tbsp cornflour (cornstarch)
5 tbsp plain flour
5 tbsp caster sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
25g (1 oz) butter, room tempera
1 tbsp ground cinnamon, for dusting
1 tbsp icing sugar, for dusting
cream and berries, to serve (optional)