I had every intention of making a classic South African milk tart recipe because I hadn’t done one before and it was high time. I have a small group of ex-pats readers scattered around the world who regularly write to me expressing gratitude over my home-grown recipes. Especially my grandmother’s crunchies, which are somewhat legendary. So this is for you.
I had also saved a recipe from a magazine years ago and stored it in my ‘recipes-to-make’ file, which as it turns out is more of a recipe-file-thirteen and this makes me very sad. I mean there are just too many recipes to make in this life and I can sometimes feel like a failure.
This milk tart recipe however, was not going to become one of those.
It comes via Sam Woulidge’s Taste column and I had torn it out the magazine years ago. The recipe is from Bianca du Plessis KitchenVixen blog and is a recipe for anyone who needs an ouma’s (grandmothers) milk tart recipe that doesn’t have one. Sam and Bianca are two of my favourite South African food writers with an incredible depth of knowledge who write beautifully from the heart.
I’ve also been doing extensive but passive research over the last while, asking many of my Afrikaans-speaking friends what the base of a traditional milk tart should be, and there was no definitive answer. You get a puff pastry base, a short crust base and a tennis biscuit base and I wanted to know what the most authentic was. After further book and Internet research, I started to see that puff pastry was probably the most common base used but I also knew that it was never going to be my base of choice. With all due respect to the milk tart recipe makers out there, puff pastry is just a bad idea. The bottom is always soggy because it never sees the light of day and gets a chance to crisp up thereby destroying all the best parts about it. You might get a nice flaky crust around the tart, but that just isn’t good enough.
The second option of a shortcrust pastry is a great in that you blind bake it to crisp up the texture, but let’s face it, pastry tart making is a chore of note and one I find far too laborious.
The biscuit base is the best in my opinion because it’s simply a case of grinding a packet of tennis biscuits in the food processor and pouring melted butter in. No pre-baking or any other prep required. The base has a stunning golden and crunchy texture with amazing flavour. It also turns out to be the base of choice for Bianca’s ouma’s recipe so I was feeling right on track.
Now there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with a classic milk tart and in fact it’s one of my favourite South African dishes, but I felt compelled to add an early grey tea infusion because I had another bee in my bonnet.
London Fog recipes have been popping into my Pinterest feed a lot lately and that normally indicates its some kind of trend. As a tea geek, it’s also something that appeals to me immensely. Maybe social media algorithms have forced this on me, but I’ve become rather fascinated by this flavour which is essentially milky earl grey tea with vanilla. Kind of like an early grey tea latte but with vanilla and it seems weird to have been invented in Canada and not the UK.
I’ve seen London fog cakes, milkshakes and ice creams so it just made perfect sense to turn a milk tart – which consists predominantly of milk into London fog rendition.
It was delicious.
Tea infuses best in water because the fat in milk inhibits this process, but since there is no water in a milk tart recipe I decided to add a hefty dose of loose-leaf Earl Grey (I used Twining’s) into the milk to ensure an adequate flavour infusion.
I also upped the vanilla a bit and along with the 2 vanilla pods in the recipe, added a teaspoon of vanilla extract.
I baked the milk tart in a springform cake time because I wanted to remove the whole thing for the shoot, but ideally, a milk tart would be baked in a wider pie dish and then slices cut out.
I also baked this in a smaller 23cm cake tin (it’s all I had) so this threw the cooking time out and I needed to bake it for 20 minutes longer. If you are using a wider dish, the original cooking time of 20 minutes will probably be fine. The tart is very wobbly when it comes out of the oven but sets when it cools.
*cooks notes ~ the temperature is unusually high so I needed to cover the tart with foil from about 10 minutes in to prevent over browning. I also added a light sprinkle of cinnamon to the top but this is entirely optional. The magazine copy I worked off had omitted the sugar from the biscuit base which I noticed afterwards was included in the original recipe. I think this is preferable, as additional sugar would have made it too sweet.
If you are living outside South Africa and can’t get hold of tennis biscuits, simply replace with digestives or Graham crackers. Tennis biscuits are coconut flavoured tea biscuits.
To keep this recipe 100% traditional simply omit the earl grey tea infusion phase
Oh and for the benefit of any international reader who is not familiar with a South African milk tart or ‘melktert’, its essentially a baked custard and can be likened to the Portuguese pasteis de nata. It originates from the Dutch settlers who colonised the Cape in the 1600’s. Jamie Oliver made it a little famous when he added a crunchy caramel layer to it which I find delectable. It’s already so much like crème brûlée this makes total sense to me. You get baked an unbaked versions and even ones without the crust.
…And the beautiful plate that my milk tart sits on is from Weylandts. One of my favourite stores for homeware.
- 200g packet tennis biscuits
- 125gms salted butter, melted
- 1 litre full cream milk divided (plus a little extra to top up)
- 4 Tbsp good quality loose leaf Earl Grey Tea
- 125gm butter
- 1 cup sugar
- 4 heaped tablespoons flour
- pinch salt
- 4 free-range eggs separated
- 2 vanilla pods
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Grind the biscuits in a food processor to a very fine crumb and add the melted butter. Mix until well combined and you have an almost paste like texture. Line the base of a 25 – 26cm cake or pie dish with and press around with a spoon to flatten and compress. If you are using a spring form cake tin, line the bottom and sides with baking paper before adding the biscuit mix.
- Set aside in the fridge while you make the filling.
- Pre heat the oven to 220C
- Pour 3 cups / 750 ml of the milk into a heavy based medium side pot with high sides and heat to just below boiling point. Add the tea, turn off the heat and allow the milk and leaves to infuse for about 4 – 5 minutes. Strain and then measure 3 cups of the milk back into the pot ensure you top up any lost milk with additional fresh milk.
- Scrape the seeds from the pods and add them along with the pods and the butter to the milk and bring this back to a boil. Stirring constantly.
- Using an electric mixer beat the eggs white in a large bowl until stiff, then remove and set aside.
- In the same bowl you beat the egg whites in (Im saving some washing up) add the remaining 1 cup / 250ml milk, egg yolks, vanilla extract, salt, sugar and flour and beat briefly until combined.
- Once the milk has boiled, strain this mixture through a sieve into the egg / flour mix and give it a good mix. This is called 'tempering' then pour all of this back into the pot and set over a low – medium heat and sir constantly with a whisk until it thickens. This will take about 5 minutes. Your mixture should be that of thick custard and it should start feeling quite stiff to whisk.
- Mix in the beaten eggs whites that were set aside earlier until well combined (if necessary do this in the bigger bowl you used earlier and pour this custard into the prepared pie dish.
- Sprinkle cinnamon on the top (optional)
- If you are using a wider and bigger pie dish then follow Bianca’s baking instructions of 20 minutes – but if you are using a higher cake tin, I would suggest baking for 40 minutes as I did. The mixture will be quite wobbly when it comes out the oven but will set as it cools. Loosely cover the tart with tin foil to prevent over baking.
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