Traditional South African Milk tart

Traditional South African Milk tart


There are many different ways to make a ‘melk tert’ or milk tart, and recipes are often strictly guarded and handed down from generation to generation.

The two that I am most familiar with use either an uncooked short crust pastry base and very liquid filling of milk, eggs and condensed milk that is baked once; or a blind baked short crust pastry base and cooked filling that is baked again to set the custard. The textures are completely different, but equally delicious.

I woke up on the 27th February 2015 to my first milk tart challenge, issued by my cousin René in anticipation of National Milk Tart day. Yes, that’s really a thing in South Africa because we really love our traditional South African milk tart.

Unfortunately for me, the recipes that I loved most growing up are not recorded anywhere, except in the minds of the aunts and cousins from whom they were learnt. I spent a few hours browsing through my recipe files, and the closest I came to finding a recipe for Aunty Josie’s milk tart, was a comment on her pineapple tart recipe saying ‘use the same base as the milk tart’.

For my traditional South African milk tart I combined the two techniques, using my own homemade short crust pastry base that was blind baked, with a smooth creamy cooked filling sweetened with condensed milk and scented with vanilla and cinnamon.

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Traditional South African Milk tart
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My take on a classic South African baked milk tart with a light and creamy filling sweetened with condensed milk and scented with vanilla and cinnamon.
Recipe type: Tea time treats
Cuisine: South African
Serves: 1 tart
  • Pastry
  • 125 grams cold butter
  • 45 ml sugar (I use castor or fine granulated sugar)
  • 225 grams cake flour
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons cold water
  • Ingredients for the filling
  • 67 grams butter
  • 45 ml cake flour
  • ½ tin of condensed milk (full tin is approximately 397 grams)
  • 2 cups milk
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • pinch of salt added to the egg whites before whisking
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2.5 - 5 ml cinnamon powder (approximately ½ to 1 teaspoon) for dusting before serving
  1. For the pastry, pulse the butter, flour and sugar in a food processor until it has the consistency of breadcrumbs. Alternately, rub in the cold butter with two knives or a pastry cutter. Try not to use your hands as it will warm up the butter.
  2. Add the egg and water and mix until just combined.
  3. Bring the pastry into a ball and flatten into a disk on a piece of cling wrap. This makes it easier to roll into a round shape later.
  4. Chill and rest the pastry for about 30 minutes before use.
  5. Switch on the oven and pre-heat to 200 degrees celcius / 400 F / Gas mark 6.
  6. Roll out the pastry and line a 25 cm tart pan ensuring that the pastry overlaps the sides a bit as it may shrink during baking if not rested enough. I chilled it again for another 10 minutes before baking.
  7. Prick the base and line with parchment paper and baking beans or beans, and bake blind for about 10 minutes.
  8. Remove the baking beans and bake for another five minutes. Be careful not to get a burn as you may drop the beans and damage the tart case.
  9. Reduce the oven temperature to 170 degrees celcius / 350 F / Gas mark 4.
  10. For the filling mix the butter and flour ensuring there are no lumps. Add in the condensed milk and vanilla and lastly the egg yolks and mix until smooth.
  11. Heat the milk until it reaches boiling point, and add a little to the egg mixture ensuring that you whisk out all the lumps. Slowly add the rest of the milk and then return to the heat.
  12. Stir the milk mixture on the heat until the mixture thickens and it starts to bubble.
  13. Remove the pot from the stove and let the mixture cool for about 10 minutes.
  14. Whisk the egg whites until they are glossy but not too stiff. It should be soft peaks at this stage, not the 'tip it over your head and it doesn't drop' stiffness.
  15. Fold the egg whites into the cooled custard mixture.
  16. Pour into the pastry case and bake for 15-20 minutes until it is set.
  17. Do not overbake as it will rise and sink like an overdone souffle.
  18. Sprinkle with cinnamon powder and serve.
I use cake flour or fine sponge flour for the pastry as well as the filling. If you are using any other type of flour the consistency may differ.

1 cup of All purpose flour is supposed to be equivalent to 1¼ cups of cake flour. I weigh my ingredients but do not know what the equivalent weights are as I do not use All purpose flour for my fine baked goods.
Serving size: 1 slice

Author: Razena Schroeder

Always remember life is short, so live it well and be kind.

70 thoughts on “Traditional South African Milk tart”

    1. Simpler the better, especially if it is tasty 🙂 Most non-blogger cooks are too busy with other things to have time for complicated dishes unless they have something really special planned.

  1. I’m intrigued by recipes that are passed down from one generation to the next. My grandma and mother never cooked using recipes so I was taught the same way.

    1. That is so true, my mum and her sisters seldom had a written down recipe, except for baked goods. Most of my mum’s best recipes were ones she developed sitting at the kitchen table and wondering what to make for unexpected guests who were dropping by a short time later.

    1. I find that condensed milk gives milky and/or eggy desserts a much fuller flavor than plain sugar. I hope you will try it and let me know.

    1. I agree they are the best as you have built in tutorials at every family gathering 🙂 Do you have any custard pie recipes on your website?

    1. Thanks Tina. I remade my mother’s original choc chip recipe using different sugars (in the same quantities) and a different method, and the result was the cookie I’ve been looking for all my life 🙂

  2. This looks so tasty! I know how frustrating it is to work with only memories on a recipe. My Grandma left me her recipe book and a TON of barely visible hand written recipes that are vague, in her own personal language of bake. Lol . We do the best we can. Looks like you did wonderfully!

    1. Thank you 🙂 It has been very difficult trying to recreate recipes mostly from memory and very distant memories at that. The ones that are easier are the ones that I used to make often myself, so often that I never wrote them down… the milk tart being a case in point. I actually found a book of my own and my mother’s handwritten recipes last year. Fortunately, most of them were quite comprehensible.

    1. Lol @ exotic… I think in Cape Town this is probably considered the most commonplace recipe with every family having their own version of it.

  3. I so understand your recipe dilemma! There are a few family recipes that I grew up on that no one knows exactly what it is because they were never written, just passed on verbally. I bet your milk tart tastes just as good though – it certainly looks delicious!

    1. Thank you 🙂

      It appears that between me first learning how to make the one milk tart recipe from my aunt more than 25 years ago, and sitting down with her last month to record her pastry and filling recipe, she decided that blind baking the pastry for the milk tart is an unnecessary step!

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