Heritage Day has been and gone and although I had grand plans to cook South African specialities all I managed was to hold a braai, the result of which formed part of Scarlet Bennett’s week two creative challenge. South African traditional food was still on my mind this week and milk tart or melktert featured prominently on the menu.  Like many South Africans, with and without Dutch ancestry, milk tarts were regularly produced for Sunday afternoon tea in our household. My Dutch ancestor, Andries Bruijns, who was born in Amsterdam in 1684,  arrived in the Cape on the ship De Liefde in 1704. He was married and buried at Groote Kerk in Cape Town. So although the Dutch blood has been well mixed with Scottish, Welsh and English blood my roots go back to the relatively early days of the Dutch East India Company’s time in the Cape. Liefde According to Jeanne from Cook Sister a recipe very similar to our modern day milk tart milk tart recipe can be traced right back to the very first Dutch cook book by Thomas Van der Noot written in 1510. Het eerste gedrukte Nederlandsche kookboek, Brussel, Thomas vander Noot 1510 Five hundred years later I find myself in the kitchen making milk tart for a generation of children whose Dutch blood is even more diluted than mine with additional English blood (and I’m not quite sure what else) via the USA. I can’t say the recipe I used has been handed down over generations – it is a recipe that my mother got from a teaching colleague of hers – but it is the one that I remember her making, that both my sisters make and that my household makes too. It is remarkably similar to many of the recipes on the internet. There do seem to be two approaches to making milk tart. This approach, that calls for the cooked filling to be poured into a pre-baked pie crust, and a version where you separate the eggs and bake the filling in the oven. I’ve stuck with our family version but have had some fun with it and played around with the flavourings a bit. Over the week I’ve made four different versions. Milk Tart The recipe as written in my mother’s writing with a few slight changes/additions:

Pastry

115 g butter

1/2 cup sugar

1 egg

2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

pinch salt

Cream butter and sugar together. Add the egg and mix well. Sift dry ingredients into the butter mixture. Mix well until it forms a soft dough. Press the dough into greased pie dishes. Prick the base with a fork. Bake at 220 degrees Celsius for 10 to 15 minutes. This is enough dough for four 20 cm pie dishes or two much larger ones. Freeze half the dough for use at a later stage. The filling below is enough for two 20 cm tarts – or one much larger tart.

Filling

4.5 cups milk

1 cup sugar

1 cinnamon quill or a handful of cinnamon bark

1 vanilla pod, split

3 eggs

3 tablespoons flour

3 tablespoons cornflour/maizena

1 tablespoon butter

pinch salt

1/2 teaspoon almond essence or peach leaves

ground cinnamon

Bring the milk and sugar slowly to the boil in a heavy bottomed pot with a cinnamon, peach leaves (if you have them) and vanilla pod. Remove from the heat and stand for 30 minutes to allow the flavours to infuse. Whisk the eggs well adding the flour and cornflour and whisking until very smooth. Strain the milk, scrape the vanilla seeds from the pod, add them to the milk and bring the milk back to the boil. Remove the milk from the heat and slowly pour into the egg mixture whisking continuously. Pour the mixture back into the pot, add the butter and heat gently, stirring all the time until the mixture thickens. Stir in the almond essence if you haven’t used peach leaves. Pour into the baked and cooled pastry shells. Dredge with a generous quantity of cinnamon. Allow to cool before eating

Variations

  1. Coconut milk, star anise and chilli: Replace half the milk with coconut milk.  Leave out the vanilla and almond essence. Lightly crush  6 star anise, 2 birds eye chilli with the cinnamon in a pestle and mortar and use this to infuse the milk. Sprinkle the finished tart with chilli powder and cinnamon.
  2. Cardamom: Add 12 crushed green cardamom to the vanilla and cinnamon when infusing the milk. Serve dredged with cinnamon.
  3. Rose and cardamom: Add 12 crushed green cardamom to the vanilla and cinnamon when infusing the milk. Replace the almond essence with two teaspoons of rose extract. Serve with a light sprinkling of cinnamon.
  4. Skip the pastry altogether. Pour the hot thickened custard mixture into greased individual moulds. When cool unmould gently onto small plates and serve. I think spicy poached quinces could work very well with this.
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