I tried a really delicious milk tart a few years back when I was visiting Capetown and was hooked! This is one of those ubiquitous desserts in South Africa that’s served throughout the country, on all sorts of occasions and every cook has his or her own secrets. Melktart (meaning, literally, milk tart…) is a tradition that came from the Dutch settlers in the country, a custard-based tart scented with cinnamon delivered in a flaky pastry crust.
I am one of those people that have fruit tart cravings. I will take a gorgeous tart with a pastry cream filling and topped with fruit over a straight fruit pie any day. For some reason, I feel like the creaminess balances out the acidity in the fruit and with a flaky crust creates a perfect dessert. For me, the idea of putting fruit on top of a milk tart seemed perfectly natural (though it’s not usually done there).
Also, I semi-cheated and used puff pastry for the crust – how I could go on about the benefits of puff pastry!! I’ve made it before from scratch, and it’s definitely a process. Puff pastry tastes good, and those guys who’ve created the frozen versions have mastered it – why mess with perfection here? This crust comes together easily, and it’s a few less steps you have to take to make an equally delicious tart.
So, now about milk tart itself. The filling is basically a custard with hints of cinnamon, almond, and (my addition) vanilla. The cornstarch helps to thicken the custard and make sure it’s not too eggy – you don’t want a crème brulée tart here! The beaten egg whites lighten the batter and add an airy quality to the finished product. The result is a beautiful, creamy, vanilla-specked filling with that caramelized top in a gorgeous flaky crust – the fruit just adds another lovely layer of flavor. This is perfect for a dinner party (impressive too!) or even a ladies lunch. Enjoy!
Yields 1 9-inch fluted tart / Serves 6 to 8
½ package frozen puff pastry (1 sheet), defrosted
1 egg beaten with a bit of heavy cream for egg wash
Wax paper and dry beans to weight down
1 ½ cups whole milk
½ tsp salt
1 stick cinnamon
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
½ tsp almond essence
½ cup heavy cream
¼ cup cornstarch
1 ½ tbsps unsalted butter
2 eggs, separated
½ cup + 2 tbsps confectioner’s sugar
½ tsp cinnamon ground
Sliced or whole fruit of choice: strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, kumquats, cape gooseberries, etc.
For the crust:
Preheat the oven to 350° F convection / 375° F convention.
Let’s start by rolling out and blind-baking the crust. On a floured surface, roll the sheet of puff pastry out just enough so it will cover the inside of the tart pan and have some overlap. Place it carefully in the 9-inch, fluted tart shell and press it into the corners and sides. Trim the excess. Place a piece of wax paper across the top of the tart so it covers the sides. Add dried beans to weight down the crust and refrigerate for 15 minutes while you start on the filling.
Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Take the crust out of the oven, remove the weights, and brush with the egg wash. Put back in the oven for another 5 minutes until golden. Set aside until ready to fill and leave the oven on.
For the filling:
In a small saucepan, bring the milk, salt, cinnamon stick, vanilla bean, and almond essence up to boil. Lower immediately to a simmer. In a small bowl, whisk together the heavy cream with the cornstarch making sure there aren’t any lumps. Add this to the milk mixture along with the butter and stir until the mixture thickens. Remove from the heat.
Make sure the egg yolks are in a larger-sized bowl because you’ll be adding the milk mixture to them. You want to start by adding a little bit of the milk mixture and stirring or whisking to incorporate. Continue to do this a little at a time until the milk mixture is completely incorporated – we do this to avoid cooking the yolks and having bits of it in the tart. Let this mixture cool to closer to body temperature before moving on to the next step.
In another bowl, beat the egg whites with the ½ cup of confectioner’s sugar until soft peaks form – should be light and fluffy. Add a spoonful or two of the milk custard to the egg whites and incorporate. Carefully, fold the egg whites into the milk custard to lighten it up. Be careful not to overmix or you will deflate it significantly.
Add this filling to the tart shell. Mix together the last 2 tablespoons of confectioner’s sugar with cinnamon and sprinkle on top of the tart. This will develop into a nice brown crust on top.
Bake for 10 minutes, and then lower the temperature 25 degrees and bake another 15 minutes. Don’t be surprised if it puffs up during cooking – it will reduce down as it cools. Cool on a rack and top with fruits of your choice.
This tart can be served warm or cold, but since I added the fruits I thought I’d keep it on the cooler side myself.