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Melktert - History, Traditional, Easy & Cupcakes

Melktert - History, Traditional, Easy & Cupcakes

​Lekker Melktert - the Afrikaans name for 'milk tart'; the classic, South African dessert consisting of a sweet pastry crust, filled with a mild, creamy custard of milk, flour, sugar and eggs, baked in a round pie tin and dusted with cinnamon after baking.

Milk tart is omnipresent in South Africa; it appears at every church bazaar, bake sale, home industry, supermarket, braai or bakery, and has surely featured on every South African food blogger's blog. And let's not forget that time when Jamie Oliver made SA's milk tart famous on Instagram. 


Melktert stems from the Dutch settlers in the Cape in the 1600s. The origin of Mattentaart is credited to a recipe listed in Thomas van der Noot's book, "Een notabel boexcken van cokeryen" (A Notable Book of Cookery) and it's possible that melktert developed from the same recipe.

The Crust

Traditionally, the crust consisted of short-crust pastry. These days, many use ready-made puff pastry dough instead. Forefathers would turn in their graves hearing that crustless melkktart has become a thing. Certain recipes require the custard to be baked in the crust, and others call for the custard to be prepared in advance, and then placed in the crust and chilled before serving.

The Custard Filling

The large proportion of milk in the filling is evidence that melktert was introduced to us by the Dutch dairy farmers who settled the Cape of Good Hope in the middle of the century. The custard filling is made from milk, sugar and eggs, thickened with flour or cornflour. Cinnamon could be used to infuse the milk with flavour during preparation. Some recipes call for whole eggs, others require the eggs to be separated. The filling can vary in consistency from firm to wobbly.

The Topping

Cinnamon - introduced to us by Javanese slaves, is often sprinkled over the surface. It is served sliced, chilled or room-temperature.

Modern Milk Tart (Melk Tert) – The Milk tart we know is taking on a new modern twist, it is being made into shots, little tartlets, even sold in UK restaurants.


  • Keep everything cold while making the pastry, and work quickly and lightly to keep the pastry cold. If you have a ceiling fan, switch it on. Air conditioning is even better.
  • Use butter, it contained the least water so the pastry does not turn out too soft and sticky.
  • Use just the right amount of ice water, otherwise the pastry will be sticky and the end result rough and hard.
  • Use a very sharp knife to cut the dough, otherwise it bruises and won't form a lot of layers.

Puff pastry
(enough for 2 tarts)

  • 450 g (800 ml) cake flour
  • 3 ml salt
  • 5 ml cream of tartar
  • 450 g ice cold butter
  • about 250 ml ice water
  • 15 ml lemon juice

Sift together the flour, salt and cream of tartar twice. Quarter the butter. Grate a quarter on the rough side of the grater. Keep the rest in the fridge, along with the grater. Cut the grated butter into the flour with 2 knives. Sprinkle ice water and lemon juice evenly over the flour mixture. Mix with a fork until it's a malleable dough. Knead and fold the dough on a cold surface (a small marble chopping board works well) until smooth and elastic. Small air bubbles should be visible under the surface. Lightly sprinkle flour over the dough and roll it out to 6 mm thick. Keep it as close to a rectangular shape as you can. Also lift it up from time to time to make sure it doesn't stick. Cover two thirds of the dough with another quarter of grated butter. Fold the dough in thirds to get the part without butter in between the buttered parts. In other words, 3 layers of dough with 2 alternate layers of butter in between. The outer edge should be pressed down well to keep all the air in. Start at one short end of the dough rectangle and fold in thirds again. Press down the outer edge. Wrap the dough in a slightly damp cloth to stop it from drying out. Let cool, but not harden. Roll out to 6 mm thick again. Repeat the butter grating and folding process with another quarter of the butter and a final time with the last quarter of the butter. Roll out a last time and fold in 3 or 4 to form a square. Wrap in a damp cloth and refrigerate for an hour or 2. Now roll out one last time.

Lining the pan
It should be an old fashioned tin plate (blikbord). This is very good at conducting heat, ensuring the pastry under the filling doesn't get soggy.

  • Cut the pastry 10 mm wider than the pan (plate), because it can shrink slightly. Line the pan. Measure the edge of the pan and cut another strip to fit. Brush a little hot water on the strip (not all the way to the edges, otherwise it doesn't rise well) and press it onto the edge. (Some people put the strip under the other pastry – fine too.)
  • Brush the bottom with lightly beaten egg whites. Keep the tart dish in the fridge until required.

Milk tart filling
(enough for 1 tart)

  • 42 g (75 ml) cake flour
  • 50 ml cornflour
  • 50 ml sugar
  • 1 ml salt
  • 125 ml milk

Put all the ingredients in a medium-sized mixing bowl and mix until smooth. Set aside.

  • 2 egg yolks
  • 25 ml sugar
  • 2 drops "egg yellow" food colouring
  • 4 drops almond essence
  • 1 large bottle cap vanilla essence (7 ml)

Put these ingredients in a smaller mixing bowl and mix well. Set aside.

  • 2 egg whites
  • ½ ml cream of tartar
  • 25 ml sugar

Put these three ingredients in another medium-sized mixing bowl and set aside. Heat your oven to 260 °C. The oven rack should be in the second slot from the bottom.
Put the following in a saucepan:

  • 550 ml milk
  • 10 ml butter
  • 2 cinnamon sticks

As soon as the oven is hot, bring the milk, butter and cinnamon to the boil. Turn off the heat. Add the hot milk to the flour-and-milk mixture and stir until smooth. Pour back into the saucepan and put it on the switched off plate. Stir the milk mixture in the saucepan until thick – it should only make 1 or 2 bubbles as it boils. Pour milk mixture back into mixing bowl. Remove cinnamon. Stir in the egg yolk mixture. (In the meantime, someone must have beaten the egg white mixture until it's just stiff; not too much, otherwise it's dry.) Fold the egg white mixture in to the milk mixture. Pour the filing into your lined pan, sprinkle with fine cinnamon if you like and bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes. Lower the temperature to 200 °C and bake for another 20 minutes. If the tart gets too brown, lightly put a piece of aluminium foil on top with the shiny side up. 

Serve lukewarm.

Recipe no 2 – simpler.

3 tablespoons butter – Melted
1 cup White sugar
3 egg yolks
1 cup Flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Vanilla extract
4 cups Milk
3 egg white
1 tablespoon cinnamon sugar


  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Coat a 9 inch deep dish pie plate with vegetable oil cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the butter and sugar until smooth. Add the egg yolks and beat until light and fluffy. Sift in the cake flour, baking powder and salt, and stir until well blended. Mix in the vanilla and milk. In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites to stiff peaks using an electric mixer. Fold into the batter. Pour into the prepared pie plate, and sprinkle cinnamon sugar over the top.
  3. Bake for 25 minutes in the preheated oven, then reduce the temperature to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Continue to bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the center is set when you gently jiggle the pie. 
  4. Serve hot or cold.


  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups cake flour, sieved
  • 1 packet of milk tart-flavoured instant pudding
  • 1 cup milk
  • ⅔ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 Tbsp. vanilla essence
  • 2½ tsp. baking powder


  • 125 g butter, softened
  • 2 cups icing sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. corn flour
  • 2 Tbsp. milk
  • Seeds of ¼ vanilla pod
  • Ground cinnamon


  1. Preheat oven to 180˚C. To make cupcakes: Whisk eggs and sugar together until light, pale and fluffy.
  2. Add rest of ingredients and whisk until smooth. Divide into 12 to 15 cupcake holders and bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool on a cooling rack.
  3. To make icing: Whisk all ingredients, except cinnamon, together until light and fluffy.
  4. Place icing in a piping bag and decorate cupcakes. Add a sprinkle of ground cinnamon to each.

Makes 12 to 15 cupcakes.

Recipe by Illanique van Aswegen.

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