Milk Tart

The infamous milk tart! I can't tell you how many times I have been asked for this recipe. People probably think I'm trying to keep it a secret or something lol In actual fact, I felt that I hadn't mastered the recipe until now. Despite having made this tart several times, it's always been hit and miss for me. It doesn't always set like I want it to and I could never figure out what I was doing wrong. You see, unlike traditional custard tarts, South African milk tart is not baked, it's left to set in the fridge overnight. So if you mess up the filling, when you cut that tart the next day, you're going to end up with a mess of oozy custard all over the place!
Because I used to be so worried that the tart wouldn't set, I used to make it 2 days in advance in the hope that more fridge time would ensure that it would set. That worked most times.

Milk tart was always a childhood favourite of mine when I lived in South Africa. It's the one thing you will find in every grocery store or corner bakery. It's possibly the most loved dessert or tea time treat. There's just something about the custard filling that's unlike any other custard tart I have had. It's really more of a pudding than a custard. Most custard tarts are made with cream and a lot of eggs. Milk tart uses milk, a few eggs and relies on thickening agents such as flour and corn flour to give it it's texture.
The pastry is also different. It's a much simpler pastry as compared to short crust where you need cold butter and water. It's also less temperamental. It's pretty hard to mess up the pastry, it's the filling you need some skill for.

So you're probably wondering what the solutions is to getting the custard to set. Well, you have to boil the milk before adding it to the eggs, but being careful not scramble the eggs of course. You also have to cook the custard on the stove until it's a thick, almost a gloopy consistency. It doesn't sound appetizing, but trust me on this one, it will work. Lastly, the butter is an important ingredient as the extra fat is what holds it all together, so don't leave it out.

Milk Tart (Adapted from Just Easy Recipes)
Serves 10-12

125g butter, softened
½ cup sugar
1 egg
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt

4 ½ cups milk
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 Tbsp flour
2 Tbsp cornflour
pinch of salt
100g butter, from the fridge
1 tsp vanilla essence

Preheat your oven to 180°C.

We start with the pastry.
Cream the butter and sugar well. Add the egg and mix until combined.
Add the rest of the pastry ingredients and mix until it forms a stiff dough. The dough doesn't need to rest, so you can roll it out immediately and press it into your pie dish. I now use a 25cm fluted flan dish, but a regular 20cm pie dish, will work as well. You might have a little extra pastry left over depending on the size of your dish. You can use the extra to make mini tarts in a muffin tray. Halve your baking times for smaller tarts.
Once the pastry has been pressed into your tin, blind bake it for 15 minutes. I used baking paper to cover the pastry and fill it with baking beans, you can use regular beans or rice if you don't have baking beans. After 15 minutes remove the paper and beans and return the pastry shell to the oven for an additional 5-7 minutes until it's a light brown.
Remove from the oven and set aside to cool completely.

Now move on to the filling.
Place your milk and vanilla in a heavy bottom saucepan on medium heat. Bring it to a boil.
In the meantime, in a bowl, place your eggs. Give it a whisk until they are broken. Then add the sugar, flour, cornflour and salt and give another whisk until it's all combined.
Your milk should be boiling by now. Add one ladle of the milk to your egg mixture while whisking continuously. Add another ladle. Then add the rest of the milk. This process is known as tempering, and it prevents the eggs from scrambling.
Return your mixture to your saucepan and put it back on the heat. Cook the custard until it thickens. Once the desired consistency is reached remove from the heat and mix through your cold butter. Pour custard into the now cooled pastry shell. Leave on the counter until the custard isn't steaming anymore then pop in the fridge to set over night.
Sprinkle generously with cinnamon before serving. A little bit of nutmeg is good too!