Melktert – literally ‘milk tart’ in Afrikaans – is a delicious cinnamon-topped custard pie that is hugely popular across South Africa. Not limited to street eating, it’s often baked at home, to a recipe passed down through generations, and is also served in bakeries across the land as a delicious snack. I make it in a rectangular tin and cut it into sturdy slices, as I find these much easier to eat in the hand than the more traditional wedge shape.
Note: you will need to begin this recipe several hours before you want to eat, or ideally the day before, as the custard needs time to chill.
To make the pastry, add the flour, butter and icing sugar to a food processor and pulse to a fine crumb. Add the egg and cold water and pulse again until the mixture is in loose clumps. Do not overwork or the pastry will become tough. Spread out a sheet of cling film on the worktop and tip the pastry crumbs into a pile in the middle. Draw up the sides together on top of the crumbs and press into a ball, twisting the cling film to seal. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Lightly flour the worktop and roll the pastry to fit your chosen tin, to a thickness of about 5mm. Line the tin, press the pastry well into the corners, trim the edges to fit the tin and prick the base all over with a fork. Chill in the fridge for a further 30 minutes: it’s worth doing this if you have time as it reduces the chance of pastry shrinkage. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C Fan/Gas Mark 6.
Line the pastry shell with baking parchment and fill with baking beans. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove the paper and beans and return to the oven for a further 5–10 minutes. The pastry gets no further cooking so it’s important it gets completely crisp at this stage. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. To make the filling, place the milk and butter in a saucepan and bring to boiling point.
Crack the eggs into a bowl, add the sugar, cornflour and vanilla extract and whisk together until completely smooth. Once the milk is just at boiling point, pour it carefully over the sugar and egg mix, stirring all the time until combined. Then pour back into the saucepan, set it over a low heat and allow to thicken, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes.
Pour the custard into the pastry case and allow to go cold. Chill in the fridge to set completely, ideally for several hours or overnight. Dust with the cinnamon and cut into wedges to serve.