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A short history of milk tart

National milk tart day is on the 27th of February.

by: Jess | 24 Feb 2016
history, South African, milk tart

Good ol' 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, 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,


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.

A few standard considerations that have stood the test of time:

The crust

Traditionally, the crust consisted of short-crust pastry. These days, many use ready-made puff pastry dough instead. Ancestors would turn in their graves hearing that crustless milktart 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.

How has melktert been part of your heritage?

Top 5 milk tart recipes here.

Something a little different with your cuppa tea? Try milk tart pancakes, milk tart Swiss roll, or milk tart macarons.

Read more on: history  |  desserts  |  south african

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