Melktert: South African Milk Tart

Melktert, also known as South African Milk Tart, is a delicate but decadent dessert. With a flaky crust and topped with a generous dusting of cinnamon, this tart is creamy and luxurious — a traditional sweet pie South Africans love. Serve it after dinner or as a teatime treat!

a slice of milk tart with crust on a white plate with purple flowers and a silver fork.

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My sweet mom Andrea joins us again today! You might remember her recipes for South African Pannekoek and Cherry Clafoutis.

Today she’s writing about Melktert, or South African Milk Tart, one of my favorite desserts from South Africa. I always request one when I visit my family there!

When I was growing up in South Africa, there were two kinds of homes. Those where the mother made melktert, and those who didn’t! Mine was one of the latter.

A pie of Cape Dutch origin, melktert literally translates to “milk tart.” It’s a bit like a custard tart, but with a different, more delicate consistency.

South African Milk Tarts are luscious and creamy, and the best ones are topped with a sprinkle of cinnamon.

September 2021 Update: I’m so glad you found my South African milk tart recipe! I added some tips and additional step-by-step instructions to walk you through making your own milktert from scratch.

If you like melktert, try Melktertjies, my South African milk tart liqueur!

a white plate with a slice of milk tart and a silver fork

I adored it when my dad, who worked in downtown Cape Town, would sometimes special-order a melktert at an Afrikaans/Dutch-style restaurant called Die Koffiehuis and bring it home for the family.

This pie was the real McCoy — made with a flaky crust. It seriously melted in your mouth.

top view of a melktert topped with a sprinkle of cinnamon

There are hundreds of melktert recipes. Somewhere along the line, my mom was given an untraditional recipe for a crustless milk tart, where the flour sank to the bottom of the pie during baking and firmed up, but it was not a favorite of mine.

I suppose technically, then, our home became one of the former where the mother made melktert! As I grew older and became more interested in cooking, I’d try out more melktert recipes.

a slice of milktert on a white plate


I tried to replicate the ones from Die Koffiehuis. I had many flops and many strange-looking tarts with centers that puffed up or sank.

The recipe I use now is not the type where the filling is baked.

It is cooked on the stovetop and poured into a crust that you bake blind ahead of time with pie weights. (If you do not have any, here are some alternatives to pie weights you can use.) I use a pie dish like this one.

You then let it set up before serving. It works for me and it never flops! Enjoy! // andrea


Can you see why Melktert has always been one of my favorite recipes? It’s so easy and so good!

Here’s a quick run-down of how we will make milk tart:

  1. First, make the crust. You’ll need a mixing bowl and a whisk to form the dough. Knead it and then chill it in the fridge for 10 minutes.
  2. Then roll it out onto a lightly floured surface until it’s 1/4 inch thick, and layer the dough into a greased pie dish.
  3. Next, bake it blind with parchment paper topped with pie weights to keep it from puffing up, and let it cool.
  4. Then we make the filling. Whisk together the eggs, sugar, cornstarch, flour and vanilla in a mixing bowl, then set it aside.
  5. Heat a saucepan over medium heat, and wam up milk and butter. Be careful not to boil it.
  6. Then add in a quarter of the hot milk mixture to the egg mixture and whisk well. This warms up the eggs without cooking them.
  7. Pour it all back into the saucepan and return it to heat. Stir it until it thickens, but do not let it boil.
  8. We’re almost done! Pour the filling into the pie crust and let it cool to room temperature. Refrigerate it, then sprinkle with cinnamon just before you serve it!

Pastry for milktert

Even though South African Milk Tart requires making your own shortcrust pastry, it really isn’t hard to make!

This shortcrust pastry is actually a bit easier to make than what most Americans think of as traditional pie crust, because you don’t have to keep the fat (butter) cold.

Instead, you’ll cream together softened butter and sugar as the base, and eventually chill the finished dough for a few minutes before rolling it out.

The result is a pastry that is easier to work with, but is still a perfect base for the creamy filling.

a slice of Milk Tart with a cinnamon topping on a white plate


When making the filling, make sure to keep the pan over medium heat. You don’t want to let the filling boil! (A reader commented that hers boiled and she still had success.) 

I find that because South African Milk Tart uses such simple ingredients, it’s important to use good quality ingredients.

Splurge a bit for good butter, local whole milk and pure vanilla extract — I can promise you’ll be able to taste the difference!

For your starch, make sure you are using corn starch. If you’re in the USA, use Argo brand corn starch. If you’re in South Africa, use Maizena.

Do not use organic or tapioca starch (or any other kind of starch) or your milk tart may not set properly.

Lastly, one of my favorite tips for presentation is placing a paper or cloth doily over the top of the milk tart before sprinkling on the cinnamon topping.

I use this baker’s dusting wand tool from OXO to help me with the sprinkling of the cinnamon.

Serving milktert

You can serve milktert for afternoon tea time. Its light texture makes it a lovely treat to enjoy with friends over tea. I have enjoyed many slices of milktert this way!

If you choose dessert (and I don’t blame you), might I suggest a nightcap to go with it?

This Amarula Brandy Alexander cocktail is made with South Africa’s most famous liqueur, Amarula. It pairs really well with the cinnamon topping and milky texture of the pie.

Cape Velvet Cream is another family favorite of mine, especially at the holidays.

South African Pannekoek // Feast + West

More pies and tarts

Related recipe: Try these South African Pannekoek, another traditional food from my other “home” country. So wonderful for breakfast or dessert! 

South African Milk Tart // Feast + West

South African Milk Tart

Yield: 8 servings
Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
This traditional South African dessert is creamy and delicate. Make it for Easter, Mother’s Day or teatime any day!
4.45 from 92 votes
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Sweet Shortcrust Pastry

  • 6 ounces butter softened
  • ½ cup 100g sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups 300g all-purpose flour
  • pinch salt
  • ¼ teaspoon 1.25ml pure almond extract


  • 4 cups 950ml milk
  • 1 tablespoon 0.5 ounces butter
  • ½ cup 100g sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons 24g cornstarch
  • 3 tablespoons 24g all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon 5ml pure vanilla extract
  • pinch salt
  • 1 tablespoon 14.3g cinnamon


For the crust

  • Cream the butter and add the sugar. Beat in the egg and almond extract. Stir in the flour and salt. Knead until a soft dough has formed. Chill for 10 minutes.
  • Roll the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and layer it into a greased pie dish. Cover with a sheet of parchment paper and fill the void with pie weights. Bake blind at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Remove parchment and pie weights. Allow crust to cool completely on a wire rack.

For the filling

  • In a heat proof bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, cornstarch, flour and vanilla. Set aside.
  • In a medium size saucepan, heat the milk and butter at medium setting. Do not bring to a rolling boil.
  • Add about a fourth of the milk to the egg mixture, whisking to incorporate it evenly. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan with the remainder of the milk. Return to heat and stir constantly until it thickens. Do not boil!
  • Pour the filling into the pie crust and let cool completely. Refrigerate until serving. Sprinkle with cinnamon before serving.


I use American measurements for this recipe.

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nutrition information

Yield: 8 servings

amount per serving:

Serving: 1serving Calories: 491kcal Carbohydrates: 61g Protein: 10g Fat: 23g Saturated Fat: 14g Polyunsaturated Fat: 8g Trans Fat: 1g Cholesterol: 129mg Sodium: 273mg Fiber: 1g Sugar: 25g
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  1. Meghan @ Cake 'n' Knife says

    This looks delicious! I have never heard of a South African milk tart before, but it sounds divine. I love trying new recipes from around the world – thank you for sharing!

      • Abby says

        This has become one of my go to desserts to make! Everyone loves it (even people who claim they are not dessert people) I have also made it for a handful of friends from South Africa and they all say it tastes just like it did in their childhood. I did a lot of research into the different recipes available online for Milk Tart and this one definitely is the best in my opinion. Thank you!

  2. Jenn says

    I made this to your exact directions and it never hardened – It just stayed liquid in my pie crusts. You don’t bake the whole thing at one point? I cant see how this would firm up into a custard by simply putting it in the fridge after you’re done whipping it all together. If you could better explain…thanks 🙂

    • Susannah says

      Hi Jenn! So sorry for the delay in my reply. I’m not sure how I missed this comment. I checked in with the author of this recipe and she suggested to make sure you are cooking the mixture long enough. It should be VERY thick when you cook it on the stove. The cornstarch should make the filling firm up. This is a no-bake milk tart recipe, but another commenter below suggested that hers came out well when she baked it.

  3. Eleni says

    I am originally from South Africa and this was one of my favourite desserts growing up (this and a delicious koeksister!). I’m trying this recipe right now! Thanks 🙂

  4. Stacy says

    Are you sure you haven’t missed a part of the recipe out? The pie crust doesn’t cook sufficiently with only 15min of baking blind. Most recipes call for the filling to be poured into the pie crust and for it to then go back into the oven for about 30 min. I made your recipe to this point, didn’t think it looked right, so stuck it back in the oven for 30 min and it came out perfect.

    • Susannah says

      Hi Stacy! Thanks so much for your comment. I checked in with the author of this recipe and she suggested to make sure you are cooking the mixture long enough. It should be VERY thick when you cook it on the stove. The cornstarch should make the filling firm up. This is a no-bake milk tart recipe, but it’s good to know that it came out well when you baked yours.

      • Kristin says

        I had the same issue with the crust. I added anther 15 min to my baking time, as well. I wonder if it has anything to do with the type of weights. I didn’t have any real pie weights so I used rice. It probably kept the middle from being heated properly, so I removed the rice for 5 minutes and lightened the amount of weight when I put them back on and baked another 10 minutes.

  5. Cakespy says

    I was looking for a milk tart recipe…and of course, given your mom, you have a beautiful one!!! So excited to make this, boo!

    • Susannah says

      Oh wonderful! Let me know how you like it! I’ve been meaning to make another one. She has so many variations yet to teach me! <3

  6. Raime says

    1 star
    Flavors worked, but everything else was absolutely off. The crust didn’t bake in the time allotted and the filling didn’t set. Such a let down for our Christmas Eve dessert. 🙁

    • Susannah says

      Raime, I’m so sorry the recipe did not work out for you. Every oven is so different. If you make it again, I would suggest baking the crust for a little bit longer until it is golden. If the center is still jiggly after a while of cooling, you can try putting it in the fridge to set up even more. I hope that helps!

      • Anita Kotze says

        I am confused – you say it is a no bake tart but here you say to leave it in oven longer and centre should still be jiggly … so so we bake or not 🤔

        • Susannah says

          Hi Anita, It is a no-bake custard but you do bake the crust. Some other commenters have mentioned they baked their custards, but I have not tried it.

  7. Raime says

    2 stars
    Flavors worked, but everything else was absolutely off. The crust didn’t bake in the time allotted and the filling didn’t set. Such a let down for our Christmas Eve dessert. 🙁

  8. Rochelle says

    Thank you for posting this recipe. I had been looking for a good milk tart recipe, and this was it! Everything worked well for me, and my South African husband said it was classic milk tart. I did accidentally allow the filling to boil in step 3, but this didn’t seem to affect it at all. It looked a little lumpy after boiling, but once it had cooled in the fridge with saran wrap on top, the filling was smooth and consistent. Maybe just barely boiling it helped it set up well for those who are having trouble that way. Thanks again Susannah!

    • Susannah says

      Hi Rochelle! Thank you so much for letting me know this recipe worked for you! I’m so happy to hear your husband said it was a classic one. Thanks also for the tip about bringing it to a boil! I’ve been craving a milk tart and look forward to making this one again soon.

      • Penny Filmalter says

        This is just like the recipe that I lost. Except I separate the egg whites and yolks, then after the filling is cooked and cooked slightly, I fold in the beaten egg whites , then pour into base.
        You beat the egg whites till soft peaks.
        My South African mom in law showed me this way.

        • Susannah says

          Glad you were able to find this recipe, Penny! Interesting how your mother-in-law did the eggs — I’ll have to try that one day!

  9. Elmari Muller says

    Now try the milk tart filling in your pancakes. Delicious. I am from SA and huge milk tart fan. I grew up with your recipe

    • Susannah says

      So glad to hear this Elmari! Milk tart is the best and you’re right that I should try it in pancakes! That sounds wonderful.

  10. Evdokia Fryer says

    I’m Greek Australian married to a South African and I always bake rusks and koeksisters but have been looking for a Milk Tart Recipe. I made this one today and it was delicious- so easy and my husband said it was perfect. No doubt I will be making it often.?

  11. Christine Reder says

    Hello. I am making this recipe for my South African boyfriend. Can it be made the night before? Christie

    • Susannah says

      Hey Jessie, Thanks for the questions. I am guessing that you overcooked the custard on the stove. Check out this article about problems with custard. To answer your question about the eggs: Eggs with whites set up firmer. Just egg yolks would makes a softer custard. Try chilling your milk tart for longer — it cuts nicely when it is nice and firm. Hope this helps!

  12. Lorraine says

    Hi I made this today and it was so delicious,,as I don’t like nutmeg I used all cinnamon which I love,so happy with it but instead of cinnamon on the top mine will have cream around the edge and filled with fruit,,it’s for Christmas dinner

  13. Tess says

    This milk tart or “melktert” as we call it in South Africa was absolutely delicious! First time making one and it was for my sister’s birthday, so high stakes. We were both craving a taste of home as we’re living overseas. This was just like I remember it! My biggest tip found in the comments was to keep stirring the mixture for ages until it was really smooth and thick. It set perfectly after that! Thanks so much for the recipe 🙂

    • Susannah says

      Hey Tess! I am so glad to hear you and your sister loved this recipe. Enjoy and hope you make it for years to come!

    • Bunny says

      Important to say on a lower medium it takes 20 to thicken at this volume.
      Most people are thinking the messed something up before 20 minutes. Mine thickened at exactly 22 minutes with no chunks no boiling.

  14. Penny says

    Hi! It was national Melktert day a couple of days ago… not that I get these alerts but it was in the SA press! There is nothing like a Melktert in my mind – though a good recipe is essential! I have never had a “no bake” one so this is a first for me. I will try it. I was definitely from a non Melktert family but I love them… along with everything else South African to eat; I am in a place where my heart longs for SA (we have been in Lockdown in the UK, since November and its hard, alone) – but a Melktert might just fill the longing… I have so many good memories attached to the tart! Good friends, sociable events and wide open spaces.

    • Susannah says

      Hi Penny! I’m so glad you found this recipe through National Melktert Day. I wish that were everyday! Hope this recipe helps fill the void during this time. 🙂

  15. Claudine says

    Made this for my SA bf’s 30th tomorrow. Came out beautifully, but we’ll see how it tastes tomorrow. 🙂 A couple tips for those who don’t have well-stocked kitchens like myself: I subbed aluminum foil for parchment paper, uncooked rice for pie weights, and I managed to press the dough into the pie dish without a rolling pin. Thanks for a great recipe, Susannah!

    P.S. I forgot to put the almond extract into the crust because it isn’t included in the instructions. 🙂

    • Susannah says

      Hey Claudine! I’m so glad this recipe turned out well for you. Thanks for sharing your tips and letting me know about the missing step — I’ve updated the recipe!

  16. Thu Walmsley says

    Hi there, I want to try out this recipe, it looks wonderful. Just wondering if I could use a stand mixer with the bread hook to knead the dough?

    • Susannah says

      Hey Thu, I have never tried that but I don’t see why you couldn’t! Just be careful not to overknead. Let me know how it turns out.

  17. Thu Walmsley says

    Hi Susannah,

    I’m hoping to try out this recipe. Would the crust get soggy if I make it the day before and leave it in the fridge?

    • Susannah says

      Hey Thu, I have definitely done that before and I think that would be just fine! I often enjoy leftovers a day later and it isn’t soggy at all. I hope you enjoy!

      • Lesley says

        Question: you mention a quart of milk… is that a US quart or imperial? Makes quite a difference to the quantity of liquid?

        • Susannah says

          Hi Lesley, I use US quarts, which is equal to 946mL or 4 US cups. If you have an imperial measuring cup, 1 US quart is equivalent to 0.81 imperial quarts. Hope that helps!

  18. Jan says

    Hi. I have just had one of the custard tarts …and have looked for a recipe…I notice it has cornstarch and flour…..I was wondering if I could use gluten free flour instead of flour…

    • Susannah says

      Hey Jan! I have never tried making this into a gluten-free milktert, but I believe it can be done. You can use 1:1 gluten-free flour for the crust. For the filling, don’t bother with gluten-free flour as alternative flours lack the thickening properties that all-purpose flour has. Arrowroot does but it’s similar to cornstarch, so you will instead want to experiment with omitting the flour and increasing the cornstarch. 4-5 tablespoons might do it. Let me know if you try it and how it comes out!

  19. taylo says

    Thank you for this recipe! I used to make melktert every year for Christmas with my grandmother Mouse. Her recipe was sadly lost when she passed away, and this one is so close to how we used to make it together. Thank you for helping to keep that Christmas magic alive!

  20. Meg Viljoen says

    I tried this recipe last night, I just swopped the base for a tennis biscuit base. It was so delicious, the texture of the filling was so smooth and silky, everyone loved it.

  21. Annie Garland says

    Wanted to make a traditional SA dessert for a family friend now living in the UK. This went down a storm and I got best ever tasted even from non believers. Pastry cooking time is wrong. 30 mins @ 180 fan plus back 5 mins without baking beans to crisp base. Otherwise perfect. Thank you

    • Susannah says

      Hi Annie! Thanks for sharing what worked for you. It sounds like you may have been using a convection oven — this recipe was tested with a non-convection oven.

  22. Laura Brand says

    5 stars
    I’ve been trying to find a melk tert recipe for my SA husband, and this one is amazing. I was an idiot and put a whole tablespoon of cinnamon into the filling though! it was a light tan color and we both thought it was an interesting addition- till I came back and learned it was my mistake! LOL!
    Some people are having a hard time with stiffening the filling. Just give it time…you’ll need medium heat and stirring constantly until it does thicken, trust the process. (It works a lot like tapioca pudding)

  23. Kiki Louise says

    Thank you so much, this recipe was a great hit. I made it as a surprise for my SA partner, and he said it brought back fond memories.
    I did not need to adjust the recipe at all- all measurements and temperatures were perfect. The filling set exactly as intended, with no need to bake in the oven. I was very mindful of ensuring the milk mixture reached that lovely thick stage, without boiling, and it worked a treat.
    Keeping this one to go in my collection of classic favourites. <3

    • Susannah says

      Hey Kiki! I am so happy to hear your partner loved this recipe and that it is now one of your classic favorites! Thanks so much for stopping by to tell me how it went for you.

  24. Lisa Marie Pullen says

    I made this for a friend from South Africa and he gave it a 10 out of 10. I misread the directions and put my sugar in milk and butter but it didn’t make any difference. The crust is going to be lighter in color because it’s a shortbread crust.

    • Susannah says

      Hey Ali! So sorry this happened. I am guessing your pie dish was either too shallow or too small in diameter. I wouldn’t fill the crust over the edges — instead, consider adding filling to the upper rim of your prebaked crust, then pour the excess filling into a couple of ramekins or a greased muffin tin for extra servings. Hope this helps for next time!

  25. Dineo says

    Hi Susannah

    I’m a South African living in the USA and have been looking for easy melktert recipe. And yours delivered. I just made it and everything went well except the bottom of the crust did not look like it was done. The edges were great though. I followed all your directions as stated and then put the pie in the oven for about 20 minutes and it come out really nice. I’m excited to make more of these for our son’s school Global Festival.

    • Susannah says

      Thanks Dineo! I am so glad to hear you loved the recipe. You could probably have baked the crust a little longer. Thanks so much for your tips!

  26. Parvershree Pillay says

    We are South African and my son loves milk tart and I usually do not make it as I’ve not had much success in the past! I tried your recipe out today and it was easy to follow and make! The crust was super easy and baked well with your suggested pie weights! We are yet to taste them but I snuck a taste of the filling and it was delicious! It does take a while to thicken but it gets there eventually 🙂

    • Susannah says

      Thank you so much for your comment, Parvershree! I’m so happy to hear it turned out well, and I hope you continue to love this recipe for years to come.

  27. Zita says

    I made this last night and it was perfect. I put together a quick Graham cracker crust which set in the fridge while I prepared the filling. As you have advised, you MUST cook the filling long enough (whilst gently whisking) for it to completely thicken up in the pan. It was thick, smooth and creamy. Having cooled on the side for a while, I then left it in the fridge overnight. It was honestly one of the best melkterts I’ve had (I’m a South African ex-pat – so I’ve had many) 🙂 Thanks so much. It will be my go-to recipe going forward.

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