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 on a white plate and garnished with a purple flower

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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 consistency.

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

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

MILK TART RECIPE

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. 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

HOW TO MAKE SOUTH AFRICAN MILK TART

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.

South African Milk Tart is a bit like a custard tart, but with a different consistency. Milk tarts are luscious and creamy, and the best ones are topped with a sprinkling of cinnamon. Always lovely for dessert or served at tea time. (via feastandwest.com)

TIPS FOR MAKING A MILK TART

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 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.

South African Pannekoek // Feast + West

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!

Ingredients

Sweet Shortcrust Pastry

  • 6oz butter, softened
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups flour
  • pinch salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pure almond extract

Filling

  • 1 quart milk
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • pinch salt
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon

Instructions

For the crust

  1. 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.
  2. 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

  1. In a heat proof bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, cornstarch, flour and vanilla. Set aside.
  2. In a medium size saucepan, heat the milk and butter at medium setting. Do not bring to a rolling boil.
  3. 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!
  4. Pour the filling into the pie crust and let cool completely. Refrigerate until serving. Sprinkle with cinnamon before serving.

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Nutrition Information:
Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1 serving
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 491Total Fat: 23gSaturated Fat: 14gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 8gCholesterol: 129mgSodium: 273mgCarbohydrates: 61gFiber: 1gSugar: 25gProtein: 10g

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Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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 🙂

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. Raime says

    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 and the center is still jiggly when you go to remove the tart from the oven, I would suggest baking it for a little bit longer until it sets up. I hope that helps!

  6. 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.

  7. 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

  8. 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.?

  9. Christine Reder says

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

  10. 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

  11. 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 🙂

  12. 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. 🙂

  13. 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!

  14. 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?

  15. 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!

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