South African Milk Tart Recipe

South African Milk Tart Recipe
It’s time to travel abroad and dive into the culturally-inspired South African dessert known as milk tart, or “melktart,” as it’s known locally. This ooey-gooey goodness is made up of a sweet homemade pastry crust and a creamy custard filling. And this rich heritage dessert wouldn’t be complete without fresh cinnamon and some sugar generously sprinkled on top. The result? A little slice of heaven!
Overhead view of a South African melktart on a wooden table. Next to it are cinnamon sticks and scattered loose leaf tea. The overlay text reads: South African milk tart.

A Rich Heritage


Melktart has a deep-rooted history that traces back to the 1600s when Dutch settlers first arrived in Cape Town, South Africa. While in South Africa, you will often see this recipe used for birthdays, an after-dinner dessert, or, of course, with a favorite afternoon tea. Each family has their own recipe which has been passed down from one generation to the next, many of which don’t have precise measurements and weights and were simply shared orally with each other over many family preparations.
Another element of this dessert that I adore is the beauty in its preparation. You will find milk tart made in tart pans, pie plates, and even mini bite-size tartlets. I love the raw edges that reveal themselves when pressing the dough into the plate – fingerprints intertwined with the love that goes into the making of this favorite.
A South African milk tart rests on a wooden table next to cinnamon sticks and scattered loose leaf tea.

South African Melktart Recipe


I spent much time researching, digging into, and trying variations of this wondrous creation. After much “try and try again,” I came up with the perfect balance of a flaky, slightly sweetened, and delicate crust that pairs superbly with the most amazing custard. This custard is unlike any other and loved even by my young children. The entire dessert was gone in one afternoon after sharing with friends and family over tea and laughter!
I found the trick was following the recommendation of some milk tart recipes which called for infusing the milk, sugar, vanilla bean, and egg mixture on the stove with a fresh cinnamon stick. Even with the heavy dose of cinnamon topping, the cinnamon stick brought out such an element of flavor that it seemed irresponsible not to name this as my new go-to dessert recipe.
Quick tip: This recipe calls for half an egg. For those of you wondering, “How do I use just half an egg?” the answer is quite simple. I whipped up one egg individually and ball-parked half. This works just fine for a recipe like this one; some others require more of a precise weight. For those types of recipes, or if you’re more along the Type A side of the spectrum like I am, you can whip up an egg, weigh it using your kitchen scale (in grams), and divide in half to know the exact weight you must put back in to the recipe.
A clear glass cup of tea on two stacked saucers sits next to a slice of melktart on a wooden table. Three cinnamon sticks are next to it.

A Perfect Pair


Several teas that pair splendidly with this divine dessert have South African-grown ingredients: honeybush and rooibos. There are three different caffeine free teas that I am excited to share with you that pair well with this dessert, no matter the occasion or time of day. After all, who needs a reason to have tea and dessert? Certainly not me!
The first of this trio is our Buttery Shortbread herbal tea. This cuppa pairs great with milk for an added touch of creaminess. I especially love the feeling as it graces my taste buds: smooth, slightly buttery, and just the right amount of sweet.
The second is Vanilla Creme herbal tea. I love the sweet surrender and simplicity of this tea…and, oh, does it sing with that amazing vanilla bean flavor, which is perfect with milk tart.
Wrapping up our trio is Toasted Nut Brulee oolong. This tea is probably my favorite of the three as it adds a level of complexity with all its nutty goodness – a blend of hazelnut, chestnut, almond, and walnut.
No matter which you choose, you surely won’t be disappointed!
Overhead view of a South African melktart on a wooden table. Next to it are cinnamon sticks and scattered loose leaf tea.

South African Milk Tart Recipe



Crust Ingredients:
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 egg (see note, above)
Filling Ingredients:
  • 2 and 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 and 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
Topping Ingredients:
  • 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

Crust Directions:
Cream the butter and sugar until smooth. Add the egg.
Add dry ingredients and mix well.
Press into greased pie plate or tart pan. Use a fork to create holes in the crust. This will keep the crust from rising too much.
Bake at 350° F for 12 minutes.
Remove and let cool.
Filling Directions:
Scald two cups of the milk with the butter and cinnamon stick in a saucepan on the stove.
In a separate bowl, whisk the remaining 1/2 cup of milk with the sugar, flour, egg yolks, egg whites, and vanilla bean paste.
Slowly pour this mixture into the scalded milk mixture and heat on low stirring constantly. This will make a thick custard. Make sure you don’t allow this mixture to heat too quickly or you won’t get a smooth, creamy custard.
Once this mixture has reached a thick custard that is reminiscent of melted ice cream, remove from the heat, remove the cinnamon stick, and strain to remove any strands of egg yolk and egg white.
Preheat oven to 320° F. Pour the custard into the pastry crust and bake for 30-35 minutes until wobbly and not runny.
Allow to cool completely and then refrigerate.
Before serving, combine the sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over the top.
Slice and enjoy!

A slice of milk tart sits on a white plate on a wooden table. Cinnamon sticks and a cup of tea can be seen in the background.

McKenna Marek

McKenna is from midwestern Wisconsin and is the creative owner of Sweet Rose Desserts. She treasures time with her three children, savoring every moment, and the peacefulness of their home in the country. She enjoys baking, photography, and of course—time with friends over a shared pot of tea.
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