Everybody is writing about Heritage Month in South Africa so I have decided to jump onto the bandwagon before it leaves town!

As the wintry rainy weather persists (thankfully) in the Cape my appetite still yearns for heartier fare.

I know that most local foodies are featuring milk tart. I have been intending to share my maternal grandmother’s recipe for ages, so no time is more appropriate than now!

The provenance of milk tart is not quite clear but my theory is that it could have originated from the Portuguese Pasteis de Nata. These custard tartlets have a similar flavour and texture and we know that the early Portuguese and Dutch sailors influenced our recipes. Both differ to the English and French Custard tarts which have no starch in the filling recipe.

In my family the pastry was always the thinnest, crispest, buttery puff pastry. Home-made of course, by my Mother and Grandmother! I have cheated and used 4 layers of phyllo, painted with butter. Otherwise I use a good quality shop bought pastry.

My Mom used Granny’s deep enameled metal pie plate that conducted all the heat required to achieve the crisp pastry. I wish I knew what we did with that treasured pie plate. Modern ceramic pie plates simply don’t produce the same results. I will continue to scour vintage stores for one.

The milk tart filling is best described as an ‘eggy creme pattiserie’ that has a rich vanilla and cinnamon note.

The texture is therefore not quite custard, but silky smooth. My family recipe adds whisked egg whites so it puffs up like a soufflé when baked. It drops back but remains light & fluffy, never stodgy.

The favour is custardy with dominant cinnamon. This recipe also calls for naartjie (mandarin) zest, which adds depth and interest.


The sugar content is quite low, allowing the other flavours to shine.

I like serving milk tart warm as a dessert or with coffee or tea and a spoonful of poached naartjie (mandarin) segments finishes the dish beautifully.

Milk Tart and Naartjie Glaze Recipe.