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CREAMY INDULGANCE

Portugal has pasteis de nata while Colombia reveres its torta de nata. The English have the custard tart, the Chinese the egg tart – and in South Africa it’s the nutmeg or cinnamon dusted milk tart which sets mouths watering.

Custard is an ostensibly simple thing: eggs, milk and sugar. Add heat and a drop of vanilla or some spices and it’s elevated to the gastronomic heavens – and cultures and societies the world over have known this for centuries.

The Portuguese custard tart with its crisp flaky pastry which almost dissolves on the tongue has an interesting history linked to a monastery in Lisbon in the early 1800s. History has it that the monks and nuns used egg whites to starch their clerical vestments, leaving them with a lot of egg yolks. In the spirit of “waste not, want not” the holy folk set about using them up by making pastries. Ultimately, they started selling these little tarts with their distinctive caramelised or scorched tops and the rest is history.

Yet there is no dessert or tea time treat more quintessentially South African than the good old milk tart. No school fete or church bazaar, home industry outlet, supermarket and bakery dare overlook it! Where the Portuguese tart has flaky pastry, the local version has a buttery sweet pastry base.

As with so many things, like brandy, milk tart, or melktert as it was originally known, was brought by the Dutch settlers to the Cape in the 1600s and is said to have been adapted from a recipe for Mattentaart which was listed in Thomas van der Noot’s book, Een Notabel Boexcken van Cokeryen (A Notable Book of Cookery), published in 1514.

Given its long history, its little surprise that there are countless recipes and variations of the milk tart and there is even a whole recipe book dedicated to this delicious dessert: The South African Milk Tart Collection by Callie Maritz and Mari-Louis Guy, published in 2017.

In honour of the day, two chefs from Capsicum Culinary Studio shared their favourite – if somewhat untraditional – milk tart recipes.

PEPPERMINT CRISP MILK TART

Chef Bradley Wright – Durban campus, Capsicum Culinary Studio

INGREDIENTS FOR BASE

150g plain flour

75g unsalted butter

50g icing sugar

1 egg yolk, beaten

50g Peppermint Crisp, chilled

METHOD

Place the flour, unsalted butter, icing sugar and the Peppermint Crisp chocolate in a food processor and blend in short bursts until it resembles breadcrumbs. Tip into a bowl, add the beaten egg yolk and mix to form a dough. If the dough looks too dry, add 1 Tbsp water. Shape the dough into a ball, flatten it out into a disc, wrap it in cling film and chill for at least 30 minutes before using. Pre-heat oven to 200ºC. Remove the dough from the fridge and roll out evenly on a floured surface. Grease a flan pan with butter (or use Spray and Cook) and dust lightly with flour. Gently place the rolled-out dough into the pan and neatly shape into the corners. Use a fork to poke holes in the bottom of the base. Cover and place in the fridge for 30 minutes. Once rested remove from the fridge and place greaseproof paper in the tart shell and cover with baking beans (or you can use uncooked rice). Bake for 10 minutes, remove greaseproof paper and baking beans and bake for a further five minutes or until golden brown. Turn off oven and leave the base in the oven for 10 – 15 minutes, then remove and place on wire rack to cool.

Meanwhile make the filling.

INGREDIENTS FOR FILLING

500ml fresh milk

28g butter

20g flour

25g corn starch

100g white sugar

2 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla essence

METHOD

Place a saucepan over medium heat and add the milk and butter and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat. In another bowl, mix the flour, corn starch, sugar and vanilla essence and whisk in eggs until smooth. Gently whisk the mixture into the saucepan making sure there are no lumps. Return the saucepan to the stove and keep stirring constantly until in starts to bubble. Cook for about 5 – 6 minutes. Pass through a strainer to get a smooth texture.

INGREDIENTS FOR TOPPING

50g Peppermint Crisp, chilled

1 tsp ground cinnamon (or more if preferred)

To assemble, pour the still warm custard into the baked pastry shell ensuring that it spreads evenly. Allow to set and cool completely. In a bowl finely grate the Peppermint Crisp and mix with the ground cinnamon and then sprinkle over the top of the tart. Use a stencil to make it look even more fabulous!

MILK TART STUFFED CHOUX BUNS

Chef Imtiyaaz Hart – Cape Town campus, Capsicum Culinary Studio

INGREDIENTS FOR THE MILK TART

400 ml full cream milk

1 stick cinnamon

3 Tbsp butter

5ml vanilla essence

50ml corn flour

2 extra-large egg yolks (reserve the whites)

80ml sugar

1 Tbsp cinnamon

2 Tbsp brown sugar

METHOD

In a saucepan place 300ml of the milk along with the cinnamon stick and the butter and heat until bubbles start forming. Remove from heat and leave to stand for 10 minutes before removing the cinnamon stick – this allows the mixture to retain that cinnamon flavour. Add the vanilla essence. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and remaining milk. Add the corn flour and beat, making sure there are no lumps. Add a little of the warm milk to the corn flour mixture then add to the heated milk in the saucepan. Cook on medium heat until thick, whisking continuously so that no lumps form. Remove from the heat and add the sugar. Place cling wrap over the surface of the milk tart mixture (making sure it is in contact with the surface so that a skin does not form) and leave to cool. Separately, beat the egg whites with ¼ cup sugar – you want soft white peaks – and set aside.

INGREDIENTS FOR THE CHOUX BUNS

¼ cup water

¼ cup milk

½ cup self-raising flour

4 Tbsp butter

2 eggs

METHOD

Pre-heat oven to 220ºC. Heat the water, milk and butter until it boils. Add the flour and mix for about four minutes on medium heat. Use an electric hand mixer and mix on medium speed for one minute – adding one egg at a time and continue to mix until fully combined. Add mixture to a piping bag and pipe small circles onto a pre-greased tray lined with baking paper. Bake for 10 minutes then lower oven heat to 155ºC and bake for a further 20 minutes or until golden. Remove, place on wire rack and allow to cool.

To assemble: Spoon the milk tart mixture into a piping bag and fill the choux buns. Top with the meringue and give it a quick toast with a blowtorch. Sprinkle with ground cinnamon and enjoy!