When it comes to anything involved with pastry my anxiousness begins to slowly creep up. I am fairly competent at pasta dough – but pastry dough is another story! That said, I am getting better and learning more each time I set out for another baking adventure in the Salt & Starch kitchen.
Recently I was thumbing thru one of my cookbooks I had admittedly neglected for some time – The Jamie Oliver Comfort Food cookbook. As I flipped thru the pages I really began to fall in love with this book and remembered why I bought it in the first place. The recipes along with the food photography are incredible. I found myself stuck on the Milk Tart recipe as it caught my attention last Sunday. I began to read up on it to see if I could give it a go.
From my research online I found that Milktart or “Melktert” is traditionally a South African pastry that is delicate, sweet and creamy. I was really intrigued and read a number of different recipes online along with the Jamie Oliver recipe from the book. I decided I would give it a try, putting my little personal touches on it as I do with everything I cook (or bake in this instance). In general I followed the Jamie Oliver recipe which was quite simple but I’ve included notes along the way which were not in the cookbook that I found helpful.
Here’s what you will need:
- 1 2/3 Cups all-purpose flour, extra for dusting
- 1 large egg
- 1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup of 2% milk
- 2 1/2 cups 2% milk
- 1 Vanilla Bean
- 1/2 cup of unsalted butter
- 2 large eggs
- 2 tablespoons of cornstarch
- 1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup superfine sugar (see my notes)
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Making pastry dough is fairly straightforward, although I find it difficult at times given the little kneading necessary. I always catch myself kneading it too much.
Start off with running your flour and confectioners sugar thru a sieve into a large metal bowl. Cut your butter into small cubes and then combine your mixture together gently. Add your egg and a pinch of high quality sea salt. (I use Maldon). Mix for another 30 seconds and then add in your milk slowly. Continue mixing together until you have what looks like a very flaky or ‘scruffy’ ball – as indicated in the Jamie Oliver cookbook. Again, this is where I struggle because I want that dough to look shiny and golden like pasta dough! Remind yourself it is pastry dough and not pasta dough! Set aside in the fridge for 30 minutes.
The next part is where I screwed up originally when making this pastry. While my pastry dough was cooling in the fridge I began making the filling. Big mistake! Allow some patience (something I typically do not have much of) with this recipe and let your pastry dough to fully cool in the fridge before you do anything else. This is a recipe you can’t skip ahead on and get away with.
Ok, so now it’s been 30 minutes and you’re chomping at the bit to get this thing moving! Take out a 9 or 10 inch tart pan and spray some PAM into it, making sure the sides are coated well. You can use other oils here as well but the baking PAM spray I have found works well. Remove your pastry dough from the fridge and begin rolling it out to roughly 1/4″ thickness. Remember, this isn’t pasta dough so your dough is going to be flaky and crumbly & possibly sticky. Continue to put your rolling pin skills to the test until you have a nice even section of dough rolled out – large enough to cover your tart pan. It’s ok to sprinkle all-purpose flour on your surface and dough throughout this process – as your dough is probably a bit sticky. Use the flour to tighten it up if needed.
Roll or place your rolled out pastry dough over top of your tart pan, being sure to push in nicely along all the edges inside. Cut the excess dough around the edge of the tart pan. Take a fork and punch holes through the base of the dough. (A tiny detail I forgot to do my first time making this dish! Poking holes in the bottom will help the dough to cook evenly, prevent it from sticking to the bottom, and will also help the baking process of the filling.) Pop the tart pan into your freezer for 20 minutes to firm up.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Remove your tart pan from the freezer and place a sheet of tin foil over top of your tart pan pastry, being sure to push into all the corners gently. Take some rice or baking beans and fill up the tart pan, again putting enough into the pan to get into all the nooks and crannies. I should mention this process confused the hell of me when I read it in the cookbook. The purpose of this process is to cook the pastry dough somewhat before adding the forthcoming filling. This will allow the dough to ultimately be fully cooked. If you do not do this step your dough will not cook fully in the oven the first go around, leaving you with a doughy mess.
Take your tart pan (now filled with rice or baking beans on top of a tin foil sheet) and bake for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes remove from your oven and dispose of the rice or beans and tin foil. Place back into the oven for another 10 – 15 minutes uncovered.
While your pastry is in the oven for the 2nd time, you can begin working on your filling. Pour your milk into a sauce pan and place on the stove over low heat. Cut your vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds, adding to the milk on the stove. Throw in the bean stalks as well. (You will remove them later). Allow to simmer for roughly 15 minutes.
In a separate bowl beat your eggs, cornstarch, all-purpose flour & superfine sugar.
Note: Superfine Sugar is NOT confectioners sugar. I have found that superfine sugar can be somewhat difficult to find at a local grocery store. If you cannot find superfine sugar you can easily pop it into a food processor and blend on high for roughly 30 seconds or until the sugar is visibly powdery and much more fine. Your food processor blades will not like this but it’s a work around if you don’t have access to store bought superfine sugar.
Remove your milk & vanilla from the stove which should now be nicely simmering. Remove the vanilla stalks from the sauce pan. Add in your butter, mixing continuously until fully melted. The recipe in the cookbook called for 1 ‘pat’ of butter – which was again confusing to me. What the hell is a ‘pat’ of butter. The term is subjective from what I found. I used 1/2 cup of unsalted butter cut into small cubes which worked nicely. Most recipes would probably say that is too much but it worked for me.
Next gradually stir in your flour/egg/cornstarch mixture into the milk, stirring continuously until fully incorporated. At this juncture I added my own little personal touch to the recipe and put in a dash of vanilla powder. Vanilla powder can be difficult to get but probably can be acquired at any good spice store or farmer’s market.
Place your sauce pan back on stove over med-low heat. Here is another point where your patience will pay off dividends. Continue to stir until your mixture becomes thick. This usually takes 10-15 minutes. Your mixture will get thick and become a pudding like consistency. Once at this point, remove from the heat and allow to cool for a few minutes – or until it is not steaming hot anymore.
Carefully pour your filling into your pastry tart pan, being sure not to overfill the filling above the rim of your tart pan. Sprinkle some ground cinnamon on top and bake for another 20-30 minutes.
*The Jamie Oliver recipe added some glazed caramel to this dish. I gave it a try and after a disastrous first attempt which included ruining the first tart and nearly burning my thumb off from the glaze – I managed to get it right. If you would like to add a little caramel glaze to this tart it is actually fairly easy – but the timing is the important part.
For the optional caramel glaze:
Allow your tart to fully bake before preparing the glaze. Your tart should be cooling comfortably on the kitchen counter before you start your glaze.
Take 1 cup of regular sugar and a splash of water and put into a small sauce pan over med heat. Stir regularly until your sugar begins to thicken both in consistency and color. Continue to stir until you have a beautiful golden brown color of caramel and the thickness is still workable. Once the consistency is thick but still ‘pour-able’, remove from the stove and carefully pour over top of your now finished tart.
Note: This is where I burned my finger horribly the first time I did this. The glaze might not look hot but it is like lava! – trust me! Be careful during this step!
Allow your tart to fully cool – for a few hours before even thinking about removing it from the tart pan or serving. The best course of action I have found here is to let it cool on the counter for a few hours and then stick it in the fridge overnight. The subtle flavors of the creamy filling will come thru better the next day after it’s been cooling for a while. You’ll be left with a delicate, creamy and impressive pastry dish which you can add creme fraiche too, decorate with fresh blueberries or simply with the caramel glaze.