South African Milk Tart Cake – Recipe

In full costume and waiting to meet up with some friends to go to Comicon, I discovered a little café called Brownie Box on Old Brompton Road. The counter was stuffed full of a ridiculously tempting array of beautiful, delicious-looking cakes. There were dense, chocolatey brownies, sponge cakes in various flavours, cheesecakes, pretty cupcakes... the lot.

What caught my eye, however, was a brown, brick-like slab of something, plain by comparison. It was labelled 'South African Milk Tart'. I asked what it was, and it was described as a dense, cinnamon-scented custardy thing. I love custardy things! So I chose it over all of the gorgeous cakes, this ugly duckling. It was dense, creamy, wonderfully spiced- a beautiful swan in disguise.

This was a year ago. I've since done some research on traditional South African milk tart. It seems it's most often made with a shortcrust pastry pie crust, although the one I had at Brownie Box seemed to have a thin, sponge-like layer. I couldn't work out if it was a self-crusting recipe that made its own sponge layer, or if it was meant to be crustless. Either way, I got to like the idea of the dense custard with a sponge cake base: so I created this recipe.

Ingredients for Sponge Layer:

-2oz unsalted butter, softened
-2oz caster sugar
-2oz self raising flour
-1 egg
-1tsp vanilla
-A pinch of salt

Ingredients for Milk Tart Filling:

-600ml milk
-1 cinnamon stick
-1tbsp unsalted butter
-3tbsp plain flour
-6tbsp caster sugar
-2 eggs
-1tsp vanilla
-Powdered cinnamon for sprinkling


1) Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C and line and grease an 8" round cake tin

2) Cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy, whisk in the eggs, and add the flour, salt and vanilla

3) Spread evenly into your 8" cake pan, tap lightly on the counter a few times to knock out large air bubbles and bake for about 15 minutes (or until a skewer comes out clean and the cake is springy when you poke it)

4) Leave your cake to cool on a wire rack

5)While the cake cools, prepare a 7" round springform cake tin by cutting out a cardboard round and lining with tin foil before placing it in the bottom, as well as lining and greasing the sides (this will make it a lot easier to get the cake out later).

6)When the cake is cool, turn it out, place the 7" tin over it and cut around it so you have a 7" round of cake (if you'd have baked the cake in a 7" round pan to begin with, the sides would have shrunken a little).

7) Place your cut out cake round at the bottom of your prepared springform tin (and eat the scraps!)

8) Now make the filling: in a heatproof bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar, flour and vanilla together until smooth

9) Bring the milk to a gentle simmer with the cinnamon stick in a saucepan, melting the butter in the hot milk at the last minute

10) Pour the hot milk into the bowl of egg mixture, stirring constantly

11) Put the whole thing back in the saucepan, and cook on a low heat until thickened, stirring all the time (until lifting your wooden spoon makes a thick 'ribbon trail')

12) Pour the custard straight into your prepared tin and over the sponge, tap lightly to get rid of bubbles again, and sprinkle the top with cinnamon

13) Leave to cool completely, then chill in the fridge for a few hours (preferably overnight).

14) Carefully remove from the tin, slice, and enjoy!


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