South Africans expect to find melktert at supermarkets, bake sales, church events, bakeries, and celebrations. Dutch colonizers brought early recipes for this cinnamon-dusted custard pie to the southern tip of Africa in the 17th century. With them came their native tongue, which blended with other languages to form Afrikaans, now one of the official languages of South Africa. Melktert is Afrikaans for “milk tart,” and while the pastry lacks official designation, it’s the closest thing the country has to a national dessert pie.
Many of the Dutch people living on the Cape of Good Hope were dairy farmers, hence melktert’s name and creamy ingredients. Interpretations may vary, but milk, sugar, eggs, and a thickener (such as flour) are fairly consistent across traditional recipes. Bakers sprinkle cinnamon on top, and some mix the spice into their milk. Depending on ingredients and preparation, the texture of the pie ranges from wobbly to firm. Crusts might be short-crust, puff pastry dough, or nonexistent. Chefs riff on classic takes with additions such as citrus and wine, but variations aside, melktert remains ubiquitous, beloved, and distinctly South African.