Long, long ago as students revising for our finals, this was our standby. One of us would assemble the ingredients and chuck it into the oven. Our shabby, student house would be pervaded by the aroma right to the top floor, where I resided in the attic bedroom, lulling us with the promise of a break from our literary tomes. Rice pudding and regular doses of Neighbours were our tranquillisers in those days.
When I tried to recall how we'd made it though, the details escaped me. I know that in England we used a variety of rice that came labeled as pudding rice. A round, short-grained rice that I haven't seen here, and I didn't feel like squandering my precious arborio rice, (which is the nearest equivalent) on a mere pudding. Neither was I sure that my kids would feel the same nostalgic enthusiasm for rice pudding, never having been exposed to it before! One day I will make it for them, I promise, to remind them of their English heritage, but this time I decided to go for the South African spiritual counterpart of rice pudding - Milk Tart.
Milk Tart or Melktert is one of those classic South African dishes, that show up in infinite shades of cream at every social event, where people bring a sweet contribution. At school fund-raisers and tea and cake sales you will find several different versions interspersed with the odd tipsy tart, vetkoek, koeksisters or crunchies for variety.
A pastry case filled with a pale custard filling and speckled with cinnamon, it has a dense creamy texture that is sweet but not sickly, the comfort factor of creamy rice pudding without the bulk. Even my children, who don't go for rich, creamy things, like it and it's a great way of using up that extra pint of milk that is about to go past its sell by date and at the same time getting the kids to up their dairy and calcium intake, without overdosing on cream and fat. It uses half-fat milk not cream so is also a good choice for those who have to avoid cream but are missing the indulgence of it.
The joy of this particular recipe for a Crustless Milk Tart is that it by-passes the need for pastry, the filling going straight into a buttered pie dish and into the oven, so it can be assembled in five minutes, baked for 45 minutes and produce a tea time treat with almost no effort. Also all the ingredients are mixed up in one bowl, or the food processor, leaving very little washing up. I've seen many other traditional recipes that demand that you whisk egg yolks and whites separately then fold in, but this way is already so delicious that there seems to be no need, unless you are looking for entertainment! This version is perfect for afternoons when you have a thousand other things to do and unexpected visitors show up for tea, or when you just feel the need for comfort food on a cold winter's afternoon.
Crustless Milk Tart Recipe
¾ cup / 185ml self-raising flour
2 cups / 500ml milk
¾ cup / 185 ml sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 oz / 25g melted butter
½ tsp cinnamon
Put all the ingredients together into a bowl or food processor and beat to a smooth batter. Pour into a buttered pie dish (approximately 23cm/9" in diameter, but it doesn't matter if it's not exact, the finished tart will just be either a bit deeper or shallower). Sprinkle the cinnamon over the top. Bake for 45 minutes at 175C / 350F. Serve warm or cold. It sinks and becomes denser as it cools. If you eat it hot you'll need a spoon to scoop up the soft custardy tart but cold you can pick up the slices in your hand, if it hasn't vanished long before then.
Happily the milk tart was a tremendous success - this was the first time I'd made it myself from my sister-in-law's recipe. All three children guzzled as much as they were allowed, I sneaked an extra piece too and felt almost the same level of carbohydrate comfort that our student rice puddings provided. The only thing missing was that crusty spicy skin that you either fight over or loathe. If anyone has a foolproof, effortless rice pudding recipe for me, I would love to subject my children to it one day soon!
OK, so they don't really look in need of a winter warmer, but they are working very hard!
P.S. In case those of you with wet summers are about to lynch me for this sunny winter picture, it is actually raining again today and we'd just had five whole days of rain before the sun shone and liberated my laundry from the ever expanding heap in the bathroom.
Edited to add: I thought I would submit this to Johanna's Sugar High Friday event - the theme is 'sweet specialities' and I'm taking it upon myself to see that South Africa's puddings are adequately represented, so this Milk Tart and this Malva Pudding will fly the flag for SA along with Jeanne's Peppermint Crisp Fridge Tart.