A collage of photos showing a custard tart and lemon meringue pie with crisp shortcrust pastry

This post is all (ok, mostly) about the pastry.

Over many years of making sweet tarts I have usually defaulted to a rich, sweet shortcrust (the French pâte sucrée), the “rich” being the addition of egg. But this produces a cakey crumb when sometimes what you need is crisp, crisp, crisp, to provide textural contrast to a soft and melting filling, for example in a lemon meringue pie or indeeed this custard tart.

So my crisp pastry base omits the egg and uses ice-cold water as the binding agent. I also freeze my butter in little cubes, usually for 10-20 minutes (sometimes longer if I get distracted) as this keeps the pastry cool enough to mix, roll and line tart cases without having to rest it inbetween.

You can keep the pastry plain or add flavourings for example ground cinnamon, ginger or orange zest. I used cinnamon in both the pastry and the filling as I was going for a twist on the South African classic milk tart.

I use a food processor, which takes seconds, but it’s possible to do it by hand if you work quickly to rub the butter into the flour. The trick is to not transfer too much heat from your hands to the pastry as this will make it grey and greasy. If at any stage during this stage you feel it’s starting to go that way, just pop it in the fridge for 10 minutes to chill.


To line a 23cm loose-bottomed fluted tart tin

For the pastry:

170g plain flour

30g icing sugar

1tsp ground cinnamon (optional)

Pinch of salt

85g unsalted butter (cubed and frozen for 10-20 minutes)

25-30ml fridge-cold water

For the filling:

60g caster sugar

4 eggs

300ml whole milk

300ml single cream

1 vanilla pod or 1tsp vanilla paste

1tsp cinnamon (optional)


Use a food processor to whizz the pastry ingredients together, adding just 25ml water to start with and a bit more if needed as it starts to come together and pull away from the sides.

Dust a clean work surface with flour and tip the pastry out. Quickly use your hands to condense the pastry into a ball. At this stage if it still feels dry then wet your hands lightly to add moisture but make sure to distribute it evenly through the dough otherwise it will crack during blind baking.

On a floured work surface, roll the dough out evenly to the required size. Drape the pastry over the tart case and gently press it into the edges and up the sides. Cut off any overhang and use the excess pastry to patch any holes or cracks. Now chill the pastry in the fridge for 30 minutes. Reserve any leftover pastry for later!

Preheat the oven to 190C.

Lightly prick the base of the tart with a fork, and then line the tart case with baking parchment (scrunch it into a ball first so it fits into the corners better) and add baking beans or dry rice and lentils to support the sides and weigh down the pastry so it doesn’t balloon in the middle.

Bake on the middle shelf, on a baking tray, for 10-12 minutes, and check that the sides are set and starting to brown. Remove the baking beans and parchment.

Turn the oven down to 170C and return the tart base to the oven for 8-10 minutes until it has completely cooked through.

Use your excess pastry to (carefully) patch any cracks that may have appeared. If you have a runny filling, eg custard, use tiny pieces of pastry to fill the fork holes in the base, to stop the liquid running through.

Now make the filling.

Use a food process or hand blender to whisk together the eggs and sugar until thick and foaming. If you are using a whole vanilla pod, split it down the middle and scrap out the seeds to add to the mix. Now add the milk and cream, and any other flavourings you want to add. Whisk together really well, and then strain the liquid through a sieve into the tart base (this removes any eggy threads).

You probably want to do this step as close to the oven as possible, as it can be tricky to transfer the tart to the oven without sloshing.

Bake the tart at 170C for an hour, or until the middle is set – it may have a slight wobble but shouldn’t be liquid in the centre.

Allow to cool on a rack before removing from the tart tin (this can take an hour).
Dust with icing, or top with fruit and cream to serve.

© Linda Galloway 2020