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SECOND TIME AROUND

What’s cooking today: Cremora tart, perfected

What’s cooking today: Cremora tart, perfected
Tony Jackman’s Cremora tart. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

Most of my Afrikaans friends were brought up with Cremora tart. Many of my English-speaking friends, when I tell them I’m making it, reply that they’ve heard of it but never tasted it. I had never tasted it until this week. Now I’m a convert. And I’ve learnt how to make it.

The Cremora tart is a fridge tart that sprang from the sudden rise of Cremora (dairy creamer/ milk substitute powder) in the 1980s in the wake of that delightful TV commercial that still gets quoted today and has had several iterations since:

It’s not inside, it’s on top!

There have been a number of newer takes on that advertisement, without the person at the fridge being necessarily white, or even a man as in the original (although the original remains the funniest, because the actor was so good). In 2021, as many as five new iterations of the ad were launched, in a bid to be inclusive. Inclusivity is all over the Cremora website.

What is Cremora tart?

It is essentially a kind of lemon tart. There is no cooking involved, but lots of beating. Lots. To some, it seems like a true veteran of a beloved local dish. But its history is relatively recent if you consider that some of the famous South African puddings were around in C Louis Leipoldt’s day.

Somewhere, perhaps in the Platteland, a tannie concocted a tart using the powder, along with condensed milk (of course) and lemon juice. It was poured into a Tennis biscuit-butter base and set in the fridge. Most likely the recipe was published in one of the little recipe books traditionally compiled in schools and out of country bazaars. And then in another. And another. And it took off. Soon, it began to rival peppermint crisp tart and other family favourites in the affections of those who were brought up with it. Now, it is a classic and considered old-fashioned, a true throwback even if, for some of us, the Eighties were just the other day.

That original Cremora ad is today considered out of date and having been targeted at a white audience; it was flighted on TV channels aimed at a white audience back then, so this is undeniably true.

Nestlé, who produce the product, are at pains to explain that this is no longer the case and that it “has since been passed down in just about every South African family’s home, from one generation to the next and is now ingrained in our rainbow nation as a trusted recipe, along with all the joyful memories and stories told around the table that will always be cherished”. (Okay, you can put those tweety-birds back in their cage now and turn off the harp strings.)

The manufacturer also aligns it with the current Heritage Month (when did days become months?). And so keen are they to show what a rainbow product it has become over the decades that they have a “Be a joy of inclusion ally” campaign with the stories of people (presumably Cremora fans) who tell their stories. There’s also a Cremora YouTube channel with recipes from Cremora milk tart to creamed spinach, mashed potato, banana bread, pancakes and even chicken à la King.

Take two Cremora tarts

But back to what we’re here for today: how to make a Cremora tart. And it wasn’t a good start at all for me. My first attempt was an unmitigated flop. Utterly runny, not set at all. So much so that I wasn’t at all sure that I wanted to have another go.

In the meantime I read many recipes and none of them is quite the same. I thought about them all very carefully, comparing the quantities and methods, until a few pennies started to drop.

Some recipes called for powder to be beaten with iced water, then lemon juice whisked into condensed milk, and the first mixed with the second. Some called for the Cremora-water mixture to be chilled overnight after mixing. Some advised you to mix it with hot or boiling water. Others with iced water. Others just water, without stipulating.

Eventually, two weeks after that botchup, my confidence kicked in as it began to dawn on me what needed to be done.

My old friend Michael Olivier had WhatsApped me an old recipe, in Afrikaans – from one of the old community cookbooks I imagine, via somebody’s granny. I read it and it made absolute sense. It was unusual, when compared with some of the others I’d read, in that it called for the powder to be mixed with boiling water and then cooled completely.

I took this a bit further. After beating it to within an inch of its life, I put it in the freezer to chill right down.

But the main point that was driven home to me in all of my research was that I had erred, at the first attempt, by beating the Cremora and water together, whisking in the condensed milk, then adding all the lemon juice at once and not nearly beating enough.

And here’s the essential point: it needs to be whipped till soft peak stage.

So, when I returned to the dish, having found my courage, I made it in three distinct parts (not counting the crust):

  1. Whisk the powder with boiling water, really well, then refrigerate until chilled. (One part water to two parts Cremora.)
  2. Whisk the lemon juice into the condensed milk, a little juice at a time, and beat very well.
  3. Beat the chilled dairy mixture into the condensed milk mixture until it becomes very thick and forms soft peaks. Only now is it ready to go into the crust.
  4. Okay, there’s a fourth point, but do this first: Crumble biscuits, (Marie or Tennis) and mix with melted butter, to push into a buttered pie dish, and refrigerate until needed.

I had hardly beaten the mixture at all when adding the lemon juice the first time around, so that was clearly my mistake. 

But now it’s cemented. I’ve learnt a new trick. It turned out superbly the second time. Lesson, learnt. I used lemon-flavoured Tennis biscuits for the base, by the way.

(Makes 1 tart)

Ingredients

1 x 200 g packet of Lemon Tennis Biscuits

125 g butter

250 g Cremora powder (powdered milk substitute)

125 ml/ ½ cup boiling water

1 x 385 g can of condensed milk

125 ml/ ½ cup lemon juice

Method

Crumble the Tennis biscuits in a bowl, using clean fingers. Melt the butter and stir it in well. Grease a dish with butter and push the biscuit mixture in and up the sides or just at the bottom. Refrigerate. (One way is to use the flat end of a tumbler or whisky glass to push the biscuits down evenly.)

Pour the powder into a bowl, add the boiling water and beat very well, ensuring that all of the powder is properly combined with the water. Refrigerate or pop into the freezer but only long enough for it to chill completely, not freeze.

Pour the condensed milk into another bowl. Beat vigorously while adding the lemon juice a little at a time. Keep aside until the first mixture is sufficiently chilled.

Now pour the chilled dairy mixture into the condensed milk-lemon mixture while beating continuously, and keep beating until it is very thick and forming soft peaks. I started with a whisk and then switched to a wooden spoon. It took about 20 minutes to thicken.

Take the tart dish out of the fridge, pour the mixture in, smooth the top with the flat end of a knife, and refrigerate for about six hours until set. I sprinkled some lemon zest on top “just for pretty”. DM

Follow Tony Jackman on Instagram @tony_jackman_cooks.

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