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Gypsy Tart is a dessert from the Isle of Sheppey in East Kent, in the south-east of England. It comprises a shortcrust pastry base, with a whipped evaporated milk and dark muscovado sugar filling, baked in the oven.

Legend has it that a woman on the Isle of Sheppey took pity on some impoverished-looking gypsy children and invented a tart using whatever ingredients she could find in her home with which to feed them. Whether or not this tale is true, gypsy tart was always popular in school meals.

Although purists might make gypsy tart with regular evaporated milk, condensed milk may be used instead as it is simply evaporated milk that has been sweetened. Whether you prefer to use evaporated or condensed milk in your recipe, always chill the can in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before you need it, but preferably overnight.

This tart is very sweet and using condensed milk instead of evaporated milk will make it even sweeter with a darker colour, so I would recommend adding less sugar in the mixture. Light muscovado sugar can also be substituted for the molasses-rich dark variety and will also produce a lighter colour.

My version of this tart has a gluten-free pastry case. The flour blend I used already contained Xanthan gum, which acts as a stabilizer, but you will need to add a little extra to ensure the pastry holds together well. If you are not a coeliac or sensitive to gluten, then you may use regular plain flour.

I made a slightly sweet shortcrust pastry which I mixed in a food processor, but the pastry can also be made by the traditional rubbing-in method if you prefer. The pastry case should be baked blind before the filling is added. I brushed beaten egg on the pastry base for the last few minutes to seal it and prevent any leakage from the filling. The rest of the beaten egg can be used in another recipe but I added mine to the mixture and stirred it in thoroughly to combine.

It is crucial to whisk the evaporated milk or condensed milk with the sugar until it thickens sufficiently in order to ‘set’ during baking, otherwise even if it is cooked the filling will go everywhere – although it will still taste delicious either on its own or perhaps with a dollop of crème fraiche. I sprinkled a little cinnamon and nutmeg over the tart before popping it into the oven. The tart is ready once the filling has risen and the surface is tacky. Leave to cool before serving to allow the filling to set.

INGREDIENTS

For the pastry

  • 225g plain (all purpose) gluten-free flour, sifted – I used Dove’s Farm
  • 1 tsp Xanthan gum
  • Pinch of salt
  • 100g unsalted butter, diced
  • 50g icing sugar, sifted
  • 1 medium free-range whole egg, plus 1 beaten.

For the filling

  • 397g can condensed milk or 410g can evaporated milk
  • 250g dark muscovado sugar (300g if using evaporated milk)

First of all, make the pastry. Put the icing sugar and butter in a food processor, add one egg and whizz until combined. Then add the flour and xanthan gum and whizz again until the mixture just comes together. If the mixture still looks crumbly, add a teaspoon of cold water and pulse, repeating if necessary to avoid overworking the pastry.

Dust your clean work surface with flour, turn the dough out on to the work surface bringing it together with your hands and knead lightly, shaping the pastry into a ball or a flat disc. Wrap in cling film or greaseproof paper and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to allow the dough to relax, which produces a lighter, shorter pastry for a good tart base.

Heat the oven to 180C/160C fan/350F/gas 4 and grease the base and sides of a 20-23cm tart tin.

If you have made gluten-free pastry, it might be necessary to knead it very lightly before rolling out. Roll out the pastry to about the thickness of a £1 coin and lift it carefully round your rolling pin and into the greased tart tin carefully pushing the pastry into and up the sides of the tin. Prick the base all over with a fork and return to the refrigerator for another 20 minutes to harden.

Line the pastry case with scrunched-up greaseproof or baking paper, fill it with ceramic or glass baking beans (use dry rice, beans, pasta or lentils if you have no baking beans) and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes. Remove the baking beans, brush the beaten second egg over the base and return to the oven for 3 minutes or until the base is golden and the sides set. Reduce the oven temperature to 170C/150 fan/325F/gas 3.

Meanwhile, make the filling. Beat together the condensed or evaporated milk and the sugar together in a bowl with a hand-held mixer or in a stand mixer until the mixture is light and fluffy. This may take up to 20 minutes. Fold in the rest of the beaten egg, if using and pour the mixture into the pre-cooked pastry base and bake for 15 minutes or until risen and the surface is tacky. The tart is ready when there is a slight film over the surface.

Remove the tart from the oven and leave to cool and set before serving. Any leftover tart may be covered over and stored in the refrigerator. Eat within a couple of days.

COOK’S NOTES:

When making the pastry base, you may substitute caster sugar for icing sugar or you may omit the sugar completely for a slightly less sweet tart.

If you want a deeper tart, use a deeper 20cm tart tin rather than a 23cm regular tart tin.

Serve your tart on its own, sprinkled with a little sifted icing sugar or any cream of your choice perhaps with a little citrus zing of finely-grated lemon or lime zest which will help to cut through the sweetness.