Gypsy Tart recipe

With just five ingredients, this is a great sweet treat for a weekend at the Muskoka cottage

 What could be better for Victoria Day at the cottage than a Victorian dessert? Gypsy Tart is sweet, simple, and incredibly delicious, using just two ingredients for the filling and three more in the simple, nutty crust.

The dish originated on the Isle of Sheppey, located near the mouth of the Thames on the English Channel. For a while Gypsy Tart was a regular part of school lunches all over England, but it seems to have faded away somewhat.

If you’re looking for a not-too-sweet dessert, this is not it: Gypsy Tart is really sweet! But served in thin slices with a side of sliced apple to balance the sweetness, it’s a great way to end a meal.

While few of us use canned milk for anything other than baking these days, at the end of the Victorian era condensed milk and evaporated milk were enormously popular. With little to no refrigeration available, canned milk was often the only milk available.  It was relatively cheap and while it didn’t have all the nutrients of whole milk, it was better than nothing. So it’s not surprising that both evaporated and condensed milk were used in a wide array of recipes.

The legend of Gypsy Pie hints at that: the story goes that a gypsy woman encountered a band of hungry children and wanted to give them something to eat. She only had a few ingredients, including a tin of evaporated milk, and so the dish was born.

Be sure to use evaporated milk for this dish, not condensed milk: the latter will make your Gypsy Pie much too sweet, even for hungry Victorian street urchins!  If you can find muscovado sugar, use it. If not, use the darkest brown sugar you can find.

Beating together the filling is a vital step. Fifteen minutes with an electric mixer is a long time, but it makes a big difference. While you’re doing it, think for a moment about the strong-armed Victorian bakers who did this part by hand!

This recipe comes from the tourism site for Deal, England. Deal is located an hour’s drive from the Isle of Sheppey, so it is quite authentic.


For the crust:

2 cups all-purpose flour

½ cup butter

1 medium egg

For the filling:

1 can unsweetened evaporated milk

1 ¼ cups dark brown sugar (muscovado sugar, if you can find it)


Sift the flour into a bowl. Add the butter and cut it until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Beat the egg and add it, along with 1-2 tbsp of water, and mix to form a dough.

Form into a ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for half an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Roll the dough on a floured surface, then place in a nine-inch pan. A fluted tart tin is traditional, but if you don’t have one, you can use a pie pan. Leave the edges a bit long to allow for shrinkage in the oven.

Place a disk of parchment paper inside the pastry shell, pour in some dry beans or baking beads, and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the beans and paper and bake for 5-10 minutes longer, until golden.

Mix the evaporated milk and sugar together in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer for 15 minutes, until sugar is completely dissolved, and the mixture is incredibly light and frothy.

Pour carefully into the pie shell and bake for 20 minutes. It should be sticky on top, but not wobbly.

Let cool, then put in the fridge overnight to set.

For more cottage-friendly recipes, check out these blog posts.

Posted in Thoughts on Food.

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