I love a bit of kitchen alchemy but this has me absolutely stumped. How is it that evaporated milk and sugar can set to a frothy but stable mousse without any eggs or gelatine or anything? Baffling.
Ever since I first started reading the BBC Food Boards (RIP) about 12 years ago, I have seen people begging for foolproof gypsy tart recipes. Apparently gypsy tart is a regional specialty from Kent which for many people is the one element of school dinners that is fondly remembered. And the filling is just evaporated milk and dark muscovado sugar.
Finally the curiosity became unbearable and I had to make it. I read a lot of recipes. Consensus seemed to be that the evaporated milk needed to be chilled, the sugar had to be dark muscovado and the two had to be whipped together for 15 minutes before pouring the froth into a blind-baked pastry case, and finished in the oven for a few minutes.
Because the tart itself was going to be so sweet, I made a little not-very-sweet compote of peaches with vanilla bean and a dash of rum to serve on the side.
Then I embarked on the tart itself. I decided to use Mark Sargeant's recipe. A Kentish boy who grew up to be a much-lauded chef had to know what he was about, surely? Although his proportions were a bit different to the other recipes I looked at...
I did leave the sugar out of the pastry because I felt that there was more than enough sugar in the dish without it. And maybe that was why the pastry turned out to be absolutely unworkable. Even chilled for 45 minutes it was still too soft to handle and I ended up having to just press it into the pie dish in a rather thicker layer than I wanted, and then chill it again before blind baking.
I don't have a 21cm tart tin, so I used a 23cm pie plate. So you'd think the filling would be a more sparse layer. No. The filling made twice as much as necessary. I poured the rest into a little glass baking dish and baked it in a bain marie.
And it tasted good! The very dark sugar gave some interesting caramel notes so it wasn't just unrelieved sweetness and the light, moussey texture was lovely. If you do try to make this recipe I would use the full 500g of pastry in a 28cm dish OR make half the amount of filling for a 21cm pie. Personally, my curiosity has been sated. It was really delicious (especially with the peaches) but I will not make it again unless specially requested. For some reason, it gave me absolutely shocking heartburn. But don't let that put you off...