Maids of Honour - Traditional English Custard Cheesecake Tarts

Total Time
Prep 30 mins
Cook 30 mins

These old fashioned English tea tarts are somewhere between cheesecake and custard, and are similar to those served at the Maids of Honour tea rooms in Richmond, Surrey, England (the official recipe is a closely guarded secret) since the early 18th century. I prefer a shortcrust pastry shell, but you may use a puff pastry if you prefer---9 ounces of packaged puff pastry should be sufficient for the job. Recipe is slightly adapted from one found in a Nigella Lawson cookbook.

Ingredients Nutrition


  1. Pre-heat the oven to 425F degrees.
  2. In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour with the diced butter and the scant teaspoonfuls of shortening. Cover and place the bowl into the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, in another bowl, place the eggs, lemon juice, rosewater or orange-flower water, and a pinch of salt and put in the refrigerator. Using a food processor (or by hand, but this will take some elbow grease), blend the fats and flour until the pastry just begins to come together, yet still is a little coarse and crumbly. Take care not to over-blend, as this process goes quickly, so watch carefully. Gradually feed the liquids in through the feeder spout until the pastry is almost coming together. Scoop it out onto a flour-dusted work surface and knead a few times with your hands, then form into two discs, wrap each disc in cling wrap, and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before rolling out.
  4. While pastry is chilling, make the filling. Cut lengthwise down the vanilla bean with the tip of a sharp knife. Place the vanilla bean with the cream into a saucepan, and heat to just under the boiling point over a medium heat. Do not boil or it will curdle. Off the heat and remove the bean, scraping some of the seeds into the cream. Now add the butter, sugar, ground almonds, egg, lemon zest and juice, and the rosewater or orange-flower water, stirring well to combine. Let stand for about 10 minutes.
  5. Roll out half the pastry, cut out 12 rounds with a 3-inch round cutter, and place into a 12-hole tart or muffin pan, pressing down with your fingers so they're well lined. Spoon half the filling into the pastry cases (remembering you'll have a second batch to do). Leave a good inch below the rim, as the custard will rise up as it bakes. Dust lightly with some fresh nutmeg and transfer carefully to the pre-heated oven and bake for 15-20 minutes until the custard's golden and puffy.
  6. Let the tarts sit in the pan for a few minutes before standing, unmolded, on a wire rack to cool. Dust tops with icing sugar.
  7. When the pan is cool, repeat with the remaining ingredients.
  8. Leave the tarts to cool a little before serving (arrange them on a pretty serving plate or silver platter), but they are best eaten still slightly warm.