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A gypsy tart is a type of pie made from milk, sugar, and a shortbread pie crust that is usually primarily flour. It is typically light to dark brown in color and relatively thin compared to other pies. Like most recipes, the exact ingredients vary depending on what texture and taste the cook is looking for. Due to the significant amount of sugar in a gypsy tart, this type of baked dessert is very sweet. In England, the dessert was once associated with school meals because it was a popular school dinner item from the 1960s to the 1980s.
The three ingredients that compose a gypsy tart are usually evaporated milk, muscovado sugar—an unrefined brown sugar with a strong molasses taste—and a traditional flour pie crust. Most gypsy tart recipes call for about 12 ounces (340 grams) of evaporated milk, which is milk with a significant portion of water removed. Other recipes replace evaporated milk with condensed milk to give the tart a firmer texture, sweeter taste, and darker color. At least one cup of muscovado sugar is often considered a necessity for baking traditional gypsy tarts. Lastly, the shortbread pie crust is usually store-bought rather than made from scratch.
Preparing the tart for baking usually has few steps, though the actual preparation process may vary between recipes. The milk and sugar is beaten with an electric mixer or whisk until fluffy and uniformly brown in color, then poured onto the prepared crust. After baking for ten minutes at 400 °F (204 °C), the gypsy tart should be chilled. The surface of the tart will be sticky until it sets completely in the refrigerator overnight. Until the it sets, the tart will be a thick liquid that cannot be sliced or transferred to another dish without difficulty.
While gypsy tarts can be eaten plain, some people adorn them with caramel, thinly sliced bananas, or other fruit toppings. A cookie crumb or graham cracker crust can also be substituted in place of the shortbread crust. Many other variations of the traditional gypsy tart recipe are widely used.
It is believed that the gypsy tart originated in southeast England, though how it was invented is not known for certain. According to legend, a woman fed the treat to starving gypsy children that played near her house. While this exact scenario is unlikely, the gypsy tart slowly became popular in Kent, England, eventually ending up on school menus. The open-top pie remains a traditional Kentish dessert, and can be found in bakeries of other countries as well.
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