Maids of honour tarts are small cheesecakes that, according to one of the beloved legends, were named after one of the maids of honour of one of the wives of Henry VIII. The king was so besotted with the tarts that he locked up the maid of honour so she could bake these for him.






Skill level

No votes yet

Recipes for maids of honour do not appear in the time of Henry VIII, but sometimes appear in books in the 18th century. In Richmond near London, where Henry VIII lived, Newens The Original Maids of Honour shop has existed since 1850. Here you can still buy these delicious tarts and the recipe is a closely guarded secret. Recipes in old cookery books vary, with some fillings consisting of custard while others are thickened with cheese, almond flour and sometimes even mashed potatoes.

This recipe is based on a recipe from the 1792 book, The New Art of Cookery, by Richard Briggs. The original used sweet curd cheese, which is made with fresh milk to which rennet is added. To make this cheese you need unpasteurised cow’s milk, which isn’t available (nor legal) in many parts of the world. The tarts can also be made with curd cheese produced from sour milk or milk that has been soured by the addition of buttermilk or lemon juice.

The result is, however, a more acidic filling. I prefer in this case to substitute the curd cheese for ricotta.



Curd cheese (if using)

  • 2 litres (8 cups) raw milk
  • 1 tsp rennet

Quick puff pastry

  • 240 g (8½ oz) butter, diced, plus extra for greasing
  • 240 g (8½ oz) plain (all-purpose) flour
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • 130 ml (4 fl oz) ice-cold water


  • 110 g (3¾ oz) butter
  • 100 ml (3½ fl oz) cream, with at least 40% fat
  • 110 g (3¾ oz) white sugar
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 egg
  • zest of ½ lemon, grated
  • 25 g (1 oz) candied cedro, very finely chopped
  • 1 drop orange blossom water
  • 230 g (8 oz) curd cheese or ricotta

Cook's notes

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.


You will need baking trays with 6 cm (2½ inch) shallow mince pie moulds

Start this recipe at least half a day before baking, to make the cheese

Chilling time: about 2 hrs 30 minutes

1. To make the cheese, start half a day in advance or the day before. Place a clean piece of muslin (cheesecloth) in a colander over a large bowl. Heat the milk in a large saucepan until it reaches 37°C (99°F), then remove it from the heat and thoroughly stir in the rennet. Leave to rest for 15–30 minutes or until the cheese has set (if nothing happens, then you haven’t added enough rennet). Carefully pour the cheese into the cheesecloth. Pour off the whey (you can keep it for baking). Drain the cheese in the cloth above the bowl for 4 hours.

2. For the pastry, put the diced butter in the freezer for 30 minutes. Put the flour and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer and place in the fridge if you have space.

3. To make the filling, melt the butter, then let it cool and add the cream, sugar, egg yolks, egg, lemon zest, candied cedro and orange blossom water and mix well. Pass the curd through a fine sieve into a large bowl, then gradually add the butter mixture and combine well.

4. To make the pastry, take the butter from the freezer and the bowl from the fridge. Toss the butter in the flour so that the butter is coated with flour. This will prevent sticking. Pulse the mixture twice for 1 second. Add half of the cold water and pulse three times, then add the rest of the water and pulse six times.

5. Dust your work surface with flour and take the dough out of the bowl. Push the dough flat with your hands but do not knead it – the small chunks of butter that are visible in the dough must be preserved and not be blended with the flour.

6. Dust the dough with flour and pat it flat into a square with a rolling pin. Fold the dough in three parts like a letter, pat it down lightly with the rolling pin and then fold it in three again, but in the opposite direction. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator. The dough will be marbled with the butter and that is the intention. Repeat the folding and chilling step three times.

7. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 180°C (350°F) and butter the tart tins.

8. Roll out the dough until 2 mm (¹⁄16 inch) thick. Use a 7–8 cm (2¾-3¼ inch) round cutter to cut out the pastry. Use the pastry to line the tart tins and prick each base with a fork three times. Knead the remaining dough back together and continue to cut out rounds. If you’re not cooking the pastry bases immediately, put them in the fridge because the pastry must remain cold.

9. Fill the tarts with the filling and bake in the oven for 20–25 minutes until they are golden and the filling is a light golden yellow with a golden-brown blush and the surface has puffed up and cracked. Let the tarts cool, but eat them as soon as possible.


Recipe and image from Oats in the North, Wheat from the South by Regula Ysewijn, photography by Regula Ysewijn (Murdoch Books, $49.99). Out now.