Me: Should I bring custard squares on Saturday?
Mum: OMG Yeeeessss
I also heard Mum used the crying laughing face emoji last night. When did Mum get so hip and cool and down with the kids?
I haven’t made custard squares in yonks. I used to make them all the time. I think the last time I made them was when I was down at my friend Gil’s farm and her Mum bought two packets of pastry in anticipation of my arrival.
I had forgotten how niggley custard is to make. A lot of eggs, a lot of milk and a lot of stirring and a lot of waiting. Lumps are inevitable and alas I cheat and just bung all the cooked custard into my cake mixer and beat all the lumps out with a whisk attachment (no one will ever know I got lazy when stirring…)
Somehow you want to create a super thick gloopy mixture without making lumps or boiling it so that the egg curdles (mm mm who doesn’t love sweet scrambled eggs?) It takes a stupid amount of patience that can only be appeased by taste testing at regular intervals. Oh and cream. The secret is cream. All the cream. Ideally you want the super fatty milk straight from the vat but alas finding a vat in the city is somewhat a challenge so mixing in cream with the milk is the next best thing.
I was in Christchurch the other weekend with the boyfriend when we spied some lads sitting on a bench by the river with good old bakery pies in hand. We immediately got pie envy so hunted down this bakery to acquire our own. These of course were accompanied by a custard square shared between the two of us. Only a classic Kiwi bakery custard square can get away with being so terribly gelatinous. Sure on any regular foodie scale these would be considered appalling but there is something oh so nostalgic about leaving teeth marks in the custard. It was here I discovered Dylan’s own love of custard squares and so I sought to impress him by vowing to make him one of mine.
Homemade custard squares are like gold at our family get togethers. Every beady little eye eyes them up, adults and kids alike. I had to tell my Uncle off when he went to go get seconds before everyone else had had even had firsts. Luckily I managed to siphon one off to Dylan before the gannets of my family started circling and yes he was impressed. Phew. If you ever meet someone who says they don’t like custard squares, don’t be friends with them. You just don’t need that kind of negative energy in your life.
Just a note on metal tins – I used a really old metal square tin (you know, like the one your Nana still uses)– don’t do this – if the custard comes in contact with the tin it gets an awful metallic rusty taste to it. I would recommend assembling these in an old plastic box or a new non-stick tin that you don’t mind scratching with a knife.
This recipe was once loosely adapted from Alexa Johnston's in Ladies, a plate.
Makes 9 (or 1 20cm single square...)
2 sheets flaky puff pastry
For the custard:
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
2 1/2 cups full fat milk
1/2 cup cream
190g white sugar
100g plain flour
2 teaspoons good quality vanilla essence
For the icing:
2 cups icing sugar
50g butter, softened
Splash of cream to loosen
1 teaspoon good quality vanilla essence
Desiccated coconut to top if desired
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees on bake and line a baking tray or two with baking paper.
Take two sheets of semi-defrosted flaky puff pastry and bake for 15-20 minutes until puffy and golden, leave to cool.
To make the custard, beat together the sugar,eggs, vanilla and flour until thick and pale. I usually leave my cake mixer going on high for a few minutes. In a large saucepan, heat together the cream and milk until just too hot to pop your finger in.
With the mixer or hand beater on a slow but steady speed, start slowly pouring in the hot milk, being careful to not add too much at a time (that will cause the eggs to scramble!). Once all the milk has been added and all the egg and sugar mix has been incorporated, transfer the custard back into the saucepan. On a low heat with rubber spatula in hand start stirring the custard. Use the spatula to scrape the thickened custard off the bottom of the pan. If it looks like the custard is getting too hot remove the pan from the heat and leave to cool for a few minutes before returning. You do not want the custard to boil! This is a slow process but boiling your custard will make the process even slower - you'll have to start again. Keep stirring and scraping until the custard resembles a very thick paste.
Leave the custard to cool in the pan for 20 or so minutes - the cooler the custard when you assemble the squares the thicker it will be.
Line a 20cm square baking tin, ceramic baking dish or even plastic container with baking paper. Trim the pastry sheets slightly if necessary and place the first one on the base so that it fits snuggly. Pour over the custard and smooth to the edges. Place the second pastry sheet over the top - don't be afraid to press down and break the puff structure.
To make the icing, beat together the icing sugar, butter, vanilla and enough cream to create a fluffy and spreadable icing. Smooth this over the top of the second pastry sheet. Top with desiccated coconut if you wish. Leave to set in the fridge overnight (ok six hours would probably suffice). Slice into squares in the tin with a large flat knife.