Happy New Year! I hope you and yours celebrated somehow, and that the start of the year has been good to you so far. We kept things pretty quiet around here - celebrated with some friends at a bar. We took a tiny bit of time off from the studio, but still somehow found ourselves working right after new year's day. I did take a little baking hiatus however - the pre-christmas rush really knocked me around a little, so it was nice to just hide from the internet a little. I made a couple of batches of cookies - Sarah Kieffer's famous pan banging numbers (forever dubbed FOMO cookies), and then Alison Roman's Salted Chocolate Chunk Shortbread which were also AMAZING in a totally different way. I also made a buttload of new dinner recipes - my new fave thing is to follow a recipe at the end of the day. Someone else making the decisions about what I am making and how I am making it is super relaxing.
And then I started to get a little twitchy - I hadn't picked up my camera for a solid two weeks (and of course all the cards were full, and the battery was flat), and I had been DYING to try making puff pastry for the longest time, and I figured it was something that would need documenting. So I kick-started back with a recipe which was a combination of following a recipe (Erin Mcdowell's amazing puff pastry), and putting my own spin on an old fave, and landed here with this custard square recipe.
From the response on IG stories, most people either love love love custard square, or have never heard of it. I fall squarely in the love love love camp - it was one of my favourite things growing up, They tended to be made with a greasy pastry and a bouncy yellow custard (unless you got a Denheath one, which I would pay serious money to have, RIGHT NOW), and even then were so amazing. The best bakery treat, and super satisfying to make at home yourself.
Custard square is a love story of three elements which are amazing alone, but come together to create actual magic. We start with flaky puff pastry - you can use store bought, but I chose to give making my own a try, and realised it was surprisingly easy. The pastry is baked between two baking trays to avoid extreme puffiness. Once it is cooled and trimmed, one piece is placed in a lined baking tin, and covered with a creamy vanilla bean custard. A second piece of pastry gets placed on top, and the whole thing goes for a nap in the fridge to set up. Once cooled, it is covered in a vanilla bean glaze (aka a fancy version of that shitty icing we all grew up on), and carefully sawed into squares. The combination of crispy pastry, creamy smooth custard and sweet icing is one of the greatest things ever.
A few wee tips:
You can absolutely use store bought puff pastry in this recipe. - you will need about two sheets. Just make sure it is rolled out to a square about 12"x12" so that you have enough to fill the tin - it shrinks a lot when baked. I do encourage you to try making your own - I promise it is much less scary than it looks!
Bear in mind that if you use a different puff recipe or bought pastry, it may require a different baking time.
If you use a different pastry recipe, you will need approximately 700g dough.
I made Erin Mcdowell's pastry from her new book (which is amazing and you need). There is a chocolate version here. Erin does an amazing job of explaining here, so if you need visual pointers it's a great place to look!
Make sure that you allow time - it takes 2-3 hours (lots of this is waiting) to make the pastry, then the custard square ideally should cool overnight.
I found that when making my own pastry, obsessively squaring off the edges helped, along with measuring the temperature of the butter and the dough before I started the folds to ensure that they were a similar temperature.
You only use half of the puff in the recipe here - the rest freezes perfectly for use in another project.
You can get custard powder in supermarkets, or online!
- Makes about 16 -
Pastry Recipe, with permission, from The Fearless Baker
453g (1 lb) unsalted butter, at room temperature
71g (2/3 cup) Bread Flour
397 (3 3/13 cups) bread flour
198g (1 2/3 cups) All-purpose flour
6g (1 1/2 tsp) fine sea salt
113g (8 Tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tbsp vanilla bean paste (optional)
287g (1 cup plus 3 Tbsp) cool water
Vanilla Bean Custard
720ml (3 cups) whole milk
480ml (2 cups) heavy cream
1 Tbsp vanilla bean paste
pinch of Salt
65g (1/2 cup) custard powder
200g (1 cup) sugar
3 eggs, at room temperature
70g unsalted butter, at room temperature
375g (3 cups) powdered sugar, sifted
45g unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
whole milk to mix (a few tablespoons)
- PROCESS -
Cut a piece of parchment paper so it measures approximately 13 x 18 inches. (I use pre-cut sheets which are this size). Position with the short side facing you.
In a medium bowl, place the butter and flour. Mix vigorously using a silicone spatula. Spread onto the bottom third of the parchment paper, and use an offset spatula to spread into a rectangle 6"x9", and 1/2" thick. Carefully square off the edges. Wrap in the parchment paper, and place in the fridge to firm up.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the bread flour, all-purpose flour, and salt. Add the butter and vanilla, and mix on low until the butter is fully incorporated into the mixture. Add the water, and mix until a dough forms, 5-6 minutes. Increase the speed, and mix on high for 2-3 minutes until smooth.
Turn out onto a piece of plastic wrap, and pat into a rectangle with your hands. Wrap in the plastic and rest in the refrigerator for 40-50 minutes.
Once the butter and the dough are a similar temperature (16˚c / 60˚f to 21˚c / 70˚f), remove both from the fridge. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to a rectangle 12" x 10", taking time to carefully measure, and squaring off the edges using a bench scraper if necessary. (This will make doing the folding much, much easier). Orient the rectangle so that the short side is facing you.
Using the paper as a guide, peel back half of the parchment on the butter, and place on the bottom half of the dough, leaving a 1/2" margin around the edges. Fold the top half of the dough down over the butter block, pressing firmly around the edges to seal, and tuck any excess dough underneath the block. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic, place on a baking sheet lined with parchment, and rest in the refrigerator for approximately 30 minutes.
Turn #1: 4-fold
Remove the dough from the fridge, and unwrap. On a lightly floured surface, roll out to a 1/2 inch thick rectangle that is 13" wide and 19" long. If it is too warm and is becoming sticky, return to the fridge for a little more rest time. If it is too hard, allow to sit at room temp to soften a little. 30 minutes worked well for each rest time for me. Square off the edges. Turn the dough so a long edge is facing you. Take the left edge of the dough, and fold 3/4 of the way across the dough, lining up the edges. Fold the right edge to meet the left, about 1/4 of the way across. Fold the dough in half, left side over right. Transfer to the baking sheet, brush off extra flour, and cover with plastic wrap. Rest for another 30 minutes.
Turn #2: 3-fold
Remove the dough from the fridge. On a lightly floured surface, repeat the rolling process - roll to 13" x 19", and square the edges. Turn so a long edge is facing you. Fold the left side of the dough 1/3 of the way across, then fold the right side of the dough over the left (so you have 3 layers of dough). Place on the baking sheet, brush off flour, cover and refrigerate. Rest for 30 minutes.
Turn #3: 4-fold
Repeat the process for a 4-fold as explained above, taking care to square the edges. Cover and rest for 30 minutes.
Turn #4: 3-fold
This is your final fold. Roll out, square off, and repeat the instructions for a 3-fold above. Cover, and rest for 30 minutes.
At this stage the dough is ready to be used - cut in half, and store the dough either wrapped tightly in the fridge (you will use one half for the custard square and you can keep the rest for another project), or in the freezer.
To make the pastry sheets, preheat the oven to 180c / 350˚f. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Take 700g of the prepared pastry (one half of the recipe above), and divide the piece into two. Wrap half in plastic and place in the fridge until needed - you will do this in two batches.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the first piece of pastry into a square that measures 11" square - this allows for shrinkage. Place onto the prepared baking sheet, and top with a second piece of parchment paper, then place a second baking sheet on top, to help prevent rising.
Place the baking sheets in the oven, and place something heavy such as a cast iron skillet on top of the second baking sheet. Bake the pastry for approximately 40 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove the top baking sheet, and parchment paper, and bake uncovered for a further 5 minutes. Allow to cool slightly on the baking sheet, before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
Repeat the process with the second piece of pastry. Using a sharp knife and the tin you are planning on using as a guide, trim the pastry squares so that they are the same size as your tin (I used a 9" square tin). Set aside until ready to assemble.
VANILLA BEAN CUSTARD
In a large heavy bottomed saucepan, place the milk, cream, vanilla paste and salt. Heat over medium heat, until it is very hot to the touch and just shy of a simmer.
Meanwhile, while the milk is heating, place the custard powder and sugar in a medium bowl, and whisk to combine. Add the eggs, and whisk until well combined and slightly pale in colour.
Once the milk mixture has heated, remove it from the heat, and, whisking constantly, pour half of it into the egg mixture. Whisk well to combine, before adding the rest of the milk and whisking very well. Wash and dry the saucepan, and return to the stove. Strain the mixture back into the saucepan, and place over low to medium heat. Cook for 10-15 minutes, whisking constantly, until the custard is very thick. Remove from the heat and add the butter a small piece at a time, whisking to incorporate before adding the next piece.
Use immediately for assembly.
Line a 9" square tin with two sheets of baking paper, extending over the sides of the tin to act as a 'sling'. Place the first piece of puff pastry in the bottom of the tin, trimming slightly to make it fit if needed.
Pour the hot custard over the top of the puff pastry, and smooth with an offset spatula. Place the second piece of pastry on top, pressing down lightly to ensure there are no air bubbles. Cover the tin with plastic wrap, and place in the fridge to set for at least 3-4 hours, or up to overnight.
Once the custard has set, carefully use the parchment paper to remove the custard square from the tin, and place on a chopping board or large plate. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or using an electric mixer, combine the sifted powdered sugar, butter, and vanilla bean paste until fluffy. Add milk a tablespoon at a time until a spreadable consistency has been reached.
Spread the icing over the surface of the custard square, then place briefly in the fridge to allow the icing to set.
Once the icing has set, cut into 16 squares using a bread knife which has been run under cold water and then wiped. Use a careful sawing motion. Serve immediately, or refrigerate until ready to serve. Best served slightly cold, on the day or the day after they are made.
Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge.