Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Ultimate Custard Square Hunt - Edmonds Cookbook

This week is Maori Language Week - Te Mahi Kai (the language of food) and one of my workmates proposed a 'state of origin' lunch, where everyone brings a plate that identifies with their ethnicity or heritage.

I have been meaning to make custard squares for a while, and as a New Zealander (I think 4th-5th generation - Mum will correct me in the comments if I'm wrong!) - and as someone who always prefers to make sweet things - I eventually settled on custard squares.

Now, I know they're derived from mille-feuille, which is French, and I know you can get 'vanilla slice' and other similar things in England and Australia, but it seems to me the custard square is a pretty iconic Kiwi treat - think back to the tearooms that were everywhere before the cafe culture hit - in your mind there's a custard square in there, next to the scones and the cream buns, right? ;-)

Once again, I resorted to the trusty Edmonds cookbook for my recipe (I would love other custard square recipes, though - feel free to email me at if you have one you think I should try!).

Because Edmonds make custard powder pretty much every custard-related recipe in the cookbook uses custard uses their custard powder. I generally prefer to make my custard from scratch but this way is a bit easier so worth a try.

The first step is to bake some pastry. I really can't be bothered with making my own flaky pastry - waaaaaaaaaaay too much effort for average results - and really like the Edmonds butter puff pastry you can get frozen at the supermarket (this whole post is basically turning into a big promo for Edmonds, huh?).

Because the pastry is supposed to be flat you have to stab it many times with a fork, as evidenced above, so the air can escape and it cooks to crispy, but flat, perfection. Keep a clean teatowel on hand and gently press any air which does get in out as soon as the pastry comes out of the oven.

The custard lifecycle

The custard was pretty straightforward - though do remember to stir it continually - the biggest problem I had was the rather oblique instruction to "Cook until mixture is very thick." Well, sure, but what is very thick? Certainly well past the normal custard measure of 'coats the back of a spoon'. We'll go with 'gloopy and a bit wobbly', shall we?

I baked the pastry and made the custard late last night, then left the custard to chill overnight and assembled it all this morning before work. I used the mixer to smooth out the set custard (the second-to-last photo above shows you the roughed up custard before I did this) and then (my little addition) whipped some cream and beat it through the custard. This gave me a nice, smooth (but still suitably viscous) custard with a little extra decadence-factor.

Assembling the thing was easier than I expected; the trick is having thick enough custard. I baked four sheets of pastry but only needed three for the amount of custard I had (a double recipe). I lined up tops and bottoms and made sure the join lined up, then spread the custard over the bottom pieces and put the others on top. Easy peasy. Then I made a simple butter/icing sugar icing with a bit of lemon juice, and sprinkled coconut over the top. To transport it to work I cut it into slabs and put it into two large containers, then let it chill in the fridge there until lunchtime, when I cut it up for my colleagues to enjoy. My best custard square cutting trick; tip the bit you are trying to cut on its side and cut through that way - stops the filling squishing out the sides!

Custard Squares (adapted from Edmonds cookbook)
2 sheets ready rolled puff pastry (you will likely only need 1.5 but the geometry is easier if you trim 2!)
4 Tbsp custard powder
3 Tbsp icing sugar
2 cups milk
50g butter
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp vanilla paste

Preheat oven to 220 C. Prick the pastry all over with a fork and bake for 8-10 minutes, until golden.

In a saucepan, mix custard powder, icing sugar, and 1/4 cup milk to a smooth paste. Mix in the remaining ingredients and cook over a medium heat until very thick and viscous (a bit wobbly!). Stir in vanilla paste. Press plastic wrap onto the surface of the custard and cool.

Spread custard over one of the pastry squares. Once you have spread it to the desired thickness you can trim if required - trim a matching piece off the pastry top, too. Place the second piece of pastry on top of the custard.

50g butter
1 cup icing sugar (approx)
lemon juice (or other flavouring of your choice)

Melt butter in a small bowl, then mix in icing sugar. Add water gradually until you get a thick pouring/spreading consistency. Spread over the top layer of pastry then sprinkle with coconut. Chill.

Cut into pieces to serve - best eaten within 24 hours.

So how was it? I was pretty pleased with the assembly - I have memories of custard oozing everywhere and it being more a custard sandwich than a slice, so I was pretty happy to produce something with height. I am not, as I mentioned earlier, a big fan of custard powder, and I felt the custard wasn't fantastic - next time I'll try a from scratch custard - and I would have liked to have had lemon zest for the icing. I gave them 6/10 (Mr Cake thinks 6.5/10), so not too shabby - but room for improvement. ;-)


  1. what did you rate it ??? :P how did it turn out?? i made it a while back (oviously i was at a disavantage as i didn't have edmounds custard powder) but my custard on my vinilla slice was horrid!!! might of been my bad who knows??

  2. lol, oops! I fixed it... I wasn't that impressed with the custard, though, will let you know when I figure out how to make it good! ;-)

  3. I also like it with choc icing and no coconut.
    Yours looks good though.

    1. I'm used to it with chocolate icing too. I'd love passionfruit, but you need fresh passionfruit and plenty of it, and passionfruit is expensive. My recipe is 2 sheets of puff pastry, stabbed well all over, and cooked for 10-12 minutes at about 180°C (fan on) and I pour the following custard into an expandable tin measuring slightly less than the pastry and lined with Gladwrap, with enough extra to cover the custard. And here's the custard:
      4 cups milk
      ¾ cup custard powder
      1 cup sugar
      3 eggs
      1 tsp vanilla. (I make my own, using vanilla beans and vodka.)
      Whisk all ingredients well together and heat in a fairly large saucepan over medium heat, stirring slowly to start with and faster as the mixture begins to thicken. I tend to turn off the gas once the thickening starts (the mixture tends to look as though it's going lumpy at this stage) and mix hard with a wooden spoon until it looks smooth again, and then I turn the heat back on until the custard starts to bubble at the edges. Pour into the lined tin, cover with the extra Gladwrap, pat it down smooth and let it cool. When cool it can be put in the fridge. When ready to serve, place a trimmed piece of the pastry over the custard, then a cooling rack and turn upside down. Remove the tin and the Gladwrap, place the other trimmed piece over the top and ice with chocolate icing. I don't have a recipe for this; I just put icing into a bowl, add enough cocoa to make it look like really dark dark chocolate, and then add water until it's the right consistency.

      This makes a really high custard slice. I like plenty of filling. To make it easier to cut, I put it back in one piece of the expandable tin and cut with a big sharp knife, starting from the open end.

    2. Thanks Laraine - sorry so slow to respond, somehow overlooked this comment earlier. I like the tip on cutting, that's always a challenge with custard squares.

  4. Ooh, don't know about chocolate icing. ;-) Passionfruit is good, though!

  5. So often Vanilla slice is made with using any Vanilla? Not sure why?

    I would use Heilala Vanilla extract (2 tsp) in the custard and Vanilla Paste (1 tsp) in the icing.

    Using real Vanilla will raise the taste to a new level!

  6. Thanks for reminding me - I did use vanilla paste in the custard. Have edited the recipe now! I do prefer a tangier icing, though - lemon or passionfruit are good complements for the custard. I am a vanilla fiend, though, definitely wouldn't attempt custard without vanilla. ;-)

  7. just wondering how you cut it without having it squish out the sides?!!!

  8. Use a serrated knife and a gentle sawing movement. I've found that once you've cut it into rows, so long as your custard is sufficiently set, tipping each row on its side to cut the pieces (so that you cut down instead of across the pastry) works better. Good luck! :-)

  9. that totally makes sense now thanks so much!!:)and also when you are cooking the mixture should it be on a medium heat?

  10. sorry I just read it properly and you did mention medium heat! also do you know how long they will keep for?

  11. I wouldn't keep them for more than a day or two in the fridge, but if you freeze them once chilled they should keep for a month or so frozen, and should defrost fine on paper towels in the fridge. :-)

  12. I think it may just be me but I would have used a short sweet pastry as it doesn't try to puff as much as puff pastry. Also for those who don't know or aren't sure of a home made custard, all you do is use the same amount of cornflour as you would of custard powder, 1-2 egg yolks or a splash of yellow food colouring (makes it fun for kids if you use different colours) and milk and sugar.
    Hope you enjoy :P

  13. Vel, short pastry wouldn't develop the beautiful flakiness, so I think it's worth using the puff stuff and squashing it afterwards. :-) Thanks for the custard recipe!

  14. Mmmmm... custard square! Rosa you're third on my Google search for 'custard square recipe' - I should just have come to you in the first place!

    We actually found a CS in Bristol, and wrote up a review and took pictures and everything - should post it on our blog sometime!!

  15. That's awesome... I win at Google (almost!). I'll post your review here too if you want - my friend Belinda has just sent me an Asda one which will appear in the next few days. ;-)

  16. Just a little un-asked-for tip... I find it easier to cook the pastry between two flat oven trays it keeps it flat not too puffy but allows enough air to achieve that pleasing flaky texture. In my opinion. Like your site.

  17. Anon, thanks for the tip - I'll have to try that. :-)

  18. or when pastry is cooked, press down (with a clean tea-towel is fine) to flatten. You do not have to use custard powder etc, you can use a cheats way and use 4 vanilla instant pudding packets, 600ml of cream, and 600ml of milk, beat until thick and spoon onto pastry. It is a bit sweeter but oh so good! :D

  19. Yes i have used oven trays when cooking pastry as well, and have also put oven tray on top of squares when they are assembled which is good trick.

  20. Do you need to use Vanilla Paste, or can you use just the store brought Vanilla Essence?

  21. Vanilla essence is fine; I find the paste gives a better vanilla flavour but there's not much in it so use what you have. :-)

  22. have you tried cream crackers replacing pastry nice and crunchy but not too much

  23. As a previous Tupperware dealer has anyone tried using Huntly & Palmers cream creackers instead of using pastry. Much easier and tastes great.

  24. thankyou for an awesome custard square recipe!! I love it, and it was super easy

  25. Just made 2 custard squares. Found some of the advice here helpful. Thanks.


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