I made these vanilla custard slices from Edd Kimber in August and we loved them — they’re like a rustic Napoleon or mille-feuille, at a fraction of the fuss — but declared them “not August food” and better saved for December because they feel elegant and a little festive. But now it’s December and, at times, I know it can feel like we will need a jeweler’s loupe to find some of this promised festivity. There are essays about what a bummer this holiday season promises to be. There are articles about what a dark winter is ahead. There are dire warnings about overwhelmed health systems. Listen, I am in charge of absolutely nothing — not even my own children listen to me — but I hereby give us permission to read none of these articles. Real life can be enough of a drag; we have absolutely no moral imperative to absorb additional gloom.
Instead, I’ve been keeping a log of things I consider mood elevators. We went to a museum last weekend for the first time since last winter, and then an aquarium. We walked on Brighton Beach the weekend before, and got some dumplings to go. I splurged on some votives I’ve always loved and gifted others, and filled each with a candle, because the sun sets at approximately 2:30pm right now. We have vases and jars filled with knots of these wiry lights. We are “making” Hanukah candles, like we do every year. We are baking through jars of molasses, cinnamon, and ginger. We are making carafes of Irish cream, and finding ways to distribute them to friends. I’m trying to bury myself in books, but I loved the last one I read so much, I might just read it again (permission granted for this too). We’re going to cut snowflakes. We are going to ignore my husband’s protests and watch some terrible-wonderful holiday movies.
What I mean is that I think that we should not wait for festivity to descend on us, but build it from the kitchen out and bake these delicious squares. They’re from Kimber’s — the inaugural winner of The Great British Bake Off — newest cookbook, which celebrates “One Tin Bakes: Sweet and simple traybakes, pies, bars and buns” — simple, creative, perfectly-executed desserts that require only one baking pan, a 9×13 [not that I listened]. The custard slice is a favorite of his twin brother’s from childhood — “a thick layer of bright yellow custard sandwiched between two layers of puff pastry.” He forgoes the icing that’s usually on top because he feels that it adds only sweetness, no flavor, and I did too. I didn’t know when I bumped this to December that it would be so timely after being a focus of a recent Great British Bake-Off Episode — they’re that British. However, since this isn’t GBBO, we get to buy, not make, our pastry and we have more than two hours to finish it. I like to let it set overnight in the fridge for a clean slice in the next day.
* There’s an interview with me in the New Yorker this week.
* Over at The Kitchn, along with 15 other bakers, I contributed a Cookie of 2020 that both ships well and is a decadent finale to this very long year.
* As a fundraiser for In Good Taste NYC, I created a “NYC Starter Pack” highlighting some of my favorite local small business. Through 12/5, you can donate for a chance to win it, or some of the other starter packs featured from way cooler people.
6 months ago: Smashed Potatoes with Sweet Corn Relish
1 year ago: Challah Stuffing
2 years ago: Cabbage and Mushroom Lasagna
3 years ago: Endive Salad with Toasted Breadcrumbs and Walnuts
4 years ago: Brussels Sprouts, Apple, and Pomegranate Salad
5 years ago: Pecan Pie and Roasted Leek and White Bean Galettes
6 years ago: Classic Pumpkin Pie with Pecan Praline Sauce
7 years ago: Apple-Herb Stuffing for All Seasons
8 years ago: Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette
9 years ago: Sweet Potato and Marshmallow Biscuits
10 years ago: Creamed Onions with Bacon and Chives and Sweet Corn Spoonbread
11 years ago: Creamed Spinach
12 years ago: Meyer Lemon and Fresh Cranberry Scones and Winter Fruit Salad
13 years ago: Pumpkin Waffles and Nutmeg-Maple Cream Pie
14 years ago: Classic Grilled Cheese + Cream of Tomato Soup
Vanilla Custard Slices
- 2 8.5-ounce sheets ready-rolled puffed pastry, defrosted [from a 1.1-pound (490-gram) package]
- 3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
- 6 tablespoons (50 grams) cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste, or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs
- 2 cups (475 ml) whole milk
- 3/4 cup (175 ml) heavy cream
- 3 tablespoons (45 grams) unsalted butter, diced
Line the base and sides of an 8×8-inch cake pan with a large sheet of foil so the excess goes up the sides. I find it can help to first mold the foil over the outside of the baking pan and then transfer it inside, for fewer tears.
Place first cooled square of pastry on a cutting board and use bottom of cake pan to cut it into a square that will fit tightly inside the pan. Repeat with second square. Place first square inside the pan; save second until needed.
Make the custard: In a medium saucepan, whisk together sugar, starch, and salt. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking until smooth and no pockets of sugar-starch remain before adding the second. Whisk in vanilla bean paste, and then, very gradually, whisking the whole time, pour in milk, then cream. Bring mixture to a simmer over medium heat, whisking the whole time. As the custard begins to bubble, it will thicken. Remove from heat and stir in the butter until it is fully melted. If you want it extra silky-smooth, pour the custard through a fine-mesh sieve before continuing but I never do.
Assemble the squares: Immediately pour the warm custard into the baking pan over the first sheet of puff pastry and spread evenly. Place the second sheet of pastry on top, pressing gently to secure in place.
Chill the squares: Wrap the pan in plastic and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight to allow the custard to fully set. Once chilled and set, use the foil to carefully lift the mixture from the tin. Dust with powdered sugar — I used some strips of paper leftover from a kid quilling project to create a decoration — then use a sharp, serrated knife to cut it into slices.
Do ahead: Stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator, these will keep for a couple of days. They will keep for up to 5 days, but the pastry will soften a bit.