Custard Squares

Alfie is under-weight.  I think you might already know that.  I certainly know it.  And last week the little guy was at swim squads and his coach said he wanted to have a word with me.  I know from experience that when someone wants to have ‘a word’, I have every right to become anxious.

Also known as 'Vanilla Slice'

Also known as ‘Vanilla Slice’

After the squad and while Alfie was showering off the chlorine, the coach made his move.  Approaching me with a broad smile to soften the blow, he said, ‘Your son is very under-weight and needs to eat more; he needs to put on several kilos at least’.

Bottom layer of puff pastry

Bottom layer of puff pastry

I said, ‘Yes, I know that, I’m aware we can count all his ribs but trust me now, I’m on the job of feeding him; it’s on my mind 24 hours a day.’

‘What sort of things are you feeding him?’

Custard layer

Custard layer

‘Well today he’s had two eggs on two slices of toast for breakfast followed by two fresh mangoes, at school he had an apple, a fruit bar and two chocolate biscuits with a juice box for recess, for lunch he had a lasagne from the canteen, for afternoon tea I gave him a punnet of blueberries and three chocolate biscuits and for dinner he’s having spaghetti bolognese and I’ve made double quantity so if he wants seconds, he can have them’.

Top layer of pastry

Top layer of pastry

And he looked at me very seriously and nodded his head and said, ‘Hmmm, there’s plenty of carbs in that, that sounds great’.

‘I know; the problem is he’s not interested in eating but he loves being active.  It’s a battle to make sure that each day he’s taken on board more calories than he’s expended’.

‘What else is he doing?’

Passionfruit icing

Passionfruit icing

‘Well he runs around all the time and this week he had gymnastics at school and when he came home I asked him how it went.  He said, ‘All the boys had a competition to see who could do the most chin-ups.  I won because I did 18′.  And instead of feeling elated and wanting to congratulate him, I was cringing and wondering how many calories would be expended doing 18 chin-ups.  Like I said, feeding him is on my mind 24/7’.

A favourite in Kiwi cake shops

A favourite in Kiwi cake shops

‘Right, right, right; well yes, I see what you mean.  Well we just need to make sure he has enough energy to get through the squad.’

‘I know, trust me now, I’m trying’.

Topped with passionfruit icing

Topped with passionfruit icing

And that’s why I have made custard squares.  I now have enough dessert to last Alfie the week.  I made these because these were my absolute childhood favourite whenever I was fortunate enough to stand in front of a counter at a cake shop with enough money to spend on the one cake I wanted the most.  It was always the custard square.

Custard Squares

Custard Squares

Now…I have been told that if these are cut into a square shape they’re called, ‘Custard Squares’ but if cut into a rectangle, they’re called ‘Vanilla Slice’.  I’m not sure that’s true; I think if they’re from New Zealand they’re custard squares and if they’re from Oz, they’re Vanilla Slice.  As I was born in New Zealand and as it was the New Zealand cake shops I mostly frequented and as I’ve cut these into squares, I’m calling these Custard Squares.

Puff pastry, vanilla custard and passionfruit icing

Puff pastry, vanilla custard and passionfruit icing

They’re a high caloric sweet treat made with puff pastry, vanilla custard and topped with passionfruit icing.  (If you can’t find passionfruit in your part of the world, a lemon icing would be lovely).  They’re not too difficult to make however you do need a bit of time up your sleeve because once assembled the custard does need time to set.  The only other consideration is that these are highly addictive and it’s difficult to stop at just one little square.

If Alfie eats a few of these a day, we might just begin to see a few less of his ribs.

An Aussie/Kiwi classic

An Aussie/Kiwi classic

5.0 from 9 reviews
Custard Squares
Recipe type: Cakes/Slice
Cuisine: New Zealand/Australian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 16
Custard Squares - puff pastry sandwiched with vanilla custard and topped with passionfruit icing.
  • 500g (1lb) puff pastry, thawed
  • 1½ cups thickened cream
  • 1½ cups full-cream milk
  • ⅔ cup castor (superfine) sugar
  • 60g unsalted butter, chopped
  • 2 vanilla beans, scraped
  • ⅓ cup cornflour
  • ½ cup water
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 3 tsps powdered gelatine
  • For the Icing:
  • 2 cups icing sugar
  • pulp from 2 passionfruit (or 1 large panama passionfruit)
  • 2 tsp softened butter
  1. Pre-heat oven to 180C (375F).
  2. Grease and line a 23cm square tin, making sure the paper sits high enough over the sides to easily remove the slice from the tin.
  3. Divide pastry in two then roll until around 3mms thickness. Pastry needs to be around 26cm square because it shrinks during the cooking process - you need it to end up at least 23cm square.
  4. Place pastry on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Prod with the tines of a fork to prevent pastry from puffing too much.
  5. Weight down the pastry with another baking tray to stop the pastry puffing too much.
  6. Place in the oven for 15 minutes then remove extra baking tray and return to oven for 5 more minutes or until pastry becomes golden.
  7. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Cut each sheet of pastry into 23cm squares so they fit perfectly into the cake tin.
  8. For the Custard:
  9. Place cream, milk, sugar, butter and vanilla beans into a medium-sized saucepan. Bring to the boil then remove from heat. Combine cornflour and water and stir to make a paste. Add to the saucepan with the egg yolks and whisk until smooth.
  10. Mix the gelatine with a little water. When it becomes a paste, add to the saucepan.
  11. Return saucepan to the heat and return to the boil and continue to stir until custard thickens - about 1 minute.
  12. Remove from heat.
  13. For the Icing:
  14. Combine icing sugar, passionfruit pulp and butter in a small bowl and stir until well combined.
  15. To Assemble:
  16. Place 1 square of pastry into the bottom of the prepared tin. Pour custard over the top. Top with second pastry sheet. Use a spatula to spread icing over the top of the top layer of pastry. Place in fridge overnight or four at least four hours to give custard time to harden.
  17. Cut into 16 squares.
  18. Serve all by itself.
Custard Squares

Custard Squares


  1. These look wonderful. Vanilla slice here always has a pink and white icing, don’t know why. I used to love these too as a child. Here’s hoping Alfie eats them all. GG

  2. I have never heard of these being called custard squares – they were always vanilla slices to me. And I think perhaps you should cut them into huge slabs like bakers do these days if you want Archie to eat lots of carbs (though getting him to eat that much would probably be a challenge) – I am often amazed in cafes/bakeries at how big the slices are because I find a little goes a long way.

  3. I admire the coach for bringing it up. Not that there’s a worry with you but that he cared enough about Alfie to broach the subject. We all know Alfie would rather run, swim, jump and do anything else rather than stop and eat. I didn’t know there were squares. I grew up with bars and moved to Australia and had to learn slices. Now squares? This is like learning a new language. 🙂 They look wonderful! I gained weight just looking at them.

  4. You do have your work cut out with Alfie. I like that you put the coach in their place though – as if you do not know and are not trying! I’m sure they were well intentioned but it must be hard to receive such comments when you’re trying and Alfie is just not interested! I am sure he will be interested in this slice though – it looks delicious, whatever one calls it.

  5. When I saw the title of your post my mind immediately went to Napoleons or the very similar Hungarian Kremes so I googled and found.

    The mille-feuille, vanilla slice, custard slice, also known as the Napoleon, is a French pastry whose exact origin is unknown.

    Regardless of where it comes from I hope this high calorie dessert puts a few much needed pounds or kilos on Alfie’s slender frame so he can continue doing the active things he loves.

  6. Hi Charlie, my son was like your Alfie, he is now 35 and still thin but nothing like he was in school. I think some kids are just like that. Sounds like you are doing everything possible. Love these custard squares.

  7. Oh, I do love custard squares and good luck with Alfie – Charlie – I have got to say I do envy him (just a little bit:-)

  8. There is almost nothing nicer than a good, old fashioned vanilla slice! xxx

  9. I struggled with maintaining weight for all of my early life. I was naturally very thin and a sudden trauma when I was 29 made me loose even more weight which I was never able to regain. If someone was making these for me I think I might not have had such a problem – they look divine.
    Sadly, my weight issues are now on the other end of the spectrum, so I’d have to be very careful of how many of these I eat!

  10. They’ll always be vanilla slices for me, and like you, always the hands down winner at the bakery. ALWAYS.
    Fattening them up is tricky, my eldest is like that, breakfast lunch and dinner is a three course affair, my wrists can get tired holding his dinner plate up on the weight of it…but, he’s still ribby, and as he’s getting older, it’s all just stretching out further.

  11. I don’t care what shape they come in, I’ll eat them anyway they come to me:) What a challenge for you Charlie trying to bulk him up. It sounds like he’s getting enough calories, he’s just burning through them all – he’s a ball of energy!

  12. I love custard slices-have you had a Denheath custard square from NZ? They’re the best!

    I wish I had a bit of Alfie to me but I’m the opposite.

  13. Yes I sympathise I had a youngest child like that too, except she loved food but was so active that weight was never ever gained. People would look at me with that look “you should feed your child”! The fact was she ate more that her older brothers. Anyway we ended up putting her on protein shakes between meals so that she could have a bit of covering. Now at 35 she doesn’t have that problem, with 3 young children and a thriving exercise business I needn’t have worried.
    Vanilla slice – although I make them in squares! And I made them for the first time in ages only last week!! Gorgeous.

  14. Didn’t realise you were born in NZ, I love custard squares, I always wondered why some were called Vanilla Slice, must check them out next time I am out and about if they are squares or rectangles, and what they call them 🙂

  15. I love, love, love custard squares/vanilla slices. I know they are naughty, but every now and again, I stop off at a bakery to buy one. And for me, passionfruit icing tops fondant or pink buttercream any time. Yum!

  16. I think I gained a few ounces just looking at those delicious treats. Hopefully they’ll help Alfie gain a bit of weight.

  17. May I order on dozen of these little sins
    sent to America immediately!!!

    WOWWWWW. xx

  18. Poor Alfie, I am sure he will fill out as he gets older. WIsh I didn’t love food as much as I do.
    LOVE your custard squares. We have a similar recipe although we call them custard slices.
    Have a wonderful week ahead Charlie.
    🙂 Mandy xo

  19. Alfie is so lucky to have you for a mom…so caring. I’m sure he enjoyed these delicious treats, they do sound delicious and yes, have loads of calories.

  20. I agree with Karen that Alfie is lucky to have you as his mom. Good luck with the food thing.

  21. The custard squares look wonderful! I had a skinny boy too who looked just like Alfie, ribs and all. He ate several meals a day and was allowed to eat whenever he wanted. Still, he remained skinny, and at 23 years old, he’s still pretty skinny. He’s filled out into more of a manly body now but is by far, a different body type than most American young men in this day and age. If Alfie’s thyroid checks out OK and he’s healthy, then I simply wouldn’t worry about it! I’m sure your custard squares and maybe more slices of your tropical cake will help fatten him up!

  22. Gosh, so many of us would kill for Alfie’s metabolism. I know you’ve been trying to fatten him up for years—hope these yummy squares at least balance out his calories burned this week. He sure looks like a healthy boy, so I think you’re doing a wonderful job!! xo

  23. I know how frustrating that can be! Poor Alfie (and you for having to stress about that!!). These custard squares look absolutely delicious my friend!

  24. Awwww a good old fashioned vanilla slice is still my weakness. Will always pick one up from a bakery if it looks the business!

  25. Gosh wouldn’t it be wonderful to be a little bit like Alfie!! Although, as a mother of a child with the opposite problem, all we can do is our best and Charlie you are a wonderful mummy bear especially for making these!! We called them snot blocks when we were at school and they had pink icing and I adored them!! 🙂 Jan x

  26. You would think that when a kid is as active as Alfie, that eating would be all he would think about. Especially with such fantastic food available at home! Sounds like he also has a very high metabolism. My husband is like that, he can eat anything he wants and does, then it all ends up on MY hips. 🙂 If I were to set a batch of these custard bars in front of him they would be gone in nothing flat.

  27. When I was Alfie’s age I was the same way — I couldn’t gain weight no matter how much I ate. I needed these terrific custard squares! I’ll bet they’ll help. Now, alas, I just look at these squares and I gain weight. Life isn’t fair sometimes, is it? 😉 Fun read — thanks.

  28. Were you like this or his dad when you were young? I have a similar case BUT my son likes to eat lots of stuff so I was so worried – and always am- because he eats so what is going on. His doctor told me that he is so energetic and he always consumes his calories jumping and running even at home!!! He cannot stay still for 5 minutes. I was like this when I was young but the difference is I was not interested in eating at all so it was natural for me to be so thin.. but look at me now :). So as long as he is healthy I think it will be just a matter of time. Nice recipe I will try it for my kids and I am sure they will like it.

  29. Charlie I feel your pain!
    I have one active boy who hates eating and never stops running around, playing cricket, scootering etc. He is just not interested in food and doesn’t like sweets, or anything “rich”.

    Then I have a daughter who is like me! LOVES food, everything tastes good, we both dream about and plan our next meal while we are still enjoying the current one!

    If I make sweets, Brett and Locky don’t eat them! Anais and I do :/
    Locky is all ribs at the moment.
    He takes an hour to eat breakfast before school :0
    Breakfast: 4 weetbix and a banana smoothie, or green smoothie
    Lunch: I’m sure he throws it away – at least 1/2 the time ALL his lunch comes back home from school because he wanted to go play and wasn’t hungry.
    Dinner: Takes an 1 hour and 1/2 to eat. Normal meal including veggies, meat and carbs.
    Someone will call DOCS if my boy gets any thinner :p

  30. These look absolutely delicious to me, Charlie, but I have never once been told that I am even slightly underweight, and I’m really afraid if these were in my house I would have no self-control! I hope Alfie enjoys them thoroughly–and often!

  31. These look super delicious and like Maureen, I think I gained weight just looking at the pictures. Good luck with Alfie. He may need some protein shakes/smoothies to eat with his meals like body builders use, although you’re such a good mum, I’m sure you’ve tried that. And I realize part of the quest is to get him to ingest it once you’ve prepared it! 🙂

  32. I have to say I have the opposite problem with my eldest, it is more a matter of trying to keep the weight off – whilst not making it an issue, ensuring he feels good about himself and is healthy – a Mother’s lot is a challenge!!! However I could not go past this recipe (enjoyed your latest few posts too…) – Custard Slice is my Mum’s favourite sweet treat – so we can have a nibble and I can deliver the majority of calories to her house…yum and thank you xxx

  33. The Hungarians make a Custard Square that’s very similar except we make a thin pastry that’s layered similar to the way that the puff pastry layers in baking. It’s pretty tasty too. I wish I had Alfie’s problem, but in all seriousness being underweight is as bad as being overweight so I don’t envy the problem. My brother used to be thin like Alfie, but he doesn’t have that problem now.
    I can see why these squares were a childhood favourite, we used to love the ones my dear Mom made. And surprisingly they are not too sweet (the Hungarian ones).

  34. Charlie, Alfie seems to have been blessed with the same metabolism my hubby has… lean, mean, and always burning calories (in spite of “onlookers” wishing they possessed the same, no matter what or HOW much they cook!) TMOFW still sports a 30″ inseam (at age 57…) Good of Alfie’s coach to bring it to your attention, but sometimes it’s a matter of physiology — not MOM (or coach) “ology.” Your custard squares look divine… and Alfie will live through the scrutiny, trust me. You aren’t doin’ a dang thing wrong!!! (No guilt…)

  35. Your custard slice/squares look gorgeous, however…. I get my cringe on when I see them, back when I was an apprentice chef, I was working in pastry, the baker/chef guy was a total nutter. I was learning how to make custard. Anyways, I overcooked my first batch of custard, and rather than talk me through ways to avoid doing it wrong, he threw the pot at the ground and piping hot custard went everywhere, all over my uniform, missed my face (luckily) all over the wall, even hit the ceiling. Scariest shift of my life. He didn’t last after that, but still. Hope you had a great Melbourne Cup day. 🙂

  36. I can empathize here, Charlie. I remember when my son, who was always and still is very tall and thin, came home from the first grade and asked me if his legs were skinny. I replied that yes, he was tall and thin all over, but had very nice muscular legs nevertheless. He laughed and he didn’t know that but that someone had pointed it out at school. I don’t really think it bothered him much, but who knows with kids. Anyway, I understand that worry as a mother. As for this recipe–I so love anything custardy and know I will make this!

  37. Your Alfie sounds like my husband. I’m always having to feed him dessert to keep the weight on him, especially if he has been outside doing yard work. He can drop 5 pounds in a hot minute. If only I could…

    Your custard squares look marvelous. I’m going to have to add them to my repertoire. I do have a question about the ingredients though … is thickened cream the same as heavy whipping cream and is full-cream milk equivalent to whole milk here in the United States?


  1. […] stories about her everyday life I find I feel compelled to respond. Take a look at this article by Charlie at Hotly Spiced, she is sharing a custard slice recipe but it’s the story that makes you want to comment and […]

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