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.
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’.
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?’
‘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’.
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?’
‘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’.
‘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’.
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.
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.
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.
- 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
- Pre-heat oven to 180C (375F).
- 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.
- 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.
- Place pastry on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Prod with the tines of a fork to prevent pastry from puffing too much.
- Weight down the pastry with another baking tray to stop the pastry puffing too much.
- 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.
- Remove from oven and allow to cool. Cut each sheet of pastry into 23cm squares so they fit perfectly into the cake tin.
- For the Custard:
- 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.
- Mix the gelatine with a little water. When it becomes a paste, add to the saucepan.
- Return saucepan to the heat and return to the boil and continue to stir until custard thickens - about 1 minute.
- Remove from heat.
- For the Icing:
- Combine icing sugar, passionfruit pulp and butter in a small bowl and stir until well combined.
- To Assemble:
- 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.
- Cut into 16 squares.
- Serve all by itself.