Easy vanilla slice is no one-hit wonder

By Mary Elizabeth Williams
Vanilla Custard Slice Mary Elizabeth Williams

I would like to apologize to vanilla. Vanilla, I have not been fair to you; I have taken you for granted. Like a lot of people who consider "Death by Chocolate" not the name of a dessert but a presumed actual end of life plan, I have rarely trifled with the pale stuff. Klondike Bars? Why bother? Yellow cake? Hard pass. But when I had surgery on my throat a few months ago, I woke up from anesthesia and the only thing I wanted in the world was vanilla pudding. Smooth, fragrant, soothing to the soul vanilla pudding. And do you know what I learned though my subsequent, soft foods-based days of recovery? That vanilla pudding is glorious, regardless of your ability to swallow or the strength of the narcotics you're on. Do you know what's even better? Vanilla pudding…. sandwiched in puff pastry.

The custard slice, a humble version of the posh French mille feuille aka Napoleon, is pure comfort in dessert form, a homespun version of a patisserie case classic. In "Great British Bake Off" winner Edd Kimber's ingenious "One Tin Bakes," the dessert is rustic but still impressive, forgoing icing in favor of a dusting of confectioner's sugar. These are not the showstoppers of a dramatic television competition. They are instead just a really cheerful thing to have tucked in the fridge for after dinner tonight, made idiot proof thanks to store bought puff pastry.


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For my own version, I've followed Kimber's path as trod by Smitten Kitchen's Deb Perlman, and then scaled back and simplified even further. I've also cut the recipe in half, because you shouldn't wait for a big group of people to bake for to bake, and you should have these slices all polished off before they get soggy.

As with all things custard, you do need a little foresight here for things to firm up. This is not a dessert you can throw together at the last minute. It is, however, relatively hands off, so you can make it while you're puttering around doing other things and then forget it the rest of the day.

You can, if you're in the mood, make your own custard here. A basic custard is simple to master, extraordinarily decadent tasting and comes together on the stove in minutes, I promise. But you can also can do as I have here and just cook up a box of supermarket pudding. Or you can even buy a few tubs of Snack Packs and save even more effort; I support your choices. Just know that pudding tends to be runnier than pastry custard, so you use your judgment when you're at the filling stage, lest you wind up crying into your freezer. You may not need to use all of it.

***

 

Recipe: Vanilla custard slices

Inspired by Edd Kimber's "One Tin Bakes" and Smitten Kitchen

Makes 8 squares

Ingredients:

  • 1 sheet of puff pastry, thawed
  • 1 box of vanilla pudding mix
  • Confectioner's sugar

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Prepare your pudding according to package directions, or make your own custard. Let it chill in the fridge while you continue the rest of the recipe.
  3. On a lightly floured sheet of parchment, unroll your puff pastry. If you want your pastry thinner and fancier, go over it a few times with a rolling pin, but it's fine not to. Cut in half lengthwise. Prick your sheets all over with a fork.
  4. Put both sheets, and the parchment, on a large baking sheet. Put another sheet of parchment on top, and then put one or two baking sheets on top of everything to weigh your pastry down.
  5. Bake approximately 20 minutes, then remove the top baking sheets and parchment. Bake another 5 - 10 minutes to get golden. Let cool.
  6. Line a baking sheet with foil, and put one sheet of puff pastry in the middle.
  7. Spoon your custard evenly over the puff pastry, then top with the second sheet.
  8. Gently bring the foil around the pastry to hold its shape, and refrigerate at least 4 hours.
  9. To serve, unwrap and dust with confectioner's sugar. Cut into 8 slices and serve exactly as is, or with fresh berries.

Mix it up! Sure, this is a pro-vanilla space, but I would definitely not turn down a chocolate or butterscotch version of this dish. Just swap in your favorite custard and proceed as usual.

 

More Quick & Dirty: 

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