A trip to the supermarket after an hour in a standing in a freezing Southerly at soccer practice is a dangerous, dangerous activity.
Cold, hungry and tired it is the time when the great marketing mind control that is modern grocery store strategy can defeat even the strongest wills. And that is how I found myself in possession of a custard tart. 4 mini custard tarts to be correct. 4 mini crimes against humanity it turned out.
I don’t have a sweet tooth. At all. So the level of desperation was pretty substantial for me to purchase something sweet, notwithstanding my view of commercial dessert products.
A desperate person wants a hand out of the mire, they want some relief, to feel better, to lift their head and see the horizon again. These little pots of misery stamped me back down into my hole and laughed at me. They were VILE.
Filled with a righteous indignation I headed to the Edmonds, but on the way saw my Great Grandmother’s recipe book and thought traditional would be as good a place to start as any.
This precious historic heirloom is an album of recipes, meticulously cut from newspapers, arranged by type (biscuits, gems, cakes, puddings), glued in and referenced alphabetically in the rear. Turns out the apple didn’t fall so far from the tree then!
Custard Pie recipe duly found, the depression era recipe contains cunning ways to make an egg custard with as few eggs as possible. 2 to be precise. Whilst I admired the resourcefulness of my forebears, I thanked my good fortune that I have the means to keep my kitchen well supplied in the egg department, and looked elsewhere.
My next stop was a garishly technicolour book of entertaining from the 1950’s. If ever there was a period of largesse in New Zealand it was after the war, when we nudged the top of the OECD in terms of GDP, money and food were plentiful.
But it turns out the book is actually American and calls for the custard to be added to an unbaked pastry shell, I’m a bit of a purist and the thought of soggy pastry did nothing to improve my mood.
The Edmonds offered up a similarly parsimonious 2 egg custard recipe, which led me to consider that the custard pie of my dreams might actually be French rather than Kiwi, so I hauled out the Larousse.
Nobody does pastry like the French and my recent experience entering my Tarte au Framboise in the Alliance Française Tarte competition (honourable mention only, sadly) gave me confidence that here I would find the custard tart of my dreams. Mais Non!
There was recipe for egg custard sure enough, but with a sneering reference to the dish’s English origin, it was briefly noted that this fine French custard, best cooked in a bain marie bien sur; could perhaps be added to a partially baked pie shell, uncooked. The not so subtle indication being that to do so would be culinary blasphemy.
Bearing in mind of course that the Larousse does not consider a pie shell to be an actual thing. Pastry recipes abound but each one has a distinct purpose and acting as a receptacle for custard is not one of them.
Right well if once again I have to do it myself I will. The delicious melt in the mouth sweet short pastry I use for my Christmas Mince pies baked blind with a multiple egg yolk custard showered in a dusting of grated nutmeg on top should do the trick. Allons-y!
French flan pastry
250g plain flour
115 g slightly softened butter
115 g caster sugar
1 lemon: grated rind only
250 mls cream
250 mls milk
1 vanilla pod-split
8 egg yolks
100g caster sugar
1. Cut the butter into the flour, using the food processor is perfect for this. Add the lemon zest and a pinch of salt until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the sugar, and egg and process until the dough leaves the sides of the bowl. Refrigerate overnight or at least until well chilled.
2. On a lightly floured surface, roll the pastry out and use it to line a 20cm tart tin, leave 2cm of pastry hanging over the edge, do not be tempted to trim the pastry now as it will shrink as it cooks and then the custard might go everywhere.
3. Heat the oven to 180C. Line the case with cooking paper and cover with rice or use baking beans if you have them. Bake blind for 20 mins, then remove the paper/rice or beans and continue to cook for a further 20 mins until the base is golden brown and smells like biscuits. Remove from oven and reduce the temperature to 140C.
4. Bring the cream, milk, vanilla pod, lemon zest and a small grating of nutmeg to the boil. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until pale, then pour the hot milk and cream over, beating as you go. Strain custard into a jug, allow to settle for a few mins, then skim off any froth.
5. Carefully pour the custard into the tart case, grate some more nutmeg over the top and bake for 40 mins or until just set with the very slightest wobble in the middle. Remove from the oven, trim the pastry edges off (away from the filling), then leave to cool completely before serving.