Challenge No. 33 – Custard Slice

This challenge was suggested by one of my closest friends, Libby, who I met 8 years ago when we moved to Sheffield for our first year of University.  Our accommodation wasn’t ready in time and so myself, Libby and our 6 other flat mates where put into temporary halls for the first week.  We were placed in an old hospital wing of one of the halls due to be knocked down.  It was a horrible place and unbearable for poor Lib who has a fear of all things hospital related! After such a traumatic start to University and a wonderful first year of adventures, it’s not surprising that us girls are all still so close.  We regularly meet up and spend our time eating, drinking and talking endlessly.  Whenever possible, I try to make sure I show up at these get togethers with baked goods for all to enjoy.  However, Lib managed to suggest not only a dish I had never made but one I’d never even eaten.  The, as I have now discovered, truly delicious, custard slice.

I did a quick search online and found a recipe by Paul Hollywood straight away.  I always enjoy making Paul’s recipes and with GBBO back on our TV’s, I thought it was rather fitting to use this recipe.

To make these custard slices, you will need the following ingredients:-

  • For the rough puff pastry
    • 225g/8oz plain flour, plus extra for dusting
    • ½ tsp salt
    • 200g/7oz butter, chilled and cut into 1cm/½in cubes
    • 140-160ml/5-5½fl oz water
  • For the crème pâtissière
    • 500ml/18fl oz milk
    • 1 vanilla pod, split down the middle and seeds scraped out
    • 100g/3½oz caster sugar
    • 4 free-range eggs, yolks only
    • 40g/1½oz cornflour
    • 40g/1½oz butter
  • For the icing
    • 200g/7oz icing sugar
    • 5 tsp water
    • 50g/2oz dark chocolate, melted

Edited - ingredients

As instructed by the recipe, I started by making the puff pastry.  I put the flour, salt and one third of the chilled butter into a large bowl.  Making sure my hands were cold, I started rubbing the mixture together until it resembles breadcrumbs.

Practical tip: warm hands will begin to melt the butter and the mix will become too wet.  If, like me, your hands are prone to being warm, run them under a cold tap for a while and dry them thoroughly before you get started.  Repeat this cooling process periodically to make sure your hands don’t warm up too much.

Edited - butterEdited - breadcrumbsI added the remaining butter (which I kept in the fridge whilst I did the first bit) and gentle rubbed to bring together but being careful to leave some lumps.  I then added the water, only a little at a time.  The recipe says to add just enough until the pastry combines.  I actually only used 65ml of water.  I think this may have been because I rubbed too much of the second lot of butter into the mix so it didn’t need much more moisture.  I panicked a little but decided to carry on and see what happens.

  Edited - added butterEdited - rubbed together

I floured the worktop and tipped out the pastry.  I floured the top of the pastry, turned it over, floured it again along with the rolling pin and then set out rolling the pastry into a rectangle.  I then folded the bottom third up and then the top third down.  I wrapped the pastry in cling film and popped it in the fridge.  The recipe says to put it in the fridge for 10 minutes but because it was quite warm in the flat, I decided to let it chill for 15 minutes.

Edited - rectangle Edited - folded

Once the 15 minutes were up, I rolled the pastry into another rectangle, folded the bottom third up, top third down and popped it in the fridge for another 15 minutes.  I then repeated the step for one final turn before letting the pastry rest in the fridge.

Next up, I got started on the crème pâtiessière.  I put the milk in a pan over a low heat and added the vanilla pod and seeds. 

Edited - milk

Practical tip: the difference between scalding and boiling milk is very small.  If you have a heavy based pan, this is easier to control but you still need to be careful.  Make sure you keep the heat low and be patient.  Stir the milk occasionally and keep a close eye on it.  Reaching boiling point will happen all of a sudden and the milk will start to foam and bubble up.   

Edited - boiling milk

Whilst I was waiting for the milk to boil, I put the caster sugar and corn flour into a bowl and got my egg yolks ready.  As soon as the milk started boiling, I took it off the heat and added the egg yolks to the sugar/cornflour mixture, whisking it together with a balloon whisk.

Edited - caster:cornflour Edited - egg mixture

I then added a small ladle of the hot milk and whisked until combined.  I gradually added the remaining milk, being sure to whisk continuously as I did so.

Edited - running crem pat

I returned the milk mixture to my pan and popped it back on a medium heat.  I stirred continuously with one hand whilst searching on the internet for a video to show me how thick the mixture should be.  Just as I found a third video (which I hoped would be more helpful), it happened…the mixture started to thicken!  Lumpy at first but I kept stirring, pausing only to assess whether it had reached boiling point again.  After less than a minute, I had a lovely thick, smooth custard.

The recipe then says to pass the mixture through a sieve into a clean bowl.  I might need a new sieve or maybe this is normal but it took me a lot of hard work to do this!  Finally after a vigorous 20 minutes, during which I had to strip off a layer of clothing and tie my hair up, I had pushed near enough all the mixture through the sieve. 

Edited - creme pat

I then added the butter and mixed until it was melted.  I’d kept the butter in the fridge thinking the mixture would be very hot but after the 20 minutes it took me to sieve it, most of the heat was gone.  I therefore decided to chop the butter into small pieces to help it melt properly.  I let it cool for a further 5 minutes and then covered the crème pât before putting it in the fridge to chill.

I took the pastry out the fridge, divided it into two equal pieces and rolled each into a 20cm square.  I used the base of a 20cm tin to trim the pastry to size.

Edited - rolled pastry

I placed each square onto a tray lined with baking paper and popped it in the fridge for another 15 minutes whilst I tucked into our takeaway dinner which had arrived whilst I was fighting with the sieve!

Once chilled, I popped the pastry into a pre-heated oven on 220 degrees celsius for 15 minutes.  I had to use 2 trays which wouldn’t fit on one shelf together so after 5 minutes, I switched them over.  And then again after the next 7 minutes.  Once they were cooked, I left the pastry squares to cool on the trays.

Edited - cooked pastry

I lined a square tin with foil and then placed one of the cooled pastry squares into the bottom.  The recipe says to use a 23cm square tin but the pastry looked a bit lost so I took it out and transferred the foil to my loose base 20cm square tin before adding the pastry again.

Edited - layer 1

I spooned the crème pât onto the pastry and used an icing spatula to spread it out as evenly as possible.

Edited - layer 2

I added the second pastry square (which broke slightly!) and got started on the icing.

Edited - layer 3

I sifted the icing sugar into a bowl and gradually added the water.  I used a little more than the recipe suggested as the mixture felt too stiff to be able to spread on the delicate pastry.  If you do this, just be careful to add a small amount at a time, it’s amazing how quickly the icing can turn from being too thick to being too runny. 

Edited - icing

I let the icing to one side whilst I melted the chocolate.  To do this, I put the squares into a mug and popped it in the microwave for around 30 seconds, string part way through.  I then gave it a good mix until it was nice a smooth.  I took a disposable icing bag and put it into a glass without cutting the bottom.  I added the chocolate and left it to firm up slightly whilst I iced the top of the pastry.

After the chocolate had cooled slightly, I snipped off the corner of the icing bag to leave a very fine ‘nozzle’.  I then piped parallel lines onto the white icing.  I started off with 5 (not very evenly spaced) lines and then decided I could pipe some more in between each of them.  Once there was enough chocolate lines, I took a tooth pick and pulled parallel lines across the melted chocolate and icing in alternating directions to create the feathered effect.  I had never done this before and was impressed with how easy it was to make the decoration look so good!

Edited - feathered

I then put the finished custard slice back in the fridge to set over night.

The next day I used a sharp knife to cut it into small squares and boxed them up to take with me to Doncaster, where I was due to spend the day with 4 of the girls from University and one of their parents.  Unfortunately, Libby wasn’t at this get together and so didn’t get to try her suggested challenge.  However, everyone who got to try them said they were very delicious.

Edited - sliced up Edited - served up 2

I personally was really impressed with these.  This challenge pushed me to try new techniques in making puff pastry and crème pât, both of which turned out really well.  Plus, I discovered a new sweet treat favourite!  As I write this, I’ve just had one of the left over slices (well there weren’t any left over from Doncaster, but I sneakily kept a couple of squares at home for me and Dave) and they really are absolutely yummy!

Coming up next week, Challenge No. 34 – sausage rolls.   


Challenge No. 31 – Battenberg

On the week that Great British Bake Off returns to our TV’s, this seemed like the perfect challenge for me to make.  I’m so excited to see what’s in store for this year’s contestants and to get lots of inspiration for future bakes 🙂 We’re even having our own bake-off at work.  We each have a contestant and the week the contestant goes out the competition, you have to make a cake for the office.  I’ve got to get my thinking cap on so I can make a great cake and I’m hoping my contestant (Paul) does well! I’ll be sure to post a picture of my cake when he goes out or (hopefully) wins!

For now though, it’s back to Challenge 52 and my first attempt at battenberg.  This challenge was suggested by my colleague Dean.  Unfortunately, I messed up my planning a little bit and have made this challenge on a week when Dean is on holiday! I sent him a message to apologies and his love of battenberg is so strong that he told me my P45 was in the post! Thankfully he was only kidding but I’ve still promised to make it again for him in the near future.  Luckily it turned out to be really yummy so I’m more than happy to make some more (as it means I get to eat some too!) 🙂

For this challenge, I decided to make everything from scrap, so I spent Sunday making apricot jam, marzipan and the sponges before putting it all together to make a beautiful battenberg treat.  I used one recipe for the jam and another for the battenberg.  I then adapted the recipe from Challenge 15 Simnel Cake for the marzipan.

Obviously you could use shop bought jam and marzipan but if you fancy a go at making the full shebang, you’ll need the following ingredients:-

  • Jam
    • 500g apricots, halved and stoned
    • juice of half a lemon
    • 250ml water
    • 500g caster sugar
    • Small knob of butter
  • Marzipan
    • 112 g icing sugar
    • 87g caster sugar
    • 175g ground almonds
    • 1 large egg
    • 1/4 tsp almond extract
    • 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • Cake
    • 175g butter
    • 175g caster sugar
    • 175g self raising flour
    • 3 large eggs
    • 65g ground almonds
    • 3/4 tsp baking powder
    • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
    • 1/4 tsp almond extract
    • Pink/red food colouring

Edited - ingredients

I started off by making the jam.  The recipe will make far more than you need for the battenberg (I filled one large jar and one small jar) but it tastes so yummy and will keep in the sterilised jars, it doesn’t matter.

I washed the chopped apricots and then put them in a large pan with the lemon juice and water.  I put the pan over a low heat and slowly brought the liquid up to a simmer.

Edited - chopped fruit Edited - jam pre sugar

Practical tip: when juicing a lemon, pop it in the microwave for around 30 seconds to warm it slightly as this will help release more juice. 

Once the liquid was simmering (careful not to boil it at this stage!) I set the timer for 15 minutes and waited patiently.  When the timer went off, I took the pan off the heat, poured in the caster sugar and stirred until this was fully dissolved.  I then added the butter, returned the pan to the heat and turned up the temperature slightly. 

Edited - butter in jam

Once the mixture was boiling I set the timer for another 15 minutes and put a small plate in the fridge to chill.

When the 15 minutes was up, I used a teaspoon to put a small amount of the jam on the chilled plate.  I waiting 1 minute and used my finger to push the jam.  It was still a little runny so I left the pan bubbling for another 4 minutes.  I then tested it again and decided it was practically there.  I put the jam into my sterilised, hot jars and put the lids straight on.  I also put a little jam into some tupperwear to use for the battenberg so I could keep the jars sealed for another day.

With the jam done, I got started on the marzipan.  I sifted the icing sugar into a bowl and added the caster sugar and ground almonds. I mixed it all together and then made a well in the centre.   

I put the egg, almond extract and lemon juice into a jug.  I then poured it into the well in the dry ingredients and started to bring it all together with a spoon.  It then reached the point where I needed to get my hands dirty and I finished mixing it by hand until I had a ball of paste.

Edited - marzipan

I dusted my worktop with icing sugar and kneaded the ball of marzipan until smooth.  As mentioned above, I used this marzipan recipe when I made my Simnel cake and at this point the marzipan kept sticking to the worktop.  This time round I used a little more icing sugar when I dusted the worktop and I didn’t have the problem of it sticking 🙂

I put the marzipan ball into a bowl (dusted with icing sugar) and covered it with cling film.

Edited - resting marzipan

Whilst the marzipan was resting for 2 hours, I got started on the cake.  The recipe uses the all in one method. So I started by putting the caster sugar, flour, ground almonds and baking powder into my bowl.  I added the softened butter, the eggs and vanilla and almond extract.  I gave it a quick mix with a wooden spoon to start bringing it together and then finished the job with my handheld electric mixer until combined.

Edited - cake mix

I then separated the mixture into two separate bowls; using the scales to try and make sure it was roughly even.  I added some food colouring to one of the bowls and mixed until the colour was even throughout.  In hindsight I should have added a touch more colouring as my pink cake was not very pink but its one to remember for next time.

I don’t have a battenberg cake tin so I followed the recipe to separate my 20cm tin into two halves.  A bit of foil, some baking paper, some special folds and I was done.  It wasn’t as neat as I’d have liked and my sponge ended up a bit wonky but because I had to trim it down anyway, I wasn’t too worried.

Edited - tin

I put the different coloured mixtures into each side of the tin and popped it in the oven on 180 degrees celsius for 20 minutes.  I then checked the cake and left it in for approximately another 7 minutes.

Edited - ready to bake

Once the cake was cooked, I left it in the tin for 5 minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack.

Edited - cooked cake

I waited until the cake was completed cool before trimming it into 4 equal oblongs. 

Practical tip: be sure to trim off the top, bottom and sides of the cakes before cutting in half lengthways. 

I then started to roll out my marzipan.  I positioned the slices of cake together to check whether I had rolled it big enough and had to make it a little longer.

Edited - rolled marzipan

Practical tip: put the marzipan between two pieces of baking parchment to roll it out.  This stops it from sticking to the worktop or your rolling pin but also means you won’t risk ruining the texture by adding more icing sugar.

I them heated up some of my jam and started to put it all together.  The recipe says to push it through a sieve but I decided not to do this as I didn’t think it was all that necessary.  I brushed the sides of my cake slices and put them together in a chequered pattern.

Edited - jam on sponge

I put the cake onto the marzipan and rolled it over to cover.  I used my fingers to gentle press the join together.  I trimmed the edges and used the back of a knife to score a pattern into the top.

Edited - side2 Edited - done Edited - side

And there it is, my first ever battenberg. Oh my gosh was this delicious! I love cake, jam and marzipan…put them together and it’s like heaven on a plate.  A good cup of tea and a slice of Battenberg; definitely the best of British 🙂

Edited - slice

Coming up next week, Challenge No. 32 – leek and gruyere quiche. Hope to see you then.


Challenge No. 29 – Chocolate Panda Cupcakes (Gluten Free)

This challenge wasn’t actually suggested by any friend or family for Challenge52, however, it is a bake which I owed to a friend from a couple of years ago.  Chloè absolutely loves pandas and she found some photos of panda cupcakes and sent them to me.  I offered to make them for her birthday but unfortunately life got in the way and I didn’t manage to do it.  So I added this one to Challenge52 myself as a special gift for Chloè’s birthday.

These cute mini panda cupcakes have been inspired by Bakerella.  Whilst Bakerella gives you all the tips you need to decorate the cakes, I needed to find a gluten free cake recipe for Chloè.  I did a quick search and found this recipe for a gluten free chocolate cake.

To make these gluten free chocolate panda cupcakes you will need the following ingredients:-

  • 100g unsalted butter, diced, plus extra for greasing
  • 140g best-quality dark chocolate, with 70% cocoa solids, broken into pieces
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 140g ground almonds
  • pinch of salt
  • 85g caster sugar
  • 150g unsalted butter
  • 300g icing sugar
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • Popping candy
  • Chocolate chips
  • Chocolate sprinkles
  • A black icing pen

Edited - ingredients

Bakerella uses sanding sugar which is a special type of sugar used in baking and cake decorating.  It has an extra sparkle compared to normal granulated sugar and it can be cooked and added to icing without dissolving.  I couldn’t find any sanding sugar in my local shops so I thought I would try it with popping candy as it was the closest colour to what I needed.

The cupcakes are made with petit four cases and the above quantities made 50 mini cupcakes, with leftover cake mix! So unless you are making these for a big groups of people, it might be worth reducing the quantities 🙂

I started by putting my diced butter and broken chocolate into a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water.  I kept string and then once the butter and chocolate were melted I took it off the heat and mixed until it was well combined. 

Edited - butter:choc Edited - melted

I let the chocolate butter mixture cool for 5 minutes and spent the time separating the eggs.

Edited - eggs

I then added the ground almonds and egg yolks to the chocolate/butter mixture.

Edited - almonds added

I added a pinch of salt to my egg whites and whisked them into soft peaks.   I then added a little of the caster sugar at a time and kept whisking until I had stiff peaks.

Edited - soft peaks Edited - stiff peaks

I added 2 large tablespoons of the eggs whites to the chocolate mixture.  Once it was combined, I gradually added all of the eggs whites, folding it in carefully until all the white was gone.  This took longer than I thought it would but I kept my patience as I didn’t want to beat the air out of the egg whites.

Edited - whites added Edited - mixed up

With the cake mixture ready, I put all my cases on a tray and used a measuring spoon to put a teaspoon of mixture into each case.

Edited - cases

I then put them in the oven for 8 minutes at 200 degrees celsius until cooked through.

Edited - cooked

Once the cakes were cool, I got started with the panda decorating.  I started by putting 150g softened butter into a bowl and whisked it with my handheld electric mixer.  As said in Challenge No. 13, it is important not to rush this stage and so I did this for about 5 minutes.

Edited - butter softened

I gradually added the icing sugar, covering the bowl with a clean tea towel and whisking between each addition until combined. I continued adding a bit at a time until all the icing sugar was incorporated and I added the vanilla extract towards the end.

Edited - buttercream

I put 1/4 of the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a No. 2 nozzle and the remainder into another piping bag fitted with a No. P6 nozzle.

Now for the fun bit, making the little panda faces.  I took each cupcake and pipped icing on top using the wide nozzle before dipping it into a bowl of popping candy (ensuring it was fully covered).  I added 2 chocolate drops for ears, 2 for eyes and one for the nose.  I then added a chocolate sprinkle for the mouth.  Finally, I used the smaller nozzle to pipe the whites of the eyes onto the chocolate drops.  Once the whites were set, I used my icing pen to add the black centres.

Edited - pandas Edited - three pandas

And there you have it, mini chocolate panda cupcakes.

I think these are just so cute! They tasted really nice too 🙂 The only problem was that my popping candy very quickly lost its pop! As I was decorating the cakes, I kept hearing the faint sound of the candy popping on the finished cupcakes.  By the time I had one the next day, there was no pop left. But this doesn’t take away from how cute they are.

Coming up next week, Challenge No. 30 – fig and goats cheese tart.