Eggs, butter, milk, sugar, flour and vanilla. Six staple ingredients that can be found in almost any kitchen pantry. I’m always amazed at the many different ways these basic elements can be combined to produce a wide variety of delicious desserts and sweet treats. This old-fashioned recipe for Magic Vanilla Custard Squares is no exception. It’s the kind of recipe that might be squirreled away in your granny’s carefully guarded, hand written recipe book. Magic happens when these simple pantry ingredients combine to produce a batter that serendipitously separates into three distinct layers as it bakes. A dense bottom, a lusciously creamy custard middle and a light and airy sponge top.
The recipe couldn’t be simpler. Room temperature eggs are separated into yolks and whites, each whipped into an airy frenzy. The whites with a generous pinch of salt to stiff peaks, the yolks with sugar, a dash of vanilla and water to a creamy confection. To produce a silky textured custard layer, melted butter and tepid (lukewarm) milk are added to the mixture. With the addition of two generous cups of milk expect a thin and runny batter; necessary to coax the formation of the custard layer. A final gentle folding of the whipped whites through the batter provides encourages the sponge layer to rise through the custard and ensures a beautifully light result.
On second thoughts, perhaps the magic in these little custard squares also refers to their popularity. They certainly disappeared like magic. In a flash. What was intended as a back to school lunch box filler has quickly been demolished. As I write this post just one square remains. No doubt our phantom snacker Mr Nobody has been busy visiting our cake tin yet again.
Magic Vanilla Custard Squares
4 eggs, separated, at room temperature
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon water
3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
1/2 cup (125 g) butter, melted
2 teaspoons pure vanilla essence
3/4 cup (115 g) plain flour, sifted
2 cups (500 ml) milk, lukewarm
icing sugar, sifted, to dust
PREHEAT oven to 150 C fan-forced. Line a 20cm x 20cm square tin with baking paper and set aside.
SEPARATE the egg yolks from the whites. In a large, clean, dry bowl beat the whites with a good pinch of salt until they form stiff peaks. Set aside.
IN ANOTHER bowl, beat the egg yolks with sugar, water and vanilla until light and fluffy.
ADD melted butter and continue beating for another minute. Then add the flour a little at a time until well incorporated.
BEAT in the lukewarm milk a little at a time until combined. The mixture will be quite liquid and runny.
GENTLY fold the egg whites into the batter with a spatula until just combined. This may take a few minutes. Don’t be tempted to use the beater as the mixture will eventually come together. You want to retain the lightness and airiness of the batter.
POUR into prepared tin.Bake for an hour in a pre heated 150 C oven until a light golden crust has formed on the top of the slice.
COOL in the tin for at least 2 hours so that the custard layer sets. Serve sliced into squares with a generous dusting of sifted icing sugar over the top of the cake.