Ahhh, the humble custard, a bake from my childhood and beloved of “ye olde worlde tea rooms” as well as most bakeries and even supermarket “caffs”; simple it may look nestled in its silver case, and whereas not as flashy as its continental cousins which are adorned with glazed fruits, chocolate swirls and caramelised nuts, this British bake has stood the test of time and remains the nation’s favourite. It’s quite simply a pastry case with a custard filling and a nutmeg sprinkling, but the alchemy that happens when these three elements come together is magical.
So, what on earth I am doing, you may all think, by meddling with a perfectly good recipe that has stood the test of time? I love the traditional Baked Custard Tart with its slightly wobbly custard filling and nutmeg spice topping, but I also love custard with vanilla too, and although short crust pastry is the usual vehicle for these golden yellow pies I prefer the lightness of flaky pastry when baking these tarts. I also adore a scattering of almonds when making these custardy treats too, it’s the nutty texture and taste that adds to the “wibble-wobble” of the vanilla custard that is so utterly charming
When I decided to make a batch of these tea time treats recently, I turned to some ready-made puff pastry that I had lurking in the fridge, some Madagascan vanilla extract and some delicate flaked almonds for my custard tarts. By making them with puff (flaky) pastry, my tarts are very similar to the famous Portuguese Tart, “pastel de nata”, but without the addition of orange blossom water or any other citrus flavouring, which is traditional in the Portuguese variety. I still wanted the “pure” taste of a vanilla custard filling, but with a flakier pastry, and the nuts came as an afterthought when they fell out of the cupboard!
I had enough pastry to make 6 small individual tarts, and one larger tart, but you can of course choose to make a dozen tarts or just one very large one, based on my recipe below. We all enjoyed these tarts with an afternoon cuppa and they were truly delectable – although there is still a place in my heart for the humble “baked custard” as it is fondly known in our parts, I think my Almond and Vanilla Custard Tarts will also become a firm family favourite, and by using puff pastry, there is no need to bake the pastry blind before adding the filling either, which makes them less time-consuming.