We live on the outskirts of a very small village, tucked away in the corner of Tasmania’s Derwent Valley. One day we received an unexpected text from a neighbour, the gist of which was: “I am starting a morning tea at my house each Wednesday for those who work from home in our township.”
That first day I brought a cake along. It’s a habit my grandmother taught me, her mantra of sorts was: “When visiting, it’s always nice to take a little something delicious to share with others.”
Now these morning teas – a simple cuppa and a slice of cake – have developed into a really great dynamic. We know we can call on each other for a hand when and if needed. We watch out for each other. It’s certainly an advantage during bushfire season to know who lives where; to be able to check that everyone is safe.
Small acts of kindness (and often much larger ones) are commonplace. For my part, all I can contribute to the equation is an offering of cake each week, which I absolutely love to do.
After about a year of these morning teas, someone remarked that they didn’t think I’d ever taken the same cake twice. I hadn’t really thought about it, I just kept on baking, extremely pleased to have such an appreciative audience of taste-testers.
I decided to challenge myself to see if I could keep this going by developing a new sweet treat each week.
It soon became apparent that including custard in, on, or alongside the cake was very welcome. So much so that it became a constant feature, and I have come to think of the Wednesday morning tea arrangement as the Custard Club.
Sometimes I like to play the game of “spot the custard” – hiding it in the centre of buns or muffins as a surprise burst of creaminess, or perhaps piped into thick columns within a large cake.
Old-fashioned custard tart
In keeping with the style of this old-fashioned favourite, the custard in this tart is made from scratch. It is partially cooked on the stovetop before being spooned into the pastry case. This eliminates the risk of custard seeping through the crust and making the base soggy.
1 egg white, whisked
½ tsp ground nutmeg, for sprinkling
For the pastry
125g very soft salted butter
125g white sugar
150g plain (all-purpose) flour
100g self-raising flour
For the filling
1.125 litre milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
6 egg yolks
100g white sugar
2 tsp lemon juice
To make the pastry, start by using a hand whisk to combine the butter and sugar together in a large bowl, then whisk in the egg until creamy. In a separate bowl, combine the flours then, using a large metal spoon, fold into the butter mixture to make a soft dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to firm up before using.
To make the filling, heat one litre of the milk and the vanilla in a large saucepan to boiling point.
Meanwhile, in a heatproof bowl, whisk together the cornflour and the remaining 125ml of milk. Add the egg yolks, eggs and sugar and whisk until completely free of lumps. Gradually pour 125ml of the hot milk from the pan into the egg mixture, whisking, then add another 125ml. Once incorporated, tip all the egg mixture into the remaining milk in the saucepan and cook over medium to low heat until thickened, whisking constantly. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice.
Place a piece of baking paper on the surface to stop a skin forming, then set aside to cool completely.
Preheat the oven to 200C. Grease an 8cm deep, 23cm round flan tin or tart plate.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to 6mm thick.
Press the pastry evenly into the tin and then brush with some of the whisked egg white to seal. If the pastry breaks as you are lifting it in, just patch it back together in the tin. Trim the top of the pastry above the rim if needed. Leave to stand for five minutes.
Spoon in the cooled custard and sprinkle with the nutmeg. Bake for 10 minutes. Then reduce the oven temperature to 140C and bake for a further 30 minutes, or until the filling is set. Cool on a wire rack and then refrigerate until firm enough to cut cleanly.
Any trimmings from the pastry can be refrigerated for up to two weeks or frozen for two months.
Date custard column cake
This cake was especially well received by the Custard Club as it contains columns of custard inside, in addition to its creamy custard topping.
½ tsp ground nutmeg, for sprinkling
For the cake
300g pitted dates, chopped
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
375ml boiling water
125g salted butter, softened
150g soft brown sugar
230g self-raising flour
For the custard
60g custard powder
60g white sugar
To make the cake, preheat the oven to 160C. Grease an 8cm deep, 20cm square springform cake tin. Line the base and halfway up the inside with baking paper. Grease again.
Place the chopped dates and bicarbonate of soda into a heatproof bowl and pour the boiling water over. Stir to combine, then leave to stand for 15 minutes.
Pour this mixture into the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth (or blitz with a stick blender).
Using handheld beaters or a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until well combined and creamy, then add the eggs and beat again. Using a large metal spoon, fold in the flour and the date mixture.
Pour the batter into the tin and bake for one hour, or until a metal skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Remove from the oven and leave to stand in the tin for 20 minutes before lifting out of the tin on to the bench top.
To make the custard, place the milk in a saucepan and add the custard powder and sugar.
Bring to the boil, stirring with a whisk to prevent lumps forming. Simmer for one minute, stirring constantly, then remove from the heat.
Place a piece of baking paper on the surface of the custard to stop a skin forming.
To assemble, grease the end of the handle of a wooden spoon and use it to poke holes into the warm cake at regular intervals (about 16 holes is best).
Fill the holes with the warm custard.
Spread the remaining custard over the top and sprinkle with the nutmeg.
Leave to cool before cutting into slices to serve.
Coconut custard and passionfruit ring
These luscious semisweet buns are filled with coconut milk custard and topped with tangy passionfruit drizzle.
1 egg yolk, whisked with 20ml water, for glaze
For the coconut custard
400ml coconut milk
40g custard powder
25g white sugar
3 tsp lemon juice
For the dough
350g plain (all-purpose) flour
1½ tsp sea salt
15g white sugar
3½ tsp instant dried yeast
125ml warm milk
60g salted butter, melted
1 egg, lightly whisked
120ml warm water
For the drizzle
300g icing sugar, sifted
1 tsp salted butter, melted
Pulp of 1–2 passionfruit
3 tsp lemon juice
To make the coconut custard, place 300ml of the coconut milk in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to the boil.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the remaining coconut milk and the custard powder to make a thin paste. When the milk has reached boiling point, whisk in the custard powder paste until thickened. Stir in the sugar and then the lemon juice. Remove from the heat and place a piece of baking paper on the surface to stop a skin forming. Set aside to cool completely.
To make the dough, in a large bowl, mix together the flour, salt, sugar and yeast. Make a well in the centre then, using a large metal spoon, stir in the milk, melted butter, egg and enough warm water to make a soft dough. Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and leave to rise until doubled in size – around one hour.
To assemble for baking, preheat the oven to 200C. Grease a 6cm deep, 20cm ring tin. Line the base with baking paper and grease again.
Turn the dough out on to a lightly floured surface and knead for five minutes, or until smooth, using extra flour if required. Cut the dough into six equal portions and shape each into a ball. Flatten each ball to form a 15cm-diameter circle and brush with the egg glaze.
Spoon four generous teaspoons of the custard into the centre of each circle. Fold each circle in half to form a crescent shape, then use your fingers to crimp the edges together to seal and reshape into a ball. Place seam side down in the tin. Cover loosely with a tea towel and leave to rise for about 20 minutes.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and leave to stand in the tin for five minutes. Turn out on to a wire rack and leave to cool.
To make the drizzle, use a metal spoon to mix together the sifted icing sugar, melted butter, passionfruit pulp and just enough of the lemon juice to make a smooth icing. Add a little hot water (a few drops at a time) if more liquid is needed to make a drizzling consistency. Spoon the drizzle over the top of the cooled buns, then leave for about 30 minutes to set. Pull the buns apart when you are ready to serve.