Generally, I do enjoy most of what I read. Sometimes I don’t, but luckily, sometimes the opposite is true and I love a book so much that I can’t shut up about it. John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies is one such book. Readers, my second 5-star book of the year is here, and I couldn’t be more excited to share it with you!
I first heard about this book on my new favorite podcast, All the Books. (Thank you, Liberty Hardy! You’re always full of excellent recommendations.) So, when I saw it in my August BOTM selections, I knew I had to select it. When it showed up in the mail, I was surprised at its heft - it’s nearly 600 pages - and set it aside for nearly enough, thinking I didn’t have time to get into a difficult, long book. I waited a couple of weeks, but when I finally picked it up, I was captivated in just the first few pages and by the end of the first chapter, I was hooked.
The novel follows Cyril Avery beginning when he is still an unborn child in his mother’s womb in a small town in 1940s Ireland. When she is cast out by a cruel priest, she finds herself in Dublin, where she must make it on her own. Her circumstances almost require her to put Cyril up for adoption, and he is taken by a hunchbacked Redemptionist nun to the home of Maude and Charles Avery, an eccentric couple who aren’t exactly cut out for parenthood. From there, Cyril’s life takes both heartwarming and heart-wrenching turns, bringing us to modern day Ireland in truly spectacular and unforgettable fashion.
This book may be 592 pages, but I couldn’t put it down. I finished it in a weekend and have been talking about it ever since. Furies is filled with complex and varied characters, all memorable in their own way. As entertaining as this novel was - it absolutely had it’s laugh out loud moments - I should probably mention that, like my last 5-star favorite, it tackles some sensitive topics and was hard to read in parts. But to me, that is the beauty of Boyne’s novel; he expertly captured all the nuances of humanity, from the mundanely everyday to unexpected tragedy in a captivating way.
Finding a recipe to pair with such a sweeping saga wasn’t as hard as I expected it to be. Several key scenes throughout take place in a parliamentary tea shop where “cream slice” seems to be a popular menu item. After doing some research, I found it’s also known as custard slice. I was able to find a recipe from RTE, or the Raidió Teilifís Éireann in Ireland, which is a real television station where Cyril finds himself working at one point in the novel.
The recipe has quite a lot of steps, but the ingredients list is small and it’s not really that complicated, so don’t let the long recipe below fool you. It’s totally doable.
To start, I set out my frozen puff pastry sheets to thaw while I made my pastry cream. I poured the milk into a saucepan, added a vanilla pod split down the middle and let it come to a boil. In the meantime, I combined the sugar, egg yolks and cornstarch with a mixer, beating for a few minutes until it became pale and light.
Once the milk began boiling, I removed it from the heat and slowly added it to the egg mixture, whisking all the while. I added it back to the saucepan, bringing it up to a slow boil over low heat, stirring continuously. After several minutes, it thickened, so I removed it from the heat and added it to a wide bowl to cool more quickly. I covered it with cling wrap and placed it in the fridge.
Once the puff pastry dough was thawed (able to be unfolded), I used a sharp knife to cut it down to an 8x8 square. (I don’t think this is entirely necessary, if you have a 9x9 pan, which I found I did after the fact. I’ve explained further in the recipe notes below.) Then, on two parchment-lined baking sheets, I baked them for about 10 minutes each, until they were lightly golden.
After they cooled, I placed one pastry in the bottom of my pan, which was lined with foil. Per the directions, I made sure to leave extra foil hanging out of the pan so the completed custard slice could be removed more easily later; this is definitely a big help. Then, I smoothed the cooled pastry cream over the bottom layer of puff pastry and placed the prettier looking pastry sheet on top. The assembled dessert went back into the fridge to set while I made the topping.
I combined powdered sugar with a small amount of cold water to create a drizzle-able icing. I also melted some dark chocolate (you could also use milk chocolate if you prefer) in a small bowl in the microwave, until it was thin enough to drizzle with a spoon.
First, I drizzled the icing diagonally across the top of the pastry. Then, turning the pastry 90 degrees, I drizzled the melted chocolate to create a criss-cross pattern with the icing.
I covered the completed custard slice and put it back in the fridge to set until we were ready to give it a try. Later that evening, I cut it into 8 rectangular slices and served as our dessert. We found it to be sort of messy to eat, and I would recommend using a fork and a knife, but it certainly was tasty. If you decide to give it a go, I hope you enjoy!
Have you read John Boyne’s novel yet? What did you think?
Vanilla Custard Slice
- 2 sheets frozen puff pastry
- 13 fl oz whole milk
- 1 vanilla pod, split down the middle or 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 6 Tablespoons (3 ounces) granulated sugar
- 3 egg yolks
- 3 Tablespoons cornstarch
- pinch of salt
- 2 Tablespoons, or 1 ounce, or unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
- ¼ cup powdered sugar
- ¼ cup melting chocolate or chocolate chips
- Make the crème pâtissière to begin: Pour the milk into a saucepan and add the split vanilla pod, if using. (If using the vanilla extract, add it in with the butter at the end.) Bring the milk mixture to the boil, then remove from the heat.
- Whisk the sugar, egg yolks and cornstarch together in a large bowl for about 2–3 minutes using a hand-held electric mixer until pale and light.
- Pour the hot milk onto the egg mixture, whisking continuously, and then return the mixture to the saucepan. Cook the mixture over a low heat, stirring continuously, until the mixture becomes thick. It should just come to a boil. If it boils unevenly or too quickly, it may become lumpy, in which case use a whisk to mix until smooth again.
- Remove the custard from the heat and pour into a bowl (push the mixture through a sieve if there are any lumps). Add the pinch of salt and the butter (and vanilla extract if using) and stir until melted and thoroughly combined.
- Leave to cool, cover with cling wrap and chill before using.
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line two baking trays with parchment paper.
- If using frozen puff pastry sheets, these should already be approximately 9x9. If you have a 9x9 pan available, you can use as-is. If you only have (or prefer to use) an 8x8 pan, cut the puff pastry sheets so they will fit the smaller pan. Cut approximately 1 inch off two of the sides, forming an 8x8 square.
- Place each pastry sheet onto the lined baking trays, prick each piece a few times with a fork and chill for 10-15 minutes. Then, bake the pastry sheets for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown and crisp. Set aside to cool.
- While the pastry bakes, line your baking pan with foil, allowing plenty of extra foil at the sides to allow you to lift out the assembled slices. If you don't have a square tin, it's not the end of the world, just use the foil to make a base and sides.
- Place one pastry sheet in the bottom of the lined tin (reserve the prettiest piece for the top). Spread the crème pâtissière evenly onto the pastry in the baking tray before placing the other piece of pastry on top. Refrigerate while making the icing.
- For the icing, sift the icing sugar into a bowl. Stir in 3-4 teaspoons cold water – just enough to give you a thick, drizzling consistency – and set aside.
- Place the chocolate in a bowl sitting over a saucepan with a few centimetres of water. Bring the water up to the boil, then take off the heat and allow the chocolate to melt slowly. (Another option would be to heat in the microwave at defrost or 30% power in 30 minute increments, stirring until it becomes melted enough to drizzle. If using melting chocolate, follow directions on the bag.)
- Take the custard slice from the fridge to decorate. First, using a spoon, drizzle the icing diagonally across the pastry. Turn the pan 90-degrees and, using a different spoon, drizzle the chocolate across the pastry forming lines that criss-cross the icing lines. Repeat with icing and chocolate as desired/until you run out.
- Place the slice back into the fridge to set. Later, cut the finished custard slice into 8 pieces. Using the foil, carefully lift the portioned vanilla slices out of the tray and serve.
Notes: This recipe was adapted for the US from a recipe created in Ireland. Measurements were converted when necessary to accommodate American cooks.
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