Oh, this one is hard to answer, but let me have a try:
There will be no universal answer as it is very dependent on
- How likely are certain emergency situations to happen
- The Runway available
- Terrain below (obstacles, landingsights outside the airport, populated area or not)
- The aircrafts characteristics (ofcause we are talking only of SE)
and most probably even on some more.
Your chances to get to the 'safe' runway should you encounter an engine failure are much bigger and you will also be faster on ground in case of fire if you remain close to the field - both emergencies are very remote but allways to consider. I take them into account when planning to fly over Water or over congested areas according to FAR 91.119
Except when necessary for takeoff or landing, no person may operate an aircraft below the following altitudes:
(a) Anywhere. An altitude allowing, if a power unit fails, an emergency landing without undue hazard to persons or property on the surface.
A traffic pattern is obviously a maneuver necessary for takeoff and landing. But you are not asking about legal facts but about safety, so let's go ahead.
We found out that a closer pattern will most probably give you the best chances if you have an engine failure or fire and there is no other safe spot to land then the runway. But that's not completely true because if you compare a 'normal' to a short approach ~70% of the pattern (~90% of the engines workload) will be exactly the same which even makes an engine failure or an fire on board more remote to happen during the phase of flight where you are closer tomthe runway as 'normal'.
@Egid mentioned a stabilised approach, which results in a lot of safety. He even called it the safest way to fly an approach - guess what my comment on this is, right, start reading at the top: it's dependent on blablabla ;) All right man, you're answer is basically correct and I practice it 90% of my landings but the runway available and obstacles sometimes make me think a different way. Assuming a short muddy grass strip : Stop talking about extra safety thanks to a short approach - suitable words were either funny or risky. Also a stabilised approach until 50ft would not be my first choice. If I would approach this runway with nothing else in my mind than maximum safety I would chose a little longer final than usual, stabilise the airplane early - final configuration, all checklists done, on spped on glide path on centerline - but after clearing the obstacles deviate from the approach path to do a short field landing optimally with the aircraft fully stalled at touchdown on threshold.
There are aircraft you either fly stabilised or better leave on ground. An example would be the Cirrus aircraft, but honestly I have not enough experience on them to really consider them to be not suitable for steep dives into final. Anyway these and other agile aircraft are much safer to operate the 'normal' way.
I'm also a huge point to consider. If I would sit there with the hands on the controls flying not further than a quarter mile from the runway afraid of my engine going off any second, I would rather visit the doctor but don't go flying. There are these days where you are concerned of anything, check everything 3 times and take some extra precautions wherever possible. But then I've checked everything but my self prior this flight. You won't perform well if you are afraid of what you are doing.
But I don't think that you are someone who's afraid but someone who wants to do his best to fly as safe as possible - a pilot who thinks that way he's supposed to do. But you're still a factor. Ask your self if you are familiar enough with the aircraft, the approach, the situation and feel comfortable to cut it short if you like to do so. Consider that there will be a higher workload (work / time) you will have to manage.
All in all you need to think of a lot off points and I myself come to the result that I would brief and fly the approach I feel most comfortable with - easy isn't it? ;)