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Esurientes - The Comfort Zone

Saturday, February 12, 2005

SHF Puff Pastry: The Great Aussie Vanilla Sliceoff

Vanilla slice is one of those quintessentially Aussie culinary traditions. It's status as Great Aussie sweet is probably only rivalled by lamingtons, and it is so important that there is actually a Great Australian Vanilla Slice Triumph competition held each year by the "Baking Industry Association of Victoria" (true!); competitors fly in their entries from around the country and the winners go to huge lengths advertising their success with large signs and placards outside their shops. The towns (for it is always small country towns that win; being the vanguards they are of traditional Aussie cuisine) even put up billboards on the highway as you drive into the town - WINNER - AUSTRALIA'S BEST VANILLA SLICE 1987! or some similar thing. I tell you, it's big stuff down here.
Basically, they're a very simple arrangement of pastry base, thick custard, a pastry lid and some type of icing. Debate rages fiercely over the type of appropriate icing. There is a great fondness at the moment for the sifted icing sugar camp, which I really don't like, as it always results in the first bite sending the entire icing sugar blanket to decorate your chest. Another camp plumps for the plain fondant icing, whilst a third camp promotes the use of passionfruit icing (my personal favourite. How more Aussie can you get than passionfruit icing on a vanilla slice? I mean, come on!)
I have to admit I'm not a huge fan of vanilla slices, though- perhaps it started at school when the vanilla slices sold in the tuckshop were made with awful cardboard pastry and even more awful solid urine-yellow custard set hard like jelly. The only thing I liked was the thick fondant icing on top. Even now, with most vanilla slices sold in bakeries being of the creamy custard variety, as seen above, I just can't take too much too them. Sure they're creamy and unctious - but there's just not enough flavour for the huge amount of goop. If they were more strongly flavoured (alcoholic, or chocolate perhaps) I might be more keen. I'm not a huge fan of custard anyway, but I know A. just LOVES any type of sweety pastry thing filled with it - doughnuts, danishes, profiteroles etc. So, with this challenge of puff pastry, I chose to make something for him. This one's for you, A.!
Read on for more!

The incredible thing is that the day I came home from work with the ingredients to start making my vanilla slice, I found my mother just returned from a few days down the coast, bearing a paper bag filled with amazing vanilla slices! Apparently the town she was in had just won the Vanilla Slice Triumph for the year and the locals were going crazy. The very day I had planned to make them!
I decided to go ahead, as I had promised a dessert for a lunch with friends on Saturday, and I still wanted to give A. a large slab of slice.
I went ahead and made mine, and held my own mini Australian Vanilla Slice triumph. Only two contendors, but still - I feel I'm doing my part in upholding traditional Austrlian moral values and all that. Whilst the commercial one was definitely impressive, it suffered for its blanket of icing sugar which exploded over my jeans, and a distinct commercial (chemical) taste of cheap vanilla in its (admittedly very creamy & excellent) custard. It had a slight layer of jam on the bottom pastry slice, which was an amusing little diversion, but didn't guarantee it any extra points in my book. My slice had far superior custard, as I used expensive vanilla extract and real milk, and it had the obvious advantage of a layer of tangy passionfruit icing. My pastry wasn't as good, however; if I made my own puff pastry it might have improved it. I declared my homemade version a bold winner in terms of taste...
..........the photo you see above isn't actually of the slice I made. Mainly because, although mine was far superior in taste to the commercial one, it was also FAR inferior in photogenic quality! My custard didn't set properly and I couldn't slice it. At all. Maybe I should have cooked it longer? Who knows? I certainly don't. I ended up serving bowls of custard with pastry lids and passionfruit icing, which was still tasty, but not quite what I had in mind. Luckily my friends only laughed with me rather than at me at my kitchen disaster. But, the photo at least gives you an idea of what gets Australian country women so excited. ;-)

Vanilla Custard Slice

(Women's Weekly Cookbook - 1978)
This book is so dated it still has quantities in the old imperial measurements, which made it a real pain to convert. I've included both, so I can accommodate both US & UK style cooking!

10 oz. puff pastry (284 g)
1 3/4 pints milk (~900 ml)
3/4 cup sugar
2 oz. butter (56 g)
1/2 cup cornflour
4 tablespoon custard powder
1/4 pint milk, extra (142 ml)
1 egg
1 dessertspoon vanilla

Roll out pastry thinly, cut out two 10 inch (25 cm) squre; place on ungreased oven tray, bake in very hot oven approximately 15 minutes. Cool, trium to make two 8 inch (20 cm) squares. Place one layer on base of greaseproof paper-lined 8 inch square cake tin.
Place milk, sugar, butter in a large saucepan. Blend cornflour and custard powder with extra milk; add to saucepan, bring to boil, stirring until smooth and thick. Remove from heat, beat in vanilla and egg. While still hot, pour over later of pastry, pressing down firmly. Cool, top with passionfruit icing. Refrigerate until firm; cut in slices.

Passionfruit icing
1.5 cups pure icing mixture
juice 3-4 passionfruit (or 1 small tin of John West passionfruit in syrup)
1 teaspoon butter.


  • I heartily agree with using passionfruit icing - it's my favorite on a vanilla slice! Though on the prizewinning one with the jam, I'm not sure passionfruit would have been a good compliment.

    By Blogger Nic, at 2/13/2005 02:42:00 am  

  • it looks really good but puff pastry's such a pain in the ass. if i'm going to go to the trouble, i'm making croissants.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2/13/2005 08:29:00 am  

  • I seriously went: AHHHH! When I saw the picture - that looks gorgeous Niki! And even though it might look good, I just KNOW your own homemade version must have tasted light years better!

    By Blogger Cerebrum, at 2/13/2005 01:38:00 pm  

  • Oh, this looks so tasty. Yet another to add to my to-do list!


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2/15/2005 09:29:00 am  

  • Thank you; yes the photo does make it look pretty gooey and amazing, doesn't it!

    By Blogger Niki, at 2/15/2005 11:00:00 pm  

  • Awwww, custard slices from the school tuckshop! Now you've brought back some memories... They were our only sweet treats apart from jam doughnuts. I do agree though that they's be *vastly* improved if the filling were somehow revved up - chocolate gets my vote!! I must admint though - yours do look suitably unctuous...

    By Blogger Jeanne, at 2/15/2005 11:49:00 pm  

  • Fondant or passionfruit icing, has to be. Extra points if it ends up stuck all over your fingers.

    I've never seen them home-made assuming they simply appeared through some mysterious conduit to shops.

    By Blogger Anthony, at 2/16/2005 12:41:00 am  

  • It sounds to me like you have a winning recipe on your hands, my dear - just get the custard to set next time and you will have men, women and children (Aussies or not) drooling at your feet!

    And next time, no matter the unphotogenic-ness (?) of the food, please share! It's always good to see what people make...mistakes or no.

    By Blogger Jennifer, at 2/16/2005 05:56:00 am  

  • Jeanne - you were lucky at school. JAM donuts! - goodness me! Such extravagance. :-) We were only allowed slightly stale cinnamon donuts - the ones in the shape of a ring. They were pretty good dunked in hot milo, though!
    Anthony - yep, the icing ending up all over your fingers is one of the best bits. I was pretty happy with my icing this time, in fact, I was told it was 'spectacular'!
    Jennifer - I know...I just couldn't bring myself to posting such a dud photo when I knew SHF would be bringing lots of visitors...if they saw such a gross shot I'm sure they'd turn away in horror! But, I'd like to work on my custard technique; it thickened to what I thought would be enough, and I thought it'd thicken even further upon cooling, but apparently that is not the case!

    By Blogger Niki, at 2/17/2005 03:11:00 am  

  • Sitting here in Chicago hankering for a vanilla slice and a google search found your site.
    Thanks for making me truly homesick.

    Now if I could just find a lamington...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/09/2007 04:23:00 am  

  • wonderful and ty soooo much, i moved to holland and a friend in portugal asked for the recipe, she hunted the net and i could not help. but by chance i went looking and found you, the pic makes me lick my lips. great to find folk like you tysvm. now i gots to find donuts (jam) lol.if anyone wants welsh cakes u can email me on ralph_dyer@planet.nl and bread pudding. and real stew from home.
    or a nice curry dish.
    regards ralph.

    By Blogger barnowl, at 10/03/2007 08:39:00 pm  

  • I say forget the eggs and flour. Use instead 2 cups thick gream, 1/2 cup sugar,1/2 cup custard powder, tsp good vanilla essence, and 1 and 1/2 cups milk for the filling.Boil on medium heat until thick stirring at all times. Definately agree on the passionfruit icing though. Also nice with a layer of banana on the bottom layer, not jam yuk!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7/30/2008 02:26:00 pm  

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