Mille-Feuille. Meel-foy. Meeeeel-Ff-OY.
The recipe first officially appearing in the ambiguous French Cookbook, "Menon" in the 1700s the stocky Vanilla slice can be found in most local patisseries around the world. Variations do exist, but most places pay tribute to the classic combination of flaky layers of puff pastry and creamy custard, because it’s hands-down-delicious.
Most Australian’s know of this sweet slice to have passionfruit pips spread throughout the thin top layer of icing and variations include marbled chocolate toppings or a simple dusting of icing sugar on the final top layer. Whilst I have never come across one to include the following variations, they do exist; custard with a layer of almond spread, jam or more cream and savoury fillings do exist with spinach and cheese being the most notable one.
When I think about a Vanilla slice, it takes me straight back to my childhood. I can clearly remember skimming my decision straight over the top of it’s podgy sitting and going straight for the cheap and cheerful meringues or donuts. It never appealed to me and to be honest it’s overall look made me feel ill. Yellow and wobbly, sitting there looking like lard slapped between two pastry sheets. I never felt compelled to spend my pocket money on buying one. This stubborn and aesthetic decision was reinforced after my Dad purchased one for me, I took one bite and custard oozed out touching both sides of my cheeks, cliff-hanging there as if waiting for Sylvester Stallone to reach out and pull it back up to the safety of my mouth before heavily plopping down onto my lap. The custard was like tasteless jelly and the pastry was like a soft cracker and I now had a mess on my face which had managed to migrate down to my pants. I was done. Vanilla slice, you were dead to me. Dead it remained for approximately twenty years. Not even a blip on the radar. The combination of the two were happily divorced.
I recently went on a much needed road trip and one of our treats was to drive from our isolated camp site back into the closest town where we visited the local pastry shop. Ears full of salt & wax, hair matted & crusted by the sea and each of us bare foot, my family and I glamorously made our way into the surprisingly spacious bakery. After our order of pies, we moved onto ordering our sweet pastries. We stood behind the glass panel and pointed at a number of small treats; miniature blueberry crumbles, apple pies and, and…before I could see what had happened there sat a Vanilla slice. Morbidly taking up sweet, sweet space for more blueberry crumbles. My partner had swiftly pointed at one and the pastry lady heaved it up into the box before I could manage to fill it with a mini salted caramel tart. No place to wage a war, I sent over a slight lift of the brow at his choice of pastry.
These babies were not to be saved for the camp site, we were going to rip right into them. Icing sugar, and crumbled pastry bits fell off and onto our laps and down onto the van floor as we drove over the corrugated dirt road. Making our way through the bush and trailing alongside the coast line.The Vanilla slice sat there, waiting. This one actually looked appealing. Not bright yellow or jelly like, it sat there looking suspiciously regal amongst the crumbs in the box particularly as it’s fine pastry layers which were pin cushioned with little holes held it’s own over the bumpy road. I stuck my finger into the side and was surprised at the soft creamy texture. Needless to say the rest is a blur, but the fact of the matter is that I inhaled that Vanilla slice like no ones business. It still slapped my cheeks with oozing custard and eating it was a messy ordeal. My partner was driving and sent me a lift of the brow as I was blissfully in the moment with this Vanilla slice.
Upon returning home I have discovered that my favourite little after-school-drop-off-coffee-shop sells an epic Vanilla slice. Has it always been there, I don't know and I most likely wouldn’t have noticed. But I do know that they only sell them on Thursday’s. So today I have managed to get my mitts on not ONE but TWO slices. The one to take away is for my partner, an apology for the exchanging of the lifted brows.
Final concluding question, how on earth do we eat these things or is squished custard just a given to these slabs of pastry and custard? Is it common to eat it with cutlery? How does the pastry chef cut it without squishing it?
By Jacs xo