Thursday, May 21, 2009

Cultural Cuisine

vanilla slice

Most Australians are very passionate about their vanilla slice, and rightly so. Much like the lamington or pavlova, it is part of our cultural cuisine. I guess you could call it the laid-back Aussie cousin to the well-dressed French mille-feuille. National events are held annually in its honour where bakers from around the country compete for the coveted title of Best Vanilla Slice. If you’re in Melbourne this blog will tell you where to find a good one, and the criteria that a really good vanilla slice should meet.

When done right, a vanilla slice is a beautiful thing. Each of the three elements – the flaky buttery puff pastry, the creamy vanilla custard and the topping, usually fondant icing, but sometimes passionfruit icing or icing sugar – have to each be perfect to create a really spectacular slice. My mum is a big fan of this particular confection, and I had been promsing to make her a vanilla slice for many months now. Her birthday came and went, but Mother’s Day turned out to be the perfect occasion.

Luckily it was proclaimed to be worth the wait, and I honestly wouldn’t change anything when I make this again the future. The custard comes together easily, with the addition of cornflour so it thickens up nicely to set in the fridge. I used a split vanilla bean and infused the milk/cream mixture for an even stronger vanilla flavour, which is what this is all about after all! The puff pastry is baked with a weight on top (I used another baking tray) which ensures that it puffs evenly. It is just an absolutely fantastic recipe, but make sure you have a lot of friends around because it is at its best on the day it’s made.

Vanilla Slice
Recipe adapted from ‘Modern Classics 2’ by Donna Hay
Makes 9 slices

• 2 sheets ready prepared puff pastry, thawed
• Icing sugar, for dusting

Vanilla Custard
• 1 ½ cups milk
• 1 ½ cups cream
• 60g butter
• 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 2/3 cup sugar
• 1/3 cup cornflour
• ½ cup water
• 6 egg yolks

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Trim each piece of puff pastry to slightly bigger than the slice tin you are using. Place on baking trays lined with non-stick baking paper. Top each piece with another baking tray as a weight and bake for 35 minutes or until puffed and golden. Cool on racks.
2. To make the custard, place milk, cream and vanilla seeds and vanilla extract in a medium sized saucepan and heat until just before boiling point. Turn off the heat, cover, and allow to infuse for 10-20 minutes.
3. After it is infused, add butter and sugar and cook until hot but not boiling. Mix the cornflour and water to a smooth paste and whisk into the hot milk mixture. Ad the egg yolks and stir, allowing to simmer for 6 minutes or until the mixture has thickened. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
4. Line your slice pan with non-stick baking paper. Place one of the pastry sheets on the bottom, pour in the custard and top with remaining pastry. Refrigerate for 2 hours or until set. Cut into squares using a serrated knife. Dust with icing sugar and serve.


Karen said...

Yumm I love my vanilla slice. Very nostalgic of my childhood and always with a passionfruit icing! They were also a staple recipe at Home Economics! I remember making them when I was young using Arnotts Lattice as the "pastry". Gorgeous.

Stephcookie said...

It looks so pretty, especially because you can see all those wonderful dots of vanilla throughout the custard. Your Mum is so lucky! By the way that is the cutest plate ever :)

Rachel said...

Lucky Mum - your vanilla slice looks wonderful. It reminds me of my childhood too. My mother is also a big fan but it is difficult to get a really good one. I'll have to try your recipe - thanks!

Arwen from Hoglet K said...

That looks like a beautiful mothers day gift. The pastry on bought vanilla slices isn't always great, so making it yourself is a good idea.

Betty said...

Yum! Vanilla slice is always a winner with me :) These look great, lucky mum!

dizzylizzybee said...

Thanks for posting the link to the blog of vanilla slices, I'm having a ball reading about them. And there's at least 4 bakeries in my near vicinity (which is impressive when you think I live in a small town in the Macedone Ranges, Country VIC). Your slice looks YUM! I work at a bakery and am surrounded by vanilla slice all the time, and I'm lucky enough that it's super good too :)

shula said...

Now you've made me all wanty...

Sarah said...

Reading your blog at 11.30 PM (Belgian time) isn't really good for my health: it really gets me hungry! :)

Kendra said...

Looks so beautiful! I have never had anything like this, but I have had mille-feuille several times. This looks so much better though because the custard is the part I love the most :)

jen said...

this is a lovely stumble. i love finding new and beautiful blogs. love the colors of the photo and i'm intrigued to try my hand at this vanilla slice

Angelynn said...

What kind of cream? Heavy?

amritac said...

What a pretty photograph...looks yummy!

Bethie said...

I want to make this. It looks sooooo good.

Manggy said...

No friends around! I wanna have it all for myself :P My friend Graeme (English) is quite fond of vanilla slices himself-- I think he'd claim it as his! Culture wars!

Lisa said...

Karen, thanks! I have never really liked the passionfruit icing personally, it is already sweet enough without it haha. The real vanilla really made this special.

Rachel, yes it is difficult to find a good one! Let me know how you go with the recipe :)

Arwen, I would love to try this again with home-made puff pastry but that is a task for another day.

Betty, thanks!

Dizzylizzybee, that blog makes me wish I lived in Melbourne! :)

Shula, give the recipe a go ;)

Sarah, hah I find exactly the same thing when I read food blogs!

Kendra, they are very common in Australian bakeries, but not sure about anywhere else. This recipe has a really nice custard too.

Jen, thank you! I hope you'll give it a try.

Angelynn, use cream that has about 35% fat.

Amritac, thanks so much!

Bethie, it was indeed good, you should try it!

Mark, ooh do we have another food culture war on our hands! To be fair, Australians probably inherited it from the English (who probably got it from the French), but it is very common, and very very popular here.

Kevin said...

That vanilla slice looks and sounds so good!

Ozge said...

Never had one... looks modest, intrigues my interest... there must be something simple and yummy in the taste.

Brilynn said...

Beautiful! I used to live near a bakery that made perfect vanilla slices, although I've never attempted it myself.

Y said...

Beautiful! I really must make vanilla slice some time.

steph- whisk/spoon said...

vanilla slice was a favorite treat when we lived in sydney! glad to hear that donna hay's recipe is a good one!! it certainly looks tasty!!

Y said...

Forgot to mention that I made this not too long ago. Thanks for sharing the recipe! Everyone loved it :)


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