Over a five day road trip I enjoyed 5 types of vanilla slice
This post is dedicated to one of my favourite pastries, i.e., the vanilla slice. I’m not talking about the pooncy Mille-feulle that the French make. I’m talking about a good old fashioned vanilla slice that you find at school fetes, an Australian classic. An Australian legend.
This post is not about the story of the vanilla slice and its iconic position in modern Australian history. This is my opinion (only) on what makes a good vanilla slice.
As I was driving home yesterday, I was chatting with Mum on the telephone. I was describing my holiday experience and the vanilla slices I’d eaten. We discussed how we remember vanilla slices from the time I was a young boy when you get them at the school tuck shop and at school fetes.
In my mind a good vanilla slice isn’t too tall, that is, the layer of custard only needs to be a centimetre or so not the two or more centimetres you see in most shops. The custard should also be rich and creamy without too much gelatin. I’ve had some vanilla slices which I’m sure I could bounce off a wall because the custard was like a squash ball. You don’t want your tongue to slide off the custard, the custard needs to be soft enough that you can manipulate the custard with the tip of your tongue. You want to be able to savour and taste the custard, it needs to coat your tongue so that all the amazing flavour of the custard can give you that amazing rush. The pastry should be thin but not so flaky and hard that when you bite into it it cracks and creates a flaky snow storm. I don’t mean soggy, soggy pastry isn’t good, but soft to firm. This goes for both the bottom layer of pastry and the top layer. The icing is contentious. I’m a fan of both the passionfruit and pink icing variations. I’m not a fan of the white icing with chocolate swirls. That sort of fanciness has no place in vanilla slice making (IMHO). The icing needs to be subtle, sweet, but not sickly sweet. It also needs to be thin, not thick, thick makes it too sweet. The icing also needs to be soft so that when you bite into the slice your maxillary incisors can slice cleanly through the icing into the custard and the mandibular incisors cleanly slice through the pastry and into the custard. You don’t want to make a mess. You don’t want your fingers to be too sticky. You want to be able to eat a vanilla slice with your hands or if you’re with polite company with a fork. Modern day vanilla slices often have icing that is too thick or too ‘tempered’ so it snaps or embeds into the custard as you push down with a fork.
In terms of shape and size, rectangles or squares are fine but not too big. Everything in moderation people, you want to have that feeling of wanting more but knowing you’ve had enough with just one slice.
Okay here’s the lineup of vanilla slices from my recent holiday.
Holbrook Bakery (central)
This was the first vanilla slice of the trip. It’s from the (central) Holbrook Bakery (there are two, viz., central and southern). You can see the icing has been dusted with icing sugar. I believe this is superfluous. If the pastry is too stiff when you bite in or when you use a fork the icing sugar goes all over the place, not a good thing if you’re wearing a black shirt. I made the mistake of going for the French vanilla slice which has a layer of cream. The cream was good but because the pastry was too hard you basically squirt the cream all over the place making for a messy experience. If I was eating this over my kitchen sink or in the bath tub with my hands that would be fine but not in a bakery or cafe.
Henri’s Wodonga Bakery
Henri’s is a big bakery in the Coles car park in Wodonga. There’s a lot of tables and chairs and a great selection of cakes. The pastry and custard in this vanilla slice was good. The icing though was too thick. Way too thick. I lifted it off when I couldn’t get my fork through it. I ate the icing separately. I really enjoyed the custard and the pastry but the icing was too sweet.
Hides Bakery Benalla
So this was the only passionfruit icing I came across on my trip. It was really nice and the flavour was subtle. The tang of the passionfruit was there and contrasted nicely with the sweetness of the soft and light icing. The custard though was a little too gelatinous.
Kemp’s Bakery in Kilmore
Before I describe the vanilla slice let me say this is a really good bakery/cafe. The staff are friendly and helpful. The tables and chairs are great and not too close together. The best part of the bakery is the toilets. Best, cleanest well lit toilets I came across on this trip. I’d happily read a newspaper in the toilets in Kemp’s Bakery in Kilmore. Now the icing on this vanilla is this pink. Can it be too pink? Who knows! What I found odd was the strawberry flavour in the icing. The custard was set a little too high and was a bit gelatinous too.
Beechworth Bakery in Beechworth
I didn’t have Beechworth in my original itinerary. That said, quite a few friends told me they thought the Beechworth vanilla slice was the best. One friend in particular who I know to be a connoisseur of vanilla slices thought Beechworth was the place to go. Given I was driving at a leisurely pace on this holiday, I took a detour from Wangaratta to Beechworth and then headed on to Holbrook. The Beechworth Bakery is impressive and if you check out yesterday’s post you’ll see why in the display case photograph I posted. This vanilla slice was certainly good. The custard wasn’t too high. The custard wasn’t too gelatinous. The pastry was softish. The icing though was thick. That said, the Beechworth Bakery Vanilla slice was probably the best of this trip and I’m glad I took some time out to visit. The better reason though to visit Beechworth Bakery is their beesting. OMG the best beesting ever. Custard in light sweet pastry. It was amazing.
So have these vanilla slices been better than my all time favourite of recent years? NO The vanilla slice from the Gumnut Patisserie at Bowral (or Mittagong or Moss Vale) still ranks as the best even though it does have pooncy white icing with chocolate swirls.
The last word on my vanilla slice journey comes from my Mum. “Gary you know the only way you’re going to enjoy the perfect vanilla slice is if you practice and make it yourself”.
I also want to mention that one of the enjoyable parts of my driving holiday wasn’t just listening to podcasts on Star Trek and photography, but the book The Crossroad by Mark Donaldson, VC. It’s an open account of what made the man. I’d recommend the book to anyone interested in defending human rights, being Australian and loving life.