I've spoken before about my old faithful Australian Women's Weekly Cooking Class Cookbook and how it has served my Mum, my sister and I well over the years. One of the heroes of this cookbook is the Vanilla Slice, which I am sure my Mum has made over a hundred times since that magical day she first made them - I can picture her now, swaying along to the Bee Gees and getting cornflour all over her flares.
The Vanilla Slice is an Aussie classic, and is basically our version of a Mille-feuille. The name Vanilla Slice may not be quite as sexy as Mille-feuille, but it is infinitely more sexy than its nickname Snot Block. Can you imagine if we did call it Mille-feuille though?....
A hungry tradie strolls through the hanging plastic stripped door of his local bakery, winking at Gladys across the counter..
"Yeah g'day love, give us a Coffee Chill and two o' those milly fuelies"A Vanilla Slice consists of two layers of puff pastry sandwiching a nice thick filling of vanilla custard and is finished off with icing (normally plain white or passionfruit) or a dusting of icing (powdered) sugar.
You will sometimes come across evil cousins masquerading as Vanilla Slice but made with a layer of cream (or mock cream if they're particularly evil cousins) but don't be fooled, they're not ridgy didge. In their defence they are possibly slightly more ridgy didge than the Arnott's recipe version of Vanilla Slice made with Sao biscuits and instant pudding mix. I'm sorry "Chrisson" but I don't quite believe your review that they "taste just like a fresh bakery vanilla slice". Not sure I'd go so far as to echo the subversive and irreverent Graham Kennedy's assessment of the Arnott's recipe suggestion though:
"Nothing could be more simple than a SAO biscuit yet everybody loves them for that reason. You can do so much with them. You can make vanilla slices. Have you seen that commercial? Nice home-made vanilla slice made out of two SAO biscuits. How about that? Sounds like dysentery, doesn't it?"I can't be too derisive of the Arnott's version, as my AWW version uses custard powder instead of making "proper" custard, but this gives the perfect consistency and makes the dish even more Aus.
The recipe I'm giving you has the ingredients slightly tweaked from the AWW version, and uses a methodology that Mum developed over her years of making these. The AWW recipe also gives a few fabulously retro photos to help you through the stages, which I did my best to recreate for you despite my lack of three hands, enamel pots and a table that is seemingly made out of floorboards.
Recipe adapted from AWW Cooking Class Cookbook
2 sheets puff pastry
1 cup sugar
Generous 3/4 cup cornflour
Generous 1/2 cup custard powder
1 L full cream milk
60 g butter
2 egg yolks
2 tsp vanilla extract
1.5 cups icing sugar
1.5 tsp butter
1. Preheat oven to very hot (240 C 475 F).
2. Place pastry sheets on baking paper on separate trays, and bake in oven until nicely browned (5 to 10 minutes). You may need to turn them during baking so they cook evenly, or you may want to bake them one at a time if your oven differs a lot in temperature between trays.
3. After removing pastry from the oven, get a clean teatowel and push down on the pastry to flatten the big puffs. Be VERY CAREFUL as the steam inside the pastry is super hot! Just push a little at a time. If you try and push it all out at once you are guaranteed to burn yourself and curse the AWW, which just won't do!
4. The AWW now tell you to trim the cooked pastry so that you have two nice even squares. I don't bother with this, as the differences in shape of the two pieces after cooking are minimal, and I'm really not too fussed if the outer pieces aren't totally perfect. I did however recreate the magic for you...
Yes, I do have quite a lot of Christmas themed tea towels, thank you for noticing
5. If you have a square tin the same size as the pastry, line it with baking paper or foil to sit the slice inside. If you do not have one, just use one of the lined baking trays you cooked the pastry on. Place one piece of pastry, flattened side up, inside the tin or just leave it sitting on its tray. This will be the bottom of the slice.
6. Next you need to make the custard. Combine the sugar, cornflour and custard powder in a heavy based saucepan and mix well to combine. Blend with a little of the milk until you get a paste consistency, then stir this very well to work out all the lumps. Stir through the remaining milk, then add the butter.
7. Stir custard mixture constantly over a medium heat until it boils and thickens, then reduce heat and simmer for 3 minutes (I keep stirring through this process). When the custard is thickening it will go through a horrible lumpy phase and look awful. Do not fear. Just keep stirring and soon it will be a thick, delicious mass of custard.
8. Remove from the heat, stir in the vanilla then quickly stir through the egg yolks. You should now have a lovely smooth glossy custard, quite thick, just begging to be eaten off the spoon. Resist the urge to do this just yet, and pour the custard immediately over the 'bottom' piece of pastry we prepared in step 5. Smooth it out to the edges as best you can, trying to get a flat surface. Place the remaining piece of pastry on top of the custard, flattened side down, then press firmly with your hand.
I made up for the lack of redness in my pot by the yellowness of my custard
9. Place the slice in the fridge until chilled, as this makes it much easier to slice. The AWW ice their prior to slicing, but following my Mum's wisdom I always slice mine first, then ice, then slice again. So, once chilled, slice them with a very sharp, thin knife into 25 pieces. Replace slice in the fridge while you prepare the icing.
10. Sift icing sugar over a small bowl, add the butter. Place bowl over a saucepan of simmering or very hot water and stir until butter is melted. Add enough passionfruit pulp such that you have a spreadable icing that is not too runny - you don't want it to run off the sides of the slice.
11. Take slice from fridge, pushing the pieces together so there aren't any gaps between the cuts. Spread icing over the top then replace in fridge. Before serving, use the sharp knife to slice through the icing along the same cut lines of the slice itself. You may want to wipe the knife between slices so the cut is nice and clean.
If only I was still living in a house with boomerang laminate benchtops, I could have gone one up on the floorboard tabletop look
These always go down a treat amongst family and friends, and are well worth the arm workout from stirring the custard. After all, in the words of the AWW, "with a delicious filling of rich vanilla custard, these are the most popular of all slices".
Snot blocks in all their glory, ready to be whisked off to a family 'do'