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Monday, March 29, 2010

The most popular of all slices

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. 

Vanilla Slices
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 

Passionfruit icing
1.5 cups icing sugar
1.5 tsp butter
1 passionfruit

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'


Karen @ Citrus and Candy March 29, 2010 at 11:29 PM  

I LOVE vanilla slices. Even better if you use Butter Puff Pastry and freshly made custard. I'm so making this asap and taking the whole thing to my bedroom for nostalgic and sexy times :P

And boo hiss to instant pudding mixes and SAOs?!! At least use Lattice Biscuits lol!

Karen Harris March 29, 2010 at 11:55 PM  

These look delicious Conor. Thanks so much for the award! What a coincidence, you are actually the 10th blog on my list but I didn't want to add you without checking with you first. Now that I know you don't mind, I'll add your blog on my list so my readers can discover your wonderful blog too. You always give me a smile and a feast for my eyes. Thanks again!

Hannah March 30, 2010 at 1:43 AM  

Gosh, I feel so unAustralian right now. I don't think I've ever had an entire Vanilla Slice to myself, nor much enjoyed the bites of other's I've had. I always went for the choc caramel slice, myself...

You do make it look good, though!

Hannah March 30, 2010 at 1:44 AM  

Gosh, I feel so unAustralian right now. I don't think I've ever had an entire Vanilla Slice to myself, nor much enjoyed the bites of other's I've had. I always went for the choc caramel slice, myself...

You do make it look good, though!

MaryMoh March 30, 2010 at 5:47 AM  

I haven't tried theses slices. I love the Australian Women's Cookbook too. I think I have seen this slice. If your mom has made more than a hundred times, I think I better make too.

Belle@Ooh, Look March 30, 2010 at 6:33 AM  

Hurly burly, your vanilla slices look just like the ones we used to get from the cake shop after school (though theirs were a bit bigger, the size of a brick). Thanks for the lovely memories!

Betty @ The Hungry Girl March 30, 2010 at 8:38 AM  

Haha I would for 'mille-feuille' to be used, just so that one day I could hear a tradie utter that line!
I love vanilla slices... I hate the pastry and icing sugar falling all over me though!

Anonymous March 30, 2010 at 9:51 AM  

Ahhh, I;'m sick at home with a fever but you've got me laughing, as usual.

Love the step by step photos, and your christmas towel is way cooler than the generic striped one. And you obviously look like you live in a much brighter house. The AWW one seems wuite..lodge-like.

Man I miss those vanilla slices. I have to say though, I do love the fresh vanilla cream varients from time to time. But AWW cookbooks rock my stripey socks!

Iron Chef Shellie March 30, 2010 at 10:41 AM  

LOL! flour all over her flares :P I can imagine that too!

Looks good. Never really been a fan of the vanilla slice.. maybe I've only had impostors. Should try making it then see what I think!

Jo - SecondHelping March 30, 2010 at 12:04 PM  

Love live the snot block!

Cakelaw March 30, 2010 at 12:10 PM  

What fab vanilla slices - they turned out so well. Mock cream in the middle of fake ones - ewww! Sounds like an awful concoction I bought in Acland St, St Kilda a while back.

Krissy @ The Food Addicts March 30, 2010 at 1:09 PM  

wow, that's remarkable! i don't think i'm as ambitious to attempt such a difficult dessert. why? you writing in caps about being very careful... yeah, i'll screw it up!

Panamahat March 30, 2010 at 1:10 PM  

It is now clear to me that I have NEVER tasted a 'proper' vanilla slice. No wonder I say I don't like them. Perhaps I would, if given a chance to scoff the real thing!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella March 30, 2010 at 5:02 PM  

LOL I can't stand that name Snot Blocks-it's just too vivid! :P And yes I don't think quick versions would really replicate the gorgeousness of a real one.

Agnes March 30, 2010 at 6:19 PM  

Ohmygosh! I haven't had a vanilla slice in ages. Must rectify ASAP.

Trisha March 30, 2010 at 6:43 PM  

I agree - one of the most popular of them all! I never used to like custard before but since tasting one particular vanilla slice a few years ago, well, it just won me over. This is fantasticcccc!!

Pam March 30, 2010 at 11:04 PM  

I've never had this before but I think it looks SO TASTY!!!

Evelyne @ CheapEthniEatz March 31, 2010 at 12:08 AM  

Wow they look awesome, especially with exotic passion fruit. Really its called snot box...ewww

Sofa bed is your for PDC sugar shack next year ;-)

April @ My Food Trail March 31, 2010 at 1:46 PM  

LOL, love your posts as usual! :) I love the comparisons too with the original photos! The passionfruit icing sounds like a great change from a usual "white top" vanilla slice.

mademoiselle délicieuse March 31, 2010 at 1:54 PM  

I'm one of the few people who do not like vanilla slices but that's because I have an aversion to custard. Love your rendition of the tradie going in to ask for one though!

Julia @Mélanger March 31, 2010 at 4:04 PM  

This has brought back some memories. I've made Mille feuille recently, but not this version with an Australian twist. I have bookmarked this for future reference. And I will be making it!

penny aka jeroxie March 31, 2010 at 7:19 PM  

I like a good vanilla slice. Snot block? You can come stay with me next time.

Conor @ HoldtheBeef March 31, 2010 at 9:20 PM  

Karen @ Citrus and Candy - hehe, I can totally imagine you sitting on your bed, legs crossed, with a whole tray of vanilla slice in your lap and a nostalgic look on your face (changing to a scary don't-mess-with-me look if someone were to get too close to the tray). Haha! Go the lattice!

Karen Harris - thank you! You're very welcome, and thank YOU very much indeed for having me on your list! What a great coincidence, it's nice to know we have a happy loop going on :D

Hannah - whoa, not sure they're going to let you back in the country. I'd keep that to yourself. Better go through immigration snacking on a vegemite sandwich.

MaryMoh - the AWW are pretty reliable, bless their aprons. My Mum is pretty reliable too :D

Belle@Ooh, Look - what a compliment! Perhaps Gladys is me!

Betty @ The Hungry Girl - damn flaky pastry and sticky sugar, making me look like the piggy glutton that I am!

vickys - oh no! Hope the fever has broken and you're feeling up for a good Easter. Glad to have helped a little in your hour of need :) Thanks, I always get a new Christmas tea towel in my stocking, so it's like Christmas all year in my kitchen ;) You are totally right about the lodge vibe, that's the perfect way to describe it!

Iron Chef Shellie - haha, I am totally taking poetic licence but I like to think I'm not too far off the mark imagining such things ;) There are lots of crap versions out there, I would like to make this for you to compare but alas distance is our enemy!

Jo - SecondHelping - woo! Go snotty!

Cakelaw - thank you! Oh I know, such an abomination. You know, I've had some of the tastiest cakes/pastries from Acland St but I've also had some of the most awful monstrosities as well. Like cakey roulette.

Krissy @ The Food Addicts - eep, don't let the caps scare you! I get a bit cap happy occasionally, especially in emails. I need to rein it in, though I fear I'll just turn to bold or underlining.

Panamahat - a ha! Adding it to my list of things to make you.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella - some unsavoury members of my extended family would call me Snotbox when I was little (ok and perhaps still do sometimes) so it's no wonder I'm a Snot Block fan.

Agnes - yes yes yes you must I insist! Maybe after Easter gorging though :)

Trisha - hooray for being won over, I'd like to shake the hand of the vanilla slice responsible! Thank you!

Pam - ooh thank you!

Evelyne @ CheapEthnicEatz - oh man, I made these once when I was in Montreal and trying to find passion fruit almost killed me. I went all over the city, it was ridiculous, I should have given up! Ended up finding it in some Asian supermarket out west somewhere. HOORAY!! I'll start saving right now!!! Well, maybe after Easter, I still have chocolates to buy :D

April @ My Food Trail - thanks lovely! Once you go passionfruit you'll never go back ;)

mademoiselle délicieuse - ahh well if you don't like custard I guess there's not much I can do to convince you. Maybe you could just lick the icing off the top.

Julia @Mélanger - Brilliant, I'd love to see you make this!

penny aka jeroxie - snot snot snotty :D Awesome, I promise I don't snore or leave the toilet roll empty after me! ;)

SilverMoon Dragon April 1, 2010 at 7:06 AM  

At the risk of shattering any foodie credibility I might have, I love the fake kind made with pudding mix. My sister uses the packet made up with just cream, and it is evil, but oh so good. I love the chocolate ones.

Yeah, you heard me. Chocolate fake snot blocks.

I'm going to food blogger hell now aren't I?

Andrea @ CanYouStayForDinner.com April 1, 2010 at 8:44 AM  

Conor, I kid you not- these are the best thing I've seen in the blogworld in the past month. Seriously. They are quite possibly the best sounding dessert and yours came out beautifully! Why do I not have these in America? We're always the last ones on the scene...

tasteofbeirut April 1, 2010 at 11:42 AM  

Did you say mille-feuilles? did you say passion fruit icing? say no more. I am game.
I need not search any further.

Emma @CakeMistress April 1, 2010 at 5:41 PM  

ha ha, the good ol' Snot Block. Brings back so many childhood memories. Mum also made these, using the Lattice biscuits for the base. Ewwww....
I love reading your posts, Conor, they're always so entertaining :)

Trissa April 1, 2010 at 7:22 PM  

Absolutely right Conor - this looks deliciously yellow! It's the most attractive slice I've seen.

Maria@TheGourmetChallenge April 2, 2010 at 7:41 AM  

thats the greatest thing I've seen for days!! Love your photo comparison!! You know why the table looks like its made out of floor boards, because the pictures have been taken on the floor! lol

Great aussie classic, just love it conor!

Rizka April 2, 2010 at 1:57 PM  

oh my this looks so pretty and so delicious! i feel like having a slice of Mille-feuille right now after reading your post.. ;) (it sure does sound so much classier calling it Mille Feuille). I'd never knew it's nicknamed a snot block. Why did it got such a nickname for something so delicious.. :S

Kitchen Butterfly April 2, 2010 at 4:47 PM  

Looks lovely.....I love bars and this looks superb. Happy Easter

Rose April 2, 2010 at 6:25 PM  

I love a good vanilla slice, and these look scrumptious. PS swearing at AWW is always appropriate and satisfying.

Mardi @eatlivetravelwrite April 2, 2010 at 9:31 PM  

Aw - these remind me of my nan. I LOVE the WW cookbooks and I remember eating these at parties when I was little... Thanks for the memories!

pierre April 3, 2010 at 9:16 PM  

Hi vonor yes the name vanilla slices is much more poetic !!! and I am happy to discover this aussie classic !!
grosses bises de Paris

Chef Fresco April 5, 2010 at 9:39 AM  

Looks very good! I've never had passionfruit, believe it or not. The custard filling looks very good!

high low April 6, 2010 at 10:52 AM  

I've been looking for ways to use the custard powder I bought to make nanaimo bars. So glad you posted this recipe! Looks fab!

Megan D April 6, 2010 at 11:27 AM  

I think the very first vanilla slice I ever ate was in fact made by your mum! That must've been around 25 yrs ago now... eep! I do recall how darn tasty it was back then too ;)

Conor @ HoldtheBeef April 6, 2010 at 9:57 PM  

SilverMoon Dragon - oh not to worry, we all have our foodie indiscretions. Some of us love fried polony, others have affairs with that Kraft in a box stuff, and some like fake chocolate snot blocks. I won't judge you. I won't send you snot blocks when you're in food blogger hell though ;)

Andrea @ CanYouStayForDinner.com - Wow. You have put quite a smile on my face! Thanks so much, you sweet thing! Woo! I wish I could send you some!! :) :) :)

tasteofbeirut - Excellent, glad to have you on board with these ;)

Emma @CakeMistress - yes, it seems the Lattive biscuit version is the classier way to cheat! Thanks mate, back at you :)

Trissa - hooray, thank you!!

Maria@TheGourmetChallenge - awesome, thanks! I know, I was cursing myself for not thinking to use my own floor as a prop, but then it's probably for the best I didn't.. Cheers!!

Rizka - Thanks! Mille feuille and snot block are pretty much opposite ends of the classy name spectrum. Poor old snot block.

Kitchen Butterfly - thank you! Happy Easter to you too!

Rose - cheers :) Yeah I know, you can imagine all the old dears being scandalised by your choice of language :D

Mardi @eatlivetravelwrite - Such good party food, cos they're so messy to eat and thus entertaining for everyone around you to watch as you struggle.

pierre - hehe, yes us Anglophones are so poetic with our language ;) xx to you too!

Chef Fresco - wow, we gotta fix this. Send me your address. I'll be there in the morning with passionfruit at the ready.

high low - oh brilliant! Yes I forgot about the nanaimo custard powder purchasing, please give these a go!

Megan D - too funny! I can imagine you and Kel sitting at the table with a tray of them in front of you. Foxtel had a 4 day 80s song marathon thingy over Easter that we were watching at K&D's place, so I can totally imagine the soundtrack to your vanilla slice eating too ;)

Arwen from Hoglet K April 11, 2010 at 12:11 AM  

I was about to comment on your Easter lunch when I saw the vanilla slice below, and I knew that it was 10x more worthy of comment. It even has passionfruit! I'll leave the instant pud, but custard powder custard is what I grew up on, and it certainly beats the stuff in a carton.

Conor @ HoldtheBeef April 11, 2010 at 10:52 PM  

Arwen from Hoglet K - yeah, I grew up on custard powder custard too. Was a long time before I learnt there was any other way of making custard! Surely beats the carton stuff, though I was very pleasantly surprised by the Paul's Premium Brandy Custard that I tried last Christmas. The normal Paul's Brandy Custard is pretty crap, but this "premium" version had us all raising our eyebrows at how un-crap it was.

Anonymous May 7, 2010 at 11:01 AM  

Your vanilla slices look delicious! Just perfect! I now have an intense craving for vanilla slice. You're blog is going to make me fat, I can see it. You should start your own bakery I think. Pleaaaaase!

Conor @ HoldtheBeef May 7, 2010 at 11:10 AM  

Heather, perhaps I could try and cash in on the hungry-but-lazy demographic at UWA. Wouldn't take much to capture the people who buy those guild muffins due to being in need of a snack but unwilling to walk somewhere better!

Conor @ HoldtheBeef May 7, 2010 at 11:10 AM  

Oh and thank! It's a great recipe :)

Anonymous May 7, 2010 at 5:09 PM  

You could totally make profits selling your munchies at UWA! I may or may not have had a guild cupcake addiction in first year...but I'd much rather your food! On second thought, the temptation to over-indulge may lead to a very fat Heather haha.

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My love of cooking is surpassed only by my love of eating, though I never quite recovered from the beef I was served at college. I'll try almost anything once, but it takes a very special piece of offal or beef to get me to try it again.

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