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.
Recipe adapted from ‘Modern Classics 2’ by Donna Hay
Makes 9 slices
• 2 sheets ready prepared puff pastry, thawed
• Icing sugar, for dusting
• 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.