Vanilla slice is an Australian icon. I associate vanilla slices with Australianness so much that I’m currently trying to imagine how structurally stable a vanilla slice version of the Opera House would be.
My brothers and I were transfixed by the sweets section at the bakery when we accompanied mother to the bakery. Cream buns, doughnuts, lamingtons, meringues, and the vanilla slice was the king of them all. Whether the vanilla slice had vanilla icing or passionfruit, it was always the filling that was the best – that tall, cold, unusually firm layer of custard sandwiched between two teeny bits of pastry… bliss.
Unfortunately, I can no longer find vanilla slices that taste like they did in my childhood. I find the pastry too bland, the custard too gelatinous, and the vanilla flavour sometimes non-existent. It’s such a shame to see an icon be degraded in such a way!
So, rather than whinge about missing the great vanilla slice, I made it at home. This Australia day, please make this vanilla slice – your friends and family will love you!
Authentic vanilla slice
- ½ cup custard powder
- ½ cup sugar
- 2 tbsp cornflour
- 2 1/2 cups milk
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 40g butter
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 ½ cups icing sugar
- 2 passionfruit
Start by tearing off three sheets of baking paper big enough to cover your pastry, then prick your sheets of pastry with a fork. Line your baking tray, pop a sheet of pastry on and cover it with baking paper. Put your next sheet of pastry on and cover with baking paper, then top with the final baking tray.
Make sure that the top baking tray isn’t too heavy, you only want it to keep the pastry from bubbling up, you don’t want to squish it. Cook for 35-40 minutes, until golden all over. You should flip the sheets of pastry at least twice as they bake to ensure that they cook evenly and thoroughly.
(To halve the pastry cooking time, you could cook the pastry on separate baking trays, but you would also need four baking trays, ie. Two for each sheet of pastry.)
Remove from the oven when golden all over and place on a cooling rack.
While the pastry cools, pop the custard powder, sugar and cornflour into a saucepan and mix together thoroughly. Add about ¼ of the milk and mix it over a medium heat, until a yellow paste forms. By only adding a quarter of the milk at this stage, you lessen your chances of lumpy custard. When there are no lumps remaining in the paste, add the rest of the milk, followed by the vanilla, butter and egg yolks. Mix until combined, then turn the heat up to medium-high and mix continuously, allowing it to simmer for five minutes.
Take the custard off the heat and put to one side to cool slightly. While it cools, take both sheets of pastry and trim them so that they fit perfectly into the bottom of a deep 22cm square cake tin. Line the tin with enough baking paper so that there is a lip for easy removal later on.
Press one square of pastry into the tin and top immediately with your custard (which is probably still warm.) Smooth the custard as much as possible and top with the second sheet of pastry, pressing it down so that no gaps remain between the pastry and custard. Refrigerate for at least four hours.
Mix together the passionfruit and icing sugar at least half an hour before serving and spread it out over the top of the slice. If you’d prefer vanilla icing, replace the passionfruit with 2 tsp vanilla extract and add a few teaspoons of water to achieve a good consistency. Refrigerate and then serve to eager guests*.
*If Australia day is hot, please be wary that the passionfruit topping may start to melt. It was a very hot day when I baked mine, and you can see how much the icing started to drip as I photographed it. Be kind to your vanilla slice and keep it refrigerated for as long as possible before serving!