Vanilla slice is one of my favourite bakery treats. I don't buy cakes often but, when I do, it's a toss-up between vanilla slice and chocolate eclairs. The slice usually wins, perhaps because it's a more reliable bet than a bought eclair (I've had too many eclairs with dried-out pastry or filled with artificial cream). A good vanilla slice should have a creamy custard filling that oozes into your mouth (not a horrible rubbery block of custard that doesn't move because it's been set solid), surrounded by crisp pastry and topped off with a smooth, shiny icing. Some people are particular about the icing but I don't mind whether it's white or pink, as long as it's not too thick or too sweet.
Former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett had a passion for vanilla slices and he helped rejuvenate the western Victorian town of Ouyen by setting up the Great Australian Vanilla Slice Triumph there 10 years ago. Each year, bakers from around the country vie to make the best vanilla slice. I've never attended the festival but the 2008 competition was held last weekend and the winner was Waack's Bakery in Stawell. By a stroke of good luck, I was in Stawell that weekend for my sister's wedding. We heard about the victory on the Friday night local TV news, so headed down the street on Saturday morning for coffee and vanilla slice. We were unanimous in deciding that Waack's was a worthy winner. The custard in the slice was smooth and creamy with a pleasant vanilla taste. It oozed out the side as we ate the slice but was not runny and didn't end up on anyone's lap. The pastry layers were thin and crisp and the top was covered with a thin, shiny layer of white icing. Delicious!
Digging through my vast recipe collection, I've come up with two potential recipes to try. One is from an old copy of Delicious magazine and the other is for "vanilla school pastries" from Donna Hay's Flavours cookbook. Both look quite similar, although the Delicious recipe uses a heart-stopping 750ml cream! I'm looking forward to trying out one of these recipes very soon. My attempt may not be up to the standard of the Great Australian Vanilla Slice Triumph entries but it will be fun to try.