Saturday, 15 September 2012
In Search for the Best ‘Vanilla Slice’ Ever!
The strange thing is that as I child, I wasn’t particularly fond of this particular cake, which is still colloquially referred to in Australia as a ‘snot block’. They would sell them in the school canteen and more often than not, they would sit in an open tray in a warm room for several hours, attracting the flies and ensuring that the over-yellowed custard filling would stiffen to become a coagulated block of jelly. However, my impression was to dramatically change several years later when what was referred to as ‘Bavarian Slice’ was served to me at a Christmas function in Adelaide. Apart from the name change, it was essentially the same cake, but this time the vanilla custard was smooth and creamy, the puff pastry was crisp yet not too dry and it was topped with a perfect coating of white icing…absolutely delicious! I asked where the cake had come from, but nobody knew anything other than the name, which was assumed had some sort of Germanic connection. I guess that is where the search began and over the next few years, when ever we passed a local bakery we would pop in, in the hope that I might re-discover that delicious custard slice, whatever it’s name might be.
I wouldn’t like to call it a fixation, but this ‘interest’ of mine has seen Jules and I exploring many bakeries from all over Australia and in more recent times worldwide. We have tasted all kinds of variations over the years including different types of custards, consistency of pastry or subtlties of icing and in some cases, the inclusion of jam. Recently we finally made it to the region of Bavaria, not that we came here especially to look for the elusive slice, but it was certainly on my ‘things to do’ list in both Germany and Austria. Here we discovered that what we knew as a ‘Vanilla Slice’ in Australia was referred to in these parts as a ‘Cream Slice’ or a ‘Creme Schnitte’. It turns out that the term ‘Bavarian Slice’ was actually a term given to the slice in England, where it remains as popular as in Australia and as a result of immigration, it may explain why it sometimes goes by that name.
No matter what name the slice goes by, it’s certainly not a pretty cake to eat, with custard oozing out the sides with every bite, eventually leaving you with cream all over your face and sticky hands from the icing. I must admit that I probably indulged in far too many ‘Cream Schnittes’ on our recent trip, but it’s a thankless task and in the name of research somebody has to do it! So at this stage I think I can reveal my current list of the top six standouts in my quest for the perfect ‘Vanilla Slice’…
1. Dulwich Bakery Adelaide, Australia – This is our favorite local bakery and still delivers the best ‘Vanilla Slice’ in South Australia and possibly the world!
2. Cafe Hanselmann St Moritz, Switzerland – Here they refer to it as a ‘Vanilla Cream’ and serve the slice with a layer of puff pastry in the centre and a thin layer of jam…very tasty!
3. Greenhaigh’s Bakery Wigan, United Kingdom – I must admit that I ate a ‘Bavarian Slice’ here a few years ago, but I fondly remember the vanilla custard being deliciously creamy.
4. Café Diglas Vienna, Austria – Again served with the puff pastry in the middle, allowing the slice to stand particularly tall, with just a hint of jam.
5. Schatz-Konditorei Salzburg, Austria – They served a nice ‘Cremeschnitte’ that came with an additional layer of regular cream (although quite unnecessary in my opinion) and very creamy custard.
6. Demel Pastry Shop, Vienna Austria – Once the purveyor of cakes to the Imperial and Royal court of Austria-Hungary, their ‘Crème Schnitte’ still remains fit for a king despite their preference for a dusting of icing sugar rather than sticky icing!
While I can’t say that I have found the best Vanilla slice in the world quite yet, there have been some pretty impressive contenders. Still the memory of that definitive slice tasted over twenty years ago lingers on and with the passing of time, it seems to get better and better. So the search will continue and by all means if you know of any challengers for the title, please let me know, I would love to put them to the test!
Look here for update.