Making Vanilla Slices (Downtown Version)

Boom. There it is, the closest I can get to the classic everyman Australian vanilla slice (a.k.a. New Zealand custard square) using locally available ingredients. Not having access to extra-stout Australian custard powder I made do with JELL-O products, notably vanilla pudding/pie mix pictured here:

For the passion fruit topping I visited a nearby Mexican grocery and found this in the frozen section. The fruit isn’t strictly necessary but the way I see it, when in Rome — or Bong Bong — do as the locals do. Here’s what it looks like:

Begin by assembling your ingredients and preheating your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Have an 8-inch square cake pan at the ready. Bottomless is ideal but not strictly necessary. You can do this in a standard 8-inch square pan, though the first slice or two will come out a little rough.

Here I have about 14 ounces of homemade puff pastry, but store bought will work just fine.

You want to roll this out very thinly, to a dimension of 10″ x 20″ (so as to account for shrinkage as the puff pastry bakes). You can also divide the dough in two and roll two 10″ x 10″ sheets, whatever is easier. Use as much flour as you need.

This is about the thickness you want.

Cut the sheet in half and place each piece on a sheet of parchment. Roll the dough a little more on the parchment paper if it shrinks during the transfer. Now “dock” the pastry sheet by poking holes all over it with a fork. We don’t want this pastry rising much.

To ensure that it doesn’t we’re going to slip the parchment onto a sheet pan…

…and lay another sheet pan right on top of it (it doesn’t need to be lubricated since puff pastry is very buttery). Do the same with the other piece of pastry…you’ll need four sheet pans in total, or you can just do one piece of pastry at a time. Whatever you do MAKE SURE you let the pastry sheets rest before baking for at least 20 minutes. This will minimize shrinking.

Bake the pastry in the double pans for 15 minutes until they are just barely browned. Then carefully remove the top sheet pan and bake another 5-10 minutes until the puff pastry is golden. The pastry will brown very quickly depending on your oven heat, so be sure to check after five minutes so it doesn’t over-bake. This is about what you want. Let the pastry cool completely.

Lay your pan bottom gently on the pastry and trim the sheets to 8″ x 8″.

Like so.

I lined the pan with parchment, cutting two long, overlapping strips and laying them in.

I gently placed one sheet in the bottom and set the other aside.

Now for the filling. First I combined the cornstarch and a couple of ounces of milk in a small bowl and made a slurry, since cornstarch by itself will clump if it isn’t dissolved first. Note: for those who desire a filling that will practically bounce, move up to 1/3 cup cornstarch (and God help all ye who venture there).

I poured that into the milk and gave it a quick whisk.

Then I added the pudding mix…

…and whisked the whole mess over medium-high heat until it boiled and began to thicken.

I took the pan off the heat and let it sit about five minutes to cool slightly. Then I poured it into the cake pan.

I let that sit and cool down for about 20-25 minutes…

…then put on the top.

Why did I wait? Because I didn’t want the top pastry to get too moist from condensation. I let this cool for an hour at room temperature, then transferred it to the fridge to chill for about another three hours. When the whole thing was fully chilled I made the passion fruit icing. I mixed the purée together with the powdered sugar…

…until it was about so thick. In truth I made too much here. You only really need about two ounces of purée and enough powdered sugar to thicken it. I’m saving leftovers for doughnuts!

At that point I spread it on the top…

…and let it set up for about 15 minutes.

At that point I de-panned the whole mess and sliced it, but these “slices” are resilient enough that you don’t do them too much damage by slicing them and scooping them out of the pan. I gotta confess I like these. The filling is a little 1-dimensional, but the tart passion fruit topping makes up for it. All in all a very nice combo.

I have to say that for her part, little Joan Pastry prefers the uptown vanilla slice, the recipe for which can be found below.

Thanks for your help and patience, Ozzieland. I had fun!

UPDATE: Warren writes in with a late recipe suggestion taken from a New Zealand cookbook: add eggs instead of extra cornstarch. For those who want to try this but are interested in an even smoother, more custard-like texture, add two well-beaten whole eggs to the milk mixture instead of the cornstarch.

13 thoughts on “Making Vanilla Slices (Downtown Version)”

  1. I was gonna ask Miss Joan Pastry’s opinion, but there it was, at the end. She’s the one to trust (as one who has never been down-under and has no nostalgic memories).

    1. Hey Naomi!

      She’s a great lover of pastry cream so the smoother pudding wasn’t an improvement from her vantage point. I have to agree…I’ll take the real thing any day!


      – Joe

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