Vanilla Slice Update

Would you believe a woman from just outside Auckland happened to walk into my house this morning? She’s a horse trainer (which is why she’s in Kentucky) but she also happened to have some professional pastry experience. What are the odds? Her verdict on the vanilla slices: not authentic but delicious. Her idea in absence of custard powder was to thicken crème Anglaise with gelatin and use that for the filling instead of my pastry cream-style filling. Outstanding idea! Why didn’t I think of that? I may have to return to these sometime soon.

20 thoughts on “Vanilla Slice Update”

  1. Do you not have custard powder in America? It is egg and vanilla flavoured cornstarch. No eggs are damaged in its manufacture however. I THINK that “vanilla pudding” might do the trick. We don’t have pudding mix here except for the instant sort, and I have successfully used custard powder in lieu of vanilla pudding mix in the past. The thick gel of a custard square is just cooked cornstarch – less starchy tasting and more rubbery than ordinary flour.

    1. Hey Bronwyn!

      Yes that’s the consistency that’s needed. I believe it’s created by pre-gelatinized cornstarch in the mix. It cooks up faster and creates a finer gel. My pastry cream is a pretty rough customer compared to that, which is why gelatin appeals. Anyway, I suspect you’re right and I haven’t given the pudding mixes the attention I should. It may be that I can find a JELL-O product that will do the trick. A pie filling is what I’m thinking now…it probably has the tensile strength I need for this. Thanks for the help!

      – Joe

  2. Some Publix stores have a British food section,depending on the location that does,they stock Bird’s Custard Powder. I know of at least two locations here near Atlanta that has carried it. Alternatively,you could just look up the directions for the product online and make it using cornstarch and vanilla extract(clear might be a good choice) plus a pinch or so of powdered annato seed for color authenticity.I’ve done that(apart from using annato powder)and the results were authentic tasting,if lacking the yellow color of the original product-plus,if you sub half and half for milk,and adjust cornstarch amounts accordingly,you can get a delicious homemade version of the tinned Ambrosia Devon Custard,without having to spend the high price for it. 🙂 I’ve seen frozen passionfruit puree in the freezer section with other Hispanic products at some chain stores and at Dekalb Farmer’s Market,which is like a candy store for home cooks and bakers,as well as a source of ingredients for local chefs.

    1. Lots of good advice in there, John! I think I may leave my below recipe/tutorial standing and try to do a different one that takes advantage of more store-bought stuff. I’m thinking now that a custard pie filling is what I need…which is both readily available and easy to prepare. As for the passion fruit purée…I shall check the Mexican stores!

      Many thanks,

      – Joe

      1. You may also want to cut down the milk added, it definitely makes things thicker.
        Which is why I lamented over not having vanilla pudding over here.
        Then one day I got the bright idea to maybe add less milk to this stuff. (vanilla sauce)
        And lo and behold, on the box it gives a – to make this into a pudding, us this amount of milk instead-
        This is why I learned the dang language even though everyone told me I technically didn’t “need” too because everyone speaks at least some english.

        Not the first time I’m glad I decided to be stubborn and learn it anyways.

        1. That’s genius, Kitty! You just provided me with the critical insight I needed here: don’t follow directions! You’re the greatest!


          – Joe

  3. have you ever made the filling using custard powder so you can make an accurate comparison of your versions vs. the original?

    why not order some on line if you can’t find it locally? then you could see how the various substitutions stack up.

    oddly, here in phoenix, our 99 cent stores carry custard powder.

    1. Hey Candide!

      I’m going to make another using JELL-O pie fillings weekend. I think that will do the trick!


      – Joe

  4. Joe, I haven’t followed the vanilla slice discussions as closely as some others, so please forgive me if I’m retreading old ground here. Searching custard powder substitutes turns up the claim that the original formula for Bird’s product was simply cornstarch, salt, vanilla flavoring and annato coloring (though there are now other versions involving modified starch, hydrogenated vegetable oil and carboxymethyl cellulose and carrageenan thickeners), and that he was indeed attempting to simulate creme Anglaise for his egg-allergic wife.

    Another substitution that caught my interest uses cornstarch, vanilla and invert sugar. I’ve no idea what the invert sugar might bring the the party, but maybe it will suggest something to you.

    1. Very interesting, OOTT! And that’s not retreading old ground at all. Part of my goal was, as always, to put together something that resembles the original as much as possible, yet is made of base components that are mostly accessible. That is to say, try to capture the thing and the spirit of the thing to as great an extent as I can. I like the idea of recreating Bird’s Custard, though maybe as a project of it’s own. It’s a neat idea. Thanks for a thoughtful comment as always!

      Your friend,

      – Joe

    1. Me and my slippery fingers…covered with butter they are, but at least it’s high quality. Thanks, Awrose!

      – Joe

  5. I’ve seen vanilla slices made with what is really just a chiboust cream and that to me is a good alternative.
    Also since I’m not interested in strict authenticity, I prefer that version and yours to versions using products like custard powder and instant pudding.

    1. Hey Millie! That’s a nice idea as well. I’ll make mention of it in the post. Personally I’ll probably enjoy the pastry cream version a bit more, but there’s a certain shall we say…cultural imperative…to do them with store bought stuff as well. I confess I’m still keen to try! Cheers and thanks!

      – Joe

  6. No problem! The Kroger near our house has a Hispanic section in the freezer case area,and the frozen fruit purees can usually be found to the right of the frozen arepas and empanada dough discs.

  7. Oh wow ! A visitor from Auckland – maybe you will venture down here with all the Pastries sometime and return the visit – we could have a Joe Pastry meeting with readers of your blog and have vanilla slices 🙂
    Cheers from Auckland NZ

    1. Well done, Heather! I’d love that. I keep hearing about all this wonderful fruit and dairy from New Zealand…I want to try it at the source!

      Many thanks for the invite and I’ll let you know when we’re ready for a trip!


      – Joe

  8. And here I am, telling you for how long now, to get you, your long suffering better half, and those two delightful little pastries down here to actually see where all the good dairy and food is grown.

    I sincerely hope I am on your list of things/people and places to visit

    And custard squares/slices, don’t overthink this, add enough custard powder to make it stiff, throw between two puff pastry sheets, cut and spread with passion fruit icing, done and dusted 😉

    1. Oh and long suffering she surely is. Well said, Warren! If only getting to lovely New Zealand was as easy as driving to Mt. Rushmore, we’d head there this summer!

      But I shall take your advice on the squares, which I’ll re-attempt today!

      – Joe

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