Vanilla Slice Road Trip
A custard-filled quest to find the best vanilla slice in Victoria.
The vanilla slice is an Australian bakery staple, up there with finger buns, lamingtons, and neenish tarts. Sauso roll and a vanilla slice? Lunch is served. The illustrious pastry takes many shapes and forms—sometimes it's topped with a layer of fluorescent pink icing (about as far away from its French origins as possible); sometimes layers of custard are intersected with layers of cream. Whatever its appearance, the vanilla slice is something that bakeries tend to take pretty seriously, with numerous vendors across the country all claiming to have the best one. We went on a quest to try out three of these so-called best vanilla slices.
Just Fine Food, Sorrento (reviewed by Kiloran Hiscock)
For some inexplicable reason Australia has taken the French dessert mille-feuille and claimed it for itself, creatively renaming it the 'vanilla slice' or the lesser-used colloquialism 'snot block' (trust Aussies to make something so classy sound so disgusting). Sorrento's Just Fine Food—which, said in a certain way, sounds amusingly passive-aggressive—purports to have the best vanilla slice around. In my research for this article I've realised that doesn't necessarily mean anything, considering the appalling lack of vanilla slice regulatory bodies in this country. It's generally just a thing businesses say. However, Just Fine Foods vanilla slice is legitimately next level.
Our initial panic when we entered and noticed no vanilla slices in the cabinets was quickly replaced with relief when a staff member explained a new batch was about to come out. The café itself was nice but a bit too busy and full of old rich people in lycra, so we decided to boot to the beach.
Hardly renowned for its structural integrity, vanilla slices are pretty tricky to eat. Just Fine Food's slice was no exception but the firmness of the filling meant eating it wasn't too messy. The slice was made in the traditional French style, with a creamy vanilla filling (rather than custard) and a dusting of icing sugar on the pastry. Speaking of the pastry, it was delicate and flaky yet crunchy, and tasted slightly caramelised.
Overall the slice was fresh, delicious, and comforting to eat. Plus a touch of strawberry jam added a surprise twist. However, we recommend sharing one of these $7 slices between two to avoid overdosing on the creamy tastiness— there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.
Golden Nugget Bakery, Ballarat (reviewed by Doug Wallen)
Rolling up to Golden Nugget Bakery in Ballarat, you wouldn't think this was the home of the best vanilla slice in Australia. The location at the top of historic Sturt Street (one of three around town) is a poky old-school bakehouse with all the standard wares on display, though not much innovation apart from a drive-thru. But owner/baker Colin Matthews won the hard-fought Merbein Great Australian Vanilla Slice Triumph in 2015, after 10 straight years of entering. That means he's now the reigning champion of that squishy staple of Aussie comfort food.
Tasting the $3.70 slice firsthand, it was easy to see why: where your average vanilla slice oozes custard from all sides as soon as you bite down, Matthews' creation was firmer and, with a firm biscuit base, more structurally sound. There was neither the messiness nor the overindulgence we often associate with a vanilla slice.
It was compact and remarkably tidy; not too tall and not too big. A firm biscuit base made it easier to hold, and the custard was fresh and creamy, with visible dots of blended vanilla bean. As for the icing, it was a thin white (not pink) veneer that was just sweet enough. Light and modestly sized, it was less likely to weigh you down—although that means customers often order two at a time, doubling the custardy kick.
Sturdy, light, creamy, and not overly sweet, the slice won me over, somewhat to my surprise. Same goes for the three friends I brought along for this crucial taste-testing mission. We're still not sold on the rest of Golden Nugget's offerings, but the vanilla slice deserves its shiny trophy.
Beechworth Bakery, Bendigo (reviewed by Ellecia Gentle)
For a $4.10 slice and a bottomless cup of filter coffee, we won't forget the Beechworth. I know Driver Revivers are free, but come on: this place not only stops you from a sugar crash, but allows you to experience new levels of sugar and caffeine high.
The Beechworth says their vanilla slice is magical. It is. It had real, gooey custard, and the crispiest, flakiest pastry on top. You know how sometimes you have to chew through rubbery bakery pastry? Not with this bad boy. The secret was the second layer of whipped vanilla cream in between.
What it wasn't: vanilla extract in a bottle from the shops. What it was: vanilla pods slowly soaked in milk with a proud Country Women's Association member slowly stirring the pot for about half an hour on extra low. Or that's the group hallucination we had when we were done. The portion sizes were perfect; a petite little square of heaven.
We really loved the cashier, who wanted nothing to do with our booth: the conversation getting to hyper-loud, bottomless-coffee-and-sugar-induced levels. He was endearing. We also all went to see the sites in town, which included a giant Marilyn Monroe in Rosalind Park. Don't they look good together? Like I always say, Marilyn is the vanilla slice of Hollywood iconography. I give this slice five stars.
The article is presented in partnership with Captain Morgan