The name is unassuming, but the Vanilla Slice is an almost iconic dessert in Australia. Much like the chocolate chip cookie in the US, you can find it just about anywhere that pastries are sold, from coffee shops to bakeries. There is even a big competition held every year to find the best slice in the country! Much like chocolate chip cookies, there are just about as many ways to make vanilla slices as there are people to eat them. The standard slice has some sort of pastry bottom and top, and a thick, vanilla custard filling.
I like to keep things simple and a basic version of the slice is very easy to make. It may not win a national bake-off against a dozen other vanilla slice recipes (although that depends on the competition!), but it tastes great if you’re a fan of vanilla and custard. I used some sheets of puff pastry to make the top and bottom of the slice. The puff pastry is baked and cooled, the used to line the bottom of the pan before adding the custard. It is pretty much the easiest use of puff pastry I can think of!
The custard is purposely made very thick so that the slices are easy to slice. It uses a lot of cornstarch to thicken it, as well as custard powder to add a bit of extra flavor and color. You can use the same amount of instant pudding mix if you don’t have custard powder. Some butter is added to the custard at the end of cooking to give it an extra rich flavor and make sure that the thick filling stays very tender. The custard isn’t too sweet, although it seems like there is a fair amount of sugar in it, and you really need to finish off the dessert with a sprinkle of confectioners sugar to make the whole thing come together. When finished, the vanilla slices taste like a Napoleon with a whole lot of filling.
Speaking of puff pastry, the technique I used here would be great for other flavor combinations. You could use a chocolate or coconut filling instead of the vanilla custard, or even cook up a thick batch of apple pie filling on the stovetop and sandwich it between sheets pastry for a quick, pie-like slice! The 1,2,3 Puff! Contest that Pepperidge Farm is holding is still accepting entries and any of these would be great jumping off points. Just be sure to send me a post card if you win! The grand prize is an all-expenses paid trip to New York (along with some foodie bonuses, like a tour of NYC pastry shops and bakeries!),but that’s just the bonus of experimenting with new recipes in the kitchen.
2 sheets puff pastry (1 package Pepperidge Farm), defrosted
2 cups milk
1 vanilla bean
2 cups half n’ half
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup custard powder or instant vanilla pudding
3 large egg yolks
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
4 tbsp butter, room temperature
Preheat oven to 400F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place defrosted puff pastry sheets (use two trays, if necessary) on baking sheet and bake for 15-18 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool completely on a wire rack.
While pastry is cooling, line a 9-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil or saran wrap, making sure the foil or wrap comes up over the sides.
Place one sheet of pasty at the bottom of the pan, trimming the corners if necessary to make it fit. Press down gently until pastry is relatively flat.
Pour the milk into a medium saucepan. Cut the vanilla bean in half and add it to the milk. Bring milk up to a simmer, then remove from heat. Scrap the seeds from the vanilla bean into the milk.
In a medium bowl, whisk together half n’ half, sugar, cornstarch, custard powder or instant pudding and egg yolks until very smooth. Pour into the saucepan with vanilla milk, whisking to combine.
Turn up heat to medium and, whisking frequently, cook until mixture comes to a boil and is very thick. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla extract and butter. Pour into prepared pan on top of the sheet of pastry and smooth into an even layer.
Gently press remaining sheet of pastry – corners trimmed if necessary – on top of the custard layer.
Refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight.
Slice in the pan with a sharp knife, then use the overhanging foil or saran wrap to easily lift the dessert from the pan.
Dust generously with confectioners sugar before serving.
Note: This post is sponsored by Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry, who wants to encourage you to come up with your own puff pastry creations (in addition to trying mine!) and enter them in their 1, 2, 3 Puff! Recipe Contest. If your recipe is selected as a winner, you could receive an all-expense paid trip to New York City for a taste of the sweet life! Find more great recipes and enter to win at 123puffpastry.com.