You can’t get much more Aussie than a vanilla slice, unless it’s a beer-guzzling tiger snake. We even have a fiercely fought national competition to decide the best one (slice, not serpent).
But add Arnott’s Sao biscuits and you could possibly have the most Australian combo ever, if it weren’t for the timeless ensemble made of up thongs and stubbies.
Add a dash of passionfruit to the Sao vanilla slice and your ideal piece of edible Australiana is complete!
Aussies of a certain age will remember when Arnott’s first officially suggested using its Sao biscuits – which, without a thick slathering of butter and Vegemite are usually dry enough to cause the eater to suffer a Sahara of the mouth – as the ideal base for whipping up a swift vanilla slice.
The advertisement introducing the combo aired in 1962, with the voice-over urging viewers to line a dish with a layer of Saos, pour on half an inch (these were the days before the metric system) of thick vanilla custard on top, before adding another layer of Saos and finishing with a thin passionfruit icing.
“Everyone likes vanilla slice and it’s simple to make with Arnott’s Sao biscuits,” the voice-over concludes, with the educated English tones of the announcer bearing little resemblance to the twang employed by most Aussies.
Arnott’s still offers numerous recipes on its site that make clever products, but the slice is no longer one of them. Instead, it’s been replaced by more sophisticated offerings, such as Tim Tam salted caramel and vanilla cheesecake.
It’s true that a food snob might find it hard to understand the appeal of the vanilla slice, since they’re not meant to be shared, bulging dangerously from the sides when cut, yet are usually too large one person to eat and still feel entirely well. In order to stay upright, the vanilla is often so thick that it can be akin to eating flavourless, yellowy rubber, and the pastry so firm it sometimes resembles cardboard.
Like spaghetti, it’s not a dish any sane person would choose to eat in front of someone they hoped to impress with their delicate and sophisticated demeanour.
The reasons for the regional differences in icing, meanwhile (passionfruit’s more common in some areas, while others favour white or pink icing or a thicker, rippled frosting, and fancier bakeries have been known to try to tart up their offering with some chocolate stripes) have been lost in history.
But nice or not, a vanilla slice is superbly Aussie – perhaps because they can be made easily from relatively cheap ingredients, yet contain an element of danger in the eating that allows no pretensions of grandeur!