Sweet success: the vanilla slice bake-off

RoyalAuto magazine

Creamy custard, crunchy pastry and the ooze of icing. Tensions are rising as Victoria’s bakers battle to win our top vanilla slice prize.

Story: Leanne Tolra. Photos: Shannon Morris.
August 2018


Think of the bakers. These artisans are used to toiling through the night, but this year, ahead of the 21st annual Great Australian Vanilla Slice Triumph, they’ll be up to their elbows in custard and pastry for a good 24 hours. Their task? Baking for a market stall in Mildura that follows the competition on Saturday 18 August. It sells out by midday. 

Pastry layering, or lamination, and its resulting delicate crunch, is critical to competition success, as is the consistency of the custard and the balance of its vanilla flavour. “Some people go over the top with the vanilla,” chief judge Corey Howard of sponsor EOI Peerless Foods says.  

The third element is the fondant, or icing. It must be even, shiny and smooth. There are extra points for overall mouthfeel, too.   

‘We’ve had flavours including pina colada, pumpkin, beetroot, peppermint, mocha and cherry ripe.’

“There’s been a step up in quality,” Corey says. “The innovation section is becoming popular. We’ve had flavours including pina colada, pumpkin, beetroot, peppermint, mocha and cherry ripe.” 

The Vanilla Slice Triumph began in Ouyen in 1998 after then Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett declared a local vanilla slice the best he had tasted. Merbein held the event from 2012 and Mildura took it over last year. Jeff Kennett has been named event patron for 2018.  

The competition attracts more than 50 entries in three categories: professional, apprentice and innovative. This year there are new amateur categories.  

‘There’s a huge commercial benefit to winning, our sales increased to four times what they were.’ 

Recipes are closely guarded. Hudaks Bakery in Mildura took out last year’s professional prize. Melissa Hudak says only her husband, baker Michael Hudak, and pastry chef, Rebecca Whitney, know theirs. “Bec has been with our family bakery for 18 years. If she told the secret we’d have to do something terrible to her,” Melissa says.  

But a good recipe is no guarantee. Hudaks was runner-up twice before taking out the competition in 2013. “But then we couldn’t do it for the next three years,” Melissa says. 


“There’s a huge commercial benefit to winning, our sales increased to four times what they were. Bakeries are really popular, people will travel to visit the winner and they’ll buy coffee and lunch.”  

‘These people work around the clock and the competition gives them something back.’

Anne Nash, an organiser with the competition since its Merbein days, agrees. “The Banana Boogie Bakery in Belair in South Australia came second in 2016 and sold 35,000 vanilla slices that year,” she says.    

“Baking is not an 8am to 5pm job. These people work around the clock and the competition gives them something back. It’s recognition for their hard work and it’s a boost for isolated country towns.” 

Country Cob Bakery’s Ryan Khun won the 2017 apprentice category after placing second in 2016. “We learn a lot of things each year,” owner Chan Kuhn says. “Our innovation entries (tropical and tiramisu flavours) didn’t go to plan last year. This year we are creating a hazelnut slice with almond milk for something a bit different.”     

Chan says the Kyneton bakery will make 30 trays (50 pieces per tray) of vanilla slice for the market stall this year. “Slices can be sold out by noon so we have a team of shift workers and we will bake all night.” 

 


Taste triumph

For more on the Great Australian Vanilla Slice Triumph, and details about how to enter, go to milduracity.com.au/event/enter-now-great-australian-vanilla-slice-triumph