Growing up in regional Victoria, as a child my weekends were usually spent out at dad's, and while in the warmer months we'd be outside enjoying some kind of adventure, when a dreary day kept us indoors we'd simply retreat to the kitchen and cook up a storm of our own.
Anything and everything was fair game, and while I don't recall as much as I probably should, I'd say those years were what sowed the seed of passions to come. Of those that do come back I remember dad's love of the humble ham and pickle sandwich (or was it mortadella?), the "how-tall-can-you-make-it" hamburger challenge, the sinus-cleansing dangers of a well made bèarnaise, and that Australian country bakery classic, the vanilla slice. A far cry from the delicate French millefeuille, the iconic Aussie 'snot block' is a gaudy, rubbery slab that probably counts more towards confection than a baked good.
With dad, they were sheets of ready-rolled pastry filled with a cornflour-thickened egg custard, and slathered in a sharp and tangy passionfruit icing (a little like this). Collapsing the golden pillows of pastry was particularly good fun, but the greatest excitement was always reserved for the delicious treat we knew was to come.
Today with dad gone I have to make do with my own decisions, so my vanilla slice is now prepared using homemade puff, a crème patissière lightened with thickly whipped fresh cream (recipe courtesy Alistair Wise of Sweet Envy) and, as I'm unable to resist the appeal of a family favourite, finished with a slick of passionfruit on top.
It's not built to last, and you certainly won't be using your hands. You'll make a mess. A big, sweet, glorious sticky mess as you enjoy each and every crispy, custardy mouthful.
It's the way every good childhood memory should be.