2/40 Miller St, North Sydney, New South Wales
Finding myself in North Sydney around 9am on a weekday, I did a quick web search for bakeries in the vicinity. The Bourke Street Bakery was nearest and sounded promising, with Internet reviews recommending the pork and fennel sausage roll highly. But when I arrived there and managed to penetrate the queue of a dozen people waiting to order take-away coffees in order to see what sweet delights lurked in the display cabinet I was heartbroken to see that they did not stock vanilla slices. Thus crestfallen, I sought the next bakery on my search list, St Honoré.
This is a French styled bakery lurking in a nondescript black granite office tower front around the corner from North Sydney station. It too was doing a brisk trade in take-away coffees as the morning office workers began their day in the corporate rat race. Peering through the window I spied both the quest objects, so walked boldly in and ordered. The woman behind the counter reached for white paper bags before I specified that I would be eating in at the small café tables, whereupon she changed to a pair of white plates. I would have liked to have taken the bags outside, but there was nowhere nearby to sit and the morning was chilly.
After plating a sausage roll, the woman reached for a vanilla slice, then commented to me, “They’re still a bit frozen.” I insisted that was okay, and duly received my slice. I wasn’t going to be in this area for a while and I didn’t want to waste this opportunity. As I carried my acquisitions to a table next to the Coke fridge, I indeed noticed what looked like ice crystal patterns on the external surface of the custard. Oh well, frozen cheesecake is still good, so I figured this couldn’t be too bad. And it would have a bit more time to thaw as I ate the sausage roll.
Moving on to which, the roll’s external appearance was not promising. It looked a bit burnt, plain and simple, mostly on the very darkened ends, but the pastry on top was spalling off layers weathered by the extremes of the oven as well. Taking a bite, the ends were indeed unpleasantly burnt, but fortunately the burnt layer was small and quickly gave way to a delicious filling. You could tell the meat was minced pork as it still had some character to it, and was nicely spiced with conspicuous fresh herbs and chunks of green onion. The outside may have been burnt, but the meat was cooked in the zone. It would go well with a nicely blended Shiraz-Cabernet.
The pastry was actually burnt and flaky on the outside, but the inner layer was thick and soggy and undercooked. The overall implication was that this sausage roll had been baked too fast, at too high a temperature, burning the outside while not letting the inner layers of puff pastry rise and crisp. It’s amazing that the meat core was so well done. Overall, the meat was brilliant, and the pastry could have been good, but let down by poor cooking technique.
By now the vanilla slice had had an extra ten minutes or so to defrost. It got another minute as I examined its construction, being taller than it was wide, with a double sandwich of custard layers between three layers of pastry, topped by white icing with patterned brown streaks. The pastry layers were impressively thick and flaky looking. Visually, this was an impressive feat of cake engineering. My main concern now was how to open my mouth wide enough to take a bite.
I tried to pick it up using just one hand, but the pastry layers threatened to separate from the custard, so I adopted a double handed approach. I had to squeeze it down a bit to get a bite around the whole stratigraphic sequence. This was so awkward that I took advantage of the separation afforded by the middle layer of pastry to divide the slice into two horizontally, effectively making two flatter single sandwich slices.
The pastry was very crisp and stiff, yielding with a pleasant snap. The custard was, as forewarned, rather cold, but thankfully there were no icy bits in it. The coldness kept it firm, so it didn’t ooze much on being squeezed between the crisp pastry layers. While the temperature was a bit too cold, the custard seemed nice. It was smooth and creamy, with a slight fine textural lumpiness providing evidence of a hand made recipe. The flavour was understated vanilla, not helped by the cold temperature; it may have been stronger served at room temperature. All things considered, the worst part about this slice was in fact the serving temperature.
Slice: 7/10, possibly 8/10 if not so cold