371 Illawarra Rd, Marrickville, New South Wales
I was on my way home from a business function in an unfamiliar neighbourhood when I stumbled across Hellenic Bakery and Cakes, just a stone’s throw from Marrickville railway station. Peering into the unlikely looking 1990s semi-brutalist concrete exterior, I discovered an Aladdin’s cave of wondrous treasures.
Mounds of Greek pastries and cakes filled display counters that rose above eye level on three sides of the dimly lit store: baklava, kataifi, poura, galaktobouriko, Greek shortbread. Amongst these are more diverse wares: cannoli, eclairs, macarons, lamingtons, tiramisu, tarts, and all manner of cakes. In the centre of the room was a table laden heavily with freshly baked bread and buns. Anything and everything looked incredibly tempting, but my eyes fell upon a golden radiance emanating from one corner of this treasure pile. A tray of humble vanilla slices beckoned, promising release of the genie of deliciousness if I would but rub some coins in my pocket and hand them over to the elderly Greek woman who was tending the counter.
They also sold pies and sausage rolls, but honestly I was already full from the canapés at the function. However, the lure of the golden vanilla slice was too much to resist. I handed over $3.50, expecting to receive a slice in a brown paper bag. Instead the lady gave me a neat cardboard cake box, almost cubical. I took it and walked outside, then across the street to the station to await my train.
Sitting on a bench on the platform, I opened the box to peer inside. Resting across the slice diagonally was a plastic fork. Normally I eschew cutlery and eat a slice by hand, but this one looked intimidating, I had no paper serviette to wipe my hands, and I would probably have to finish eating it on the train, so instead I tackled it with the fork.
The construction is three layers of pastry, looking very flaky, almost like filo, sandwiching two thick golden yellow layers of custard. On the top layer of pastry is a thin layer of cream, topped with a dusting of icing sugar… and a sprinkle of ground nuts! This was something new and enticing. The first attempt at stabbing and cutting the slice into bite sized pieces with the fork reveals that the top layer of pastry is not crisp and crunchy, but rather flexible and tough. As it slid under my fork, strewing custard, cream, and nut pieces everywhere inside the confines of the cake box, I gave thanks for my decision not to attempt picking this up by hand and biting into it.
The slice is hard going with a plastic fork, as the pastry layers prove virtually impenetrable. However, with some effort I break pieces off and raise them to my mouth. The genie did not lie – the flavour is divine. The custard is rich and smooth and creamy, with a big hit of vanilla, offset nicely by the less intense cream and nuts on top, and even the chewy pastry adds a dimension of texture that helps the whole experience. As I dig through the layers, making a horrible mess inside my cake box, each forkful is a sheer delight. The bottom layer of pastry holds yet another surprise, as it retains a crispness that presumably the other layers possessed early in the construction process. It flakes appealingly, and I can but wonder what this delicious concoction would have been like if all the layers had been like this.
As it is, the soft and chewy pastry layers cannot even come close to ruining what is otherwise an exceptional piece of baking. It could have been a bit better with some crisp flakiness throughout, but the supreme deliciousness of the flavour pegs this slice at a very high score anyway. Simply delicious.
Vanilla slice: 9/10