Avenue 16 Septembre 1947, Tende, France
Continuing our driving journey through Europe, we found ourselves passing through the lovely Parc National du Mercantour, hugging the Italian border in the south-east corner of France. We stopped at the small village of Tende, deep in the heart of the park, for a few hours to look at the museum, which houses displays of stone age people who lived in the region thousands of years ago, as well as to have a walk around and to get some lunch.
After sightseeing for a while, it was time to eat. Not much was open, but we found a cafe called La Merenda on the main street running through the village. It looked a little run down and not particularly promising in the food stakes, but there wasn’t much choice. They did have some quiches and a tart des legumes, but also in a small sweet pastry section there were lurking a few mille-feuilles, the French version of the humble vanilla slice. Well, this was an opportunity not to be missed.
After dealing with the savoury part of lunch, I turned my attention to the vanilla slice. It has the traditional brown wavy lines pattern adorning the pale white icing, which is a moderately thin layer. In fact, “thin” is the best word to describe this slice, as it is exceedingly flat. It has a lot of thin, flaky layers within the three sections of pastry, but the custard in between is very thin indeed. This slice is more pastry by volume than custard. Perhaps that’s a good thing, because although the pastry appears promising, the custard is a nasty dark yellow colour around the edges, as though it has been sitting in the counter for days and is drying out. Well, there’s nothing for it but to try it and see.
I pick it up easily for a bite, and the construction is solid. The pastry is firm, but gives to the teeth without so much as a whisper of crunch. It’s no doubt gone slightly soggy from the same age that the custard is suffering. The flavour, perhaps surprisingly, is decent. It’s sweet from the icing, but there is a definite punch of vanilla coming from the custard.
There’s no oozing problem at all, because of the thinness of the custard layers, and the fact that it’s rather firm. The pastry layers separate and allow the slice to be dismantled horizontally into layers. Structurally and texturally, this slice leaves a lot to be desired, but flavourwise it’s pretty good. I suspect that when fresh, this would score somewhere above average, but in its present incarnation I can’t go beyond a judgement of not really bad, but not really good either.