A story of the vanilla slice: le mille-feuille
Vanilla slice is what we call it back home in Australia.
Growing up in Sydney, us kids were crazy for a good old chocolate mudcake topped with a thick layer of sugary chocolate icing. It was that, or donuts and cupcakes. Whereas my father didn't believe these were "real" cakes. A vanilla slice, now that's a real cake he would try to educate me.
I could never understand why he liked the vanilla slice so much. In terms of a dessert, as a child I found it to be very boring. No taste. Gluggy, thick cream interior. I didn't find the pastry interesting either. However, for my father's birthday it was very simple: buy Peter his vanilla slice and he's happy.
Fast forward, I arrive in Paris in 2009 and what do I see in almost every patisserie and boulangerie, le vanilla slice. But this time it has a diferent name, mille-feuille.
At Ferrandi, we spent a very intensive week from morning to evening learning how to make the famous mille-feuille. What I discovered was this: just in the process of making the pastry those famous thousand layers, I began my new appreciation for my father's childhood love. I'm not even sure if my father knows how these layers are made, but as I watched the dough rise then separate, then caramelise before my very eyes, and then to break the crispy buttery layers in my fingers to the final taste and texture test I knew I'd dedicate somewhat of my professional life to this. Making the mille-feuille is a really special process. Nothing defines more the patissier than his ability to achieve the closest to perfection mille-feuille.
Next, we made the vanilla cream. It was a revelation. This was something else. Certainly a far more refined version of what my father was eating in the 1980s from the French patisserie in the Sydney suburb of Bondi. It didn't stop there though. I learnt that the modern French pastry evolves. The patissier himself or herself is an artist. In our intensive program at Ferrandi, we learnt to become those artists as our Chef introduced us to a number of methods and saveurs, so many possibilities to evolve French pastry.
This photo above is my version for MadCharlotte. It's a mille-feuille made using a pate inversee method, an evolved version whereby the butter is the dominating ingredient. A mixture of strawberry pastry cream which is then mixed in with a strawberry ganache. Imagine, strawberry puree married with French cream and French-Belgium white chocolate. My Frenchman said with his mouth full of strawberry mille-feuille, "It's a crime if you don't sell this". Well, we'll see. MadCharlotte today does not sell a mille-feuille.This particular recipe takes a lot of time, especially when I'm chasing perfection. And as you can see by the ingredients it's very expensive to make, therefore I would have to charge! It's also a dessert that should be eaten on the day its constructed to respect its various textures.
I love French pastry so much. There are simply not enough words to describe my appreciation for this profession. I'm just sorry that I have not yet been able to enjoy a Vanilla Slice with my father.
So, from across the globe this post is for my father, Peter Pirisi, the lover of the Vanilla Slice.