The snot-block saga

Since early childhood I have been keen on what used to be called custard squares.  Somewhere along the way, sadly, the baking industry world-wide started calling them vanilla slices, a less descriptive, very bland name, but Australians like their descriptive colloquial names – always derogatory, never complimentary, of course – and commonly refer to them as ‘snot-blocks’ – yum, yum!  WARNING:  Although tasting wonderful, whether with the pink strawberry-flavoured or the white lemon-flavoured icing on top, or whether you call them custard squares, vanilla slices or snot-blocks, they would have to be the world’s most messy snack food to eat.  But here’s a trick for them – stand one on its edge and cut it in half thickness-wise, making two custard-topped slices, one with icing and one without – those two halves can then be eaten without enduring an unwanted custard face-pack.
Here in Maleny, I share a Friday Night reciprocal dinner arrangement with Graham & Jenny, and have often thought, ‘Making vanilla slices for dessert would be good.  Must investigate that.’  So that idea has been rolling around the noggin for a while but there’s a snag.  Making vanilla slices with regular puff-pastry is fairly easy, but Graham has a severe gluten allergy and making any sort of gluten-free pastry is difficult.  My home-made snot-blocks would have to be gluten-free ( GF ) and that’s not as easy as it might seem.
However...  I recently discovered that a Brisbane north-side company with the imaginative name of The Glutenfree Bakery has started making frozen sheets of GF puff-pastry.  I bought some and experimented, but still had troubles.  I emailed the company and carefully described what I was doing, and received a prompt and helpful reply.
Every vanilla slice recipe I had downloaded had specified using a second baking tray on top of the puff-pastry to keep it flat, and to prevent it from distorting and separating when baked because, as it rises, it tries to warp.  The GF firm recommended NOT doing that...  it works for ‘regular’ puff-pastry which does rise and distort a lot, but their GF version does not, since it does NOT use layers of pastry with butter folded into it.  It has no butter at all, but includes xanthum gum to cause the swelling and puff effect, but on a much milder scale.  Using the extra tray for baking was just causing the GF pastry to become hard and rubbery.
Problem solved.  I successfully made snot-blocks for dessert and they were great!  The packets of store-bought frozen GF puff-pastry sheets are only a bit more expensive, and take the same amount of time to cook as regular frozen puff-pastry, so that was a great discovery, and I’m sure that I will use it for lots of different dishes now that I know HOW to use it.
Then came the analysis, and I have sadly concluded that home-made vanilla slices will be limited to the reciprocal dinners because you simply can’t buy GF vanilla slices from any bakery or store – you have to make your own.  But the cost of making them, whether in GF or ‘regular’ form, is not much less than what regular ones cost from the local bakery anyway!  So why bother?  I won’t be making cheap batches of snot-blocks for me to pig out on at home, because you need to use them within a day or so of making them – before the custard goes stale and rubbery – and my minimum batch makes 4 very large slices.  I like the things, and enjoying one every few days is a nice prospect, but the idea of force-feeding myself four a day is not nice at all.
Perhaps I could make a home-made batch if expecting visitors – it’s a 3-hour preparation job even though that includes only about 20 minutes of actual cooking.  But for myself?  I’ll just continue buying one every now and then.

September 2015:  Postscript:  I had noticed that sheets of puff-pastry shrink in size while rising, during baking.  The frozen sheets are 24 x 24cm, but they are only about 22 x 22cm when cooked.  So I visited the local timber place and bought a 1-meter length of 40x10mm dressed pine – big expense! – and made a little straight-sided rectangle for ‘moulding’ vanilla slices in the fridge, because all baking dishes have tapered sides – the uncut slab ends up wider at the top than the bottom.  Using this wooden former I can make a batch of slices with only one sheet of frozen puff-pastry.

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