I grew up in a little country town in southern New South Wales, with a population of around 300. As a result, the variety of stores along the main street were few, but the local bakery was easily my favourite. Like many Australian country and suburban bakeries, ours was modest in size but generous in offering. A glass cabinet, which doubled as the front counter, was laden with tarts, biscuits, slices and pastries, and then there were the ubiquitous loaves of white bread held in racks along the back wall.
The baked goodies were often sickly sweet or bursting with mock cream. ‘Fancy’ chocolate éclairs, soft sticky buns, reliable date scones, pretty butterfly cakes, coconut-raspberry slice and marble cake were proudly on display. Of these, my mum’s favourite was the neenish tarts – she saw them as a real ‘treat’, only to be indulged occasionally. Rich and temptingly sweet, these tarts, filled with mock cream, are the Australian bakery staple. Thought to have been named after Mrs. Ruby Neenish, they date back to the early 1900s and are adorned with the mandatory chocolate and pink, sometimes white, icing.
For me, it was the chocolate caramel slice that held the most appeal, with its crisp biscuit base, caramel filling and chocolate topping. This is possibly why it's my go-to when baking for cake stalls, even now. Gingerbread men were also a hit. Simply decorated and the choice of many young children who would nibble impatiently at the spiced biscuit.
To top that off, vanilla slice is legendary in local bakery circles and has more often than not formed the basis for a bakery’s reputation. Consisting of a creamy custard filling sandwiched between crisp, buttery puff pastry, it can hardly be beat. Okay, enough of this torture; try my recipes below. While you're at it, let me know which treats you grew up with.
Anneka's mission is to connect home cooks with the magic of baking, and through this, with those they love. Read our interview with her or for hands-on baking classes and baking tips, visit her at BakeClub. Don't miss what's coming out of her oven via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.
Photography by Alan Benson. Styling by Lynsey Fryers. Food preparation by Tina McLeish.
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