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From ‘snot block’ to meat pie: Australian baked goods – sorted

From left: lamingtons, vanilla slice, escargot and a pie.
From left: lamingtons, vanilla slice, escargot and a pie. Composite: Getty images, Alamy, The Guardian

The bakery run has changed significantly over the years. Back in the day, it was Bakers Delight versus Brumby’s. Cheesymite versus Cheddarmite. Scone versus scone. But now, bakeries are very often specialised, artisan, naturally leavened, locally sourced, seasonal, handmade and all those other things that make you say, “take my money”. But high-end or low-brow, we don’t discriminate: Australians just really love a bakery.

10. Vanilla slice

Vanilla slice.
The humble Aussie ‘snot block’, aka vanilla slice. Photograph: Philip Game/Alamy

They say the fewer ingredients there are, the more likely you are to notice its faults. Such is the case with this heavy-handed pastry, which was loosely inspired by France’s mille-feuille: icing, custard and puff pastry are the three components of the humble Aussie “snot block”. Found predominantly in outer-suburban bakeries and in country towns, the luscious crème pâtissière is often stabilised with too much corn starch, which causes the ubiquitous snotty texture and signature bounce. An acquired taste or fond nostalgia based on technical error? Sadly, the latter.

9. Lamington

Lamingtons.
‘People aren’t willing to admit that desiccated coconut is almost always rancid.’ Photograph: Felicity Cloake/The Guardian

Is it an Aussie or Kiwi invention? We don’t really care. This cake cabinet stable is a butter sponge coated in chocolate sauce and rolled in desiccated coconut.

But people aren’t willing to admit that desiccated coconut is almost always rancid. You know that housemate you had who insisted on cooking everything in coconut oil because it was anti-inflammatory? And every time they fried an egg, the air would always fill with that smell? Yeah, that. No amount of jam or cream can neutralise that flavour once it’s released between your teeth. On the rare occasion that the coconut isn’t rancid, this baked good can be transcendent. But once we apply the law of averages, the lamington sadly pulls up near the rear.

8. Neenish tart

Neenish tarts.
‘Inoffensive in every way.’ Photograph: agcreations/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Short pastry, jam, set cream and icing don’t sound too appealing or texturally exciting, but for some reason, this combination has stood the test of time and still exists in bakeries today. Outrageously sweet, soft and single-serve, neenish tarts are inoffensive in every way. They’re nice to look at, great to buy for others, but eating them always tastes like a facsimile of a memory, and ultimately, disappointment.

7. Choc chip bikkies

choc chip cookies.
‘A true pacifier of the people.’ Photograph: Stuart Stevenson/Getty Images

It is impossible to go wrong with a chocolate chip biscuit, because even a crap one is good. These days there are bougie ones made with browned butter, crushed tea, single-origin chocolate, flecks of salt and rested overnight – but who would turn down a run-of-the-mill, stock-standard, white sugar and milk chocolate chip bikkie? No one. A true pacifier of the people.

6. Escargot

Escargot.
‘Never fails to please.’ Photograph: Olga Mazyarkina/Getty Images/iStockphoto

It is very controversial to place raisins above chocolate chips in any kind of ranking, but it is a universally known fact that once raisins are rolled in laminated, leavened pastry, glued down with crème pâtissière and baked, they reign supreme. Even in a suspect bakery where you wouldn’t trust its sandwich bread, an escargot never fails to please. Don’t @ me.

5. Sausage roll

Sausage rolls.
‘Is it objectively bad? Yes. Do we still love it? Also, yes.’ Photograph: Kate Stoupas/Getty Images

This is one of the few things the British gave us that we managed to completely ruin and still love. As a nation, we have adapted our taste buds into expecting and enjoying under-seasoned ground meat that has been overworked to the point where it is gluey and calling it “a little treat”. Is it objectively bad? Yes. Do we still love it? Also, yes.

4. Almond croissant

Almond croissant
‘Use your nose before you use your mouth.’ Photograph: Sunphol Sorakul/Getty Images

This is the “waste not, want not” of the viennoiserie world. Fancy bakeries might bake croissants specifically for the almond treatment, but usually, day-old pastries are gussied up with some almond cream, sliced almonds and baked again. No matter where you get them, they’re immediately satisfying because of the hefty, nutty balm breathing new life into the revived pastry. Some may say the almond cream masks any overproofed, potentially stale sins, but beware any cheap additions of almond essence. Use your nose before you use your mouth.

3. Melting moments

Melting Moments
‘The textbook example of perfect simplicity.’ Photograph: karamba70/Getty Images/iStockphoto

How can a sandwich of shortbread, buttercream, shortbread rank so damn high? These biscuits are an example of there being no such thing as too much butter – because shortbread as a rule is 50% butter and buttercream is … well, the name says it all. The balancing act between the butter and lemon juice makes these the textbook example of perfect simplicity.

2. Meat pie

An Australian meat pie.
‘Is it possible that there is no such thing as a bad pie?’ Photograph: Jenny Dettrick/Getty Images

When they’re good they’re great and when they’re bad they’re still pretty great. Our collective minds are so used to chewy pastry and a sloppy, all-gravy filling that, when faced with homemade flaky crusts encapsulating chunks of easily identifiable and robustly seasoned beef, instead of being blown away, we are only pleasantly surprised. Is it possible that there is no such thing as a bad pie? Only in Australia.

1. Vegemite and cheese scroll

Cheese and Vegemite scroll.
‘Unapologetic and unrefined.’ Photograph: Robert Downer/Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Vegemite and cheese scroll is synonymous with growing up in Australia. It encapsulates our salty temperament in an unapologetic and unrefined snack. Yeast extract, yeasted dough and cheese should be a combination that sends anyone running to a doctor’s office – but instead, we line up and enthusiastically wrap our laughing gear around it. 10/10. No notes.

• Jess Ho writes about food and the hospitality industry, and is the former food and drink editor for Time Out Melbourne.