Walk into any Australian bakery – especially in a country town – and you can rest assured you’re going to find a very particular range. Every baker has their own way of doing things, but the essence is the same. But where did our Aussie favourites that have become a firm part of our culture come from? Read on for a brief history of some classic Aussie bakery items.
Are you a refined Mille-Feuille consumer, or a working-class devourer of snot block? Despite the revolting pet name we’ve lumped this delicacy with, the humble vanilla slice reigns supreme as the go-to afternoon tea of Aussies. Originating in France, the classic dessert comprising of three layers of puff pastry, custard (crème pâtissière) and icing is mentioned as far back as 1651 in a book named Cuisinier François by François Pierre de La Varenne. Later, the recipe was modified by Marie-Antoine Carême and recorded in writing in the 18th Century.
Now, it is one of Australia’s most recognised products, with bakers refining and perfecting their recipes every year in the hopes of being crowned the best in The Great Vanilla Slice Triumph.
If the vanilla slice is our most popular sweet, then the meat pie is without question the savoury bakery item of choice. Whether it’s breakfast on a building site with a Dare Iced Coffee, lunch at the footy or dinner on the go; Aussies go bananas for a pie. And despite the huge variety of pie fillings now available, the humble mince beef pie never goes out of fashion.
The meat pie has European roots – introduced to England by the Romans – and was commonly sold by medieval street vendors. Convenient and affordable, they were often the only meat the poor could afford to eat.
Brought to Australia by the British, an Australian meat pie was produced in 1947 by L. T. McClure in a small bakery in Bendigo, which became the famous Four’n Twenty pie, but other pie manufacturers date back more than a century. Once described by former NSW Premier Bob Carr as Australia’s national dish, pies are now submitted from all over the country for judging at the Official Great Aussie Pie Competition as well as the Australia’s Best Pie and Pastie Competition.
Who doesn’t love a sauso? Probably a close second to the meat pie, especially in the tradie breakfast stakes, the sausage roll is a family favourite and perfect for eating on the go. As with pies, wrapping meat in pastry dates back to the Ancient Greeks and Romans, but the modern sausage roll is thought to have originated in 19th Century France. They grew in popularity in London in the early 1800s as a cheap street food, and became known as a quintessentially British snack before making the voyage across the pond with British settlers.
A modern hero of the Aussie bakery, the Cheesymite Scroll was created when Bakers Delight co-founder Roger Gillespie decided to combine two of his favourite things, Vegemite and cheese, and the rest is history. These are an Australian icon despite the fact they’re only been around since 1994, and other bakeries have created their own iterations of the cheesy and yeasty lunchbox favourite.
The humble lamington has always had its place, but has experienced something of a resurgence in recent times with dedicated lamington stores in both Australia and abroad reinventing the coconut-covered sponge. This sweet little cake was first invented in Queensland, with a recipe appearing in the Queensland Country Life newspaper as early as 1900.
According to Queensland Government House, the lamington was created by the chef of the state’s eighth governor, Lord Lamington, to feed unexpected visitors.
Since 2006 it’s even been honoured with its own National Lamington Day, which is July 21. Rumour has it Lord Lamington didn’t even like the treat named after him!
Like Russell Crowe and Sam Neil, the pavlova – an absolute Aussie icon on the dessert table – actually originated in New Zealand but we took it for our own, refusing to cede its kiwi roots.
Named after the famed Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, who toured Australia and New Zealand in 1926., the story goes that the chef of a Wellington hotel at the time created the billowy dessert in her honour, claiming inspiration from her tutu. Now, the pavlova is a hot ticket bakery item and certain to be found gracing every family Christmas and Australia Day event.
A neenish tart is a tart made with a pastry base and a filling consisting of sweet gelatine-set cream, mock cream, icing sugar paste, or lemon and sweetened condensed milk mixture, with icing on the top of the tart in two colours – brown and pink most commonly. Where did these strange little cakes come from, and why are they so popular?
The most popular tale, according to the ABC, is that the neenish tart was invented by a woman called Ruby Neenish in the New South Wales Riverina town of Grong Grong in 1913.
The story goes that Ruby was baking for a shower tea when she ran out of cocoa.
Thinking on her feet, she iced her tarts with half chocolate, half white icing and they were known forevermore as neenish tarts.
Anzac biscuits have long been associated with the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) established in World War I. It has been claimed that biscuits were sent by wives and women’s groups to soldiers abroad because the ingredients do not spoil easily and the biscuits kept well during naval transportation. Despite the less-than-appetising reasons for the ingredients used, Anzac biscuits have remained a firm favourite Aussie biscuit for over 100 years.
Who could ever get enough of these custard filled balls of pastry bliss? Dressed up or dressed down, profiteroles (also known as cream puffs) will clear out the second they’re placed on the table. Although they’re commonly thought to have French origins, profiteroles were actually invented by an Italian chef named Panterelli. This chef was part of the escort of Catherine de Medici, who arrived at the French royal court around 1530, intended to become the wife of Henry of Valois, known as King Henry II.