Matt Aylett: The vanilla slice king

North End Bakehouse has had an excellent run on the competition circuit this year, first winning Australia’s Best Vanilla Slice at the Victorian Baking Show 2023 and then cementing the title at the Great Australian Vanilla Slice Triumph Merbein in August, where they also walked away with the top gong. Baking Business sat down with Matt Aylett, the brains behind the wins, to find out a bit more about how he got his start in the industry, where he sees himself going, and, of course, how he crafts the perfect vanilla slice.

Matt always knew that food was for him, but it wasn’t always clear that baking in particular was where his path lay.

“I’ve been baking for about 18 years. I always loved food at school; I originally looked into being a chef, but I was more into the sweet side of things. And then people started talking about the split shifts that chefs do, and I wasn’t into that as much,” Matt laughs.

“And here we are, 18 years later!”

Of those 18 years, Matt has spent more than half where he is now, at North End Bakehouse.

“I’ve spent about nine-and-a-half years at North End Bakehouse,” he says.

“Prior to that, I was at Billy’s Bakehouse in Mooroopna—I did my apprenticeship there and then worked through and became the bakery manager.

“After that, I started looking into buying my own [bakery].”

This desire to carve out a piece of his own in the baking industry took Matt to North End Bakehouse, where he has made a name for himself. Ultimately, this has been a great experience for Matt and his family.

“It’s had its ups and downs, but we’re still here. It’s been really good,” he says.

Opening North End Bakehouse has also given Matt, and the rest of the team, the ability to enter into various competitions over the course of the business’s lifetime. This year, all of the practising and perfecting came to fruition, when North End, led by Matt, took home not just the title of Australia’s Best Vanilla Slice but also the gold trophy at the Great Australian Vanilla Slice Triumph Merbein.

“We’ve been working on it for a lot of years now. We’ve worked our way through—we had third place and second place, then COVID stopped the competition for a couple of years… Then we had no place at all! And now, we’ve managed to get first, and we’re obviously excited,” Matt says.

“We’ve been perfecting it over the years, and this year we actually put on three apprentices to complete our baking team.”

“It’s good having a team of people around us that are really keen and wanting to learn and up their skills as well. It adds that little bit of enthusiasm around the bakery.”

Everything that Matt and the team is putting into making their vanilla slice entries as good as they can possibly be is paying off.

“The judges keep telling us that our custard is really, really good! That it has the sort of creaminess that they’re really looking for.

“But I like to think that it comes down to our pastry, the way we make and bake it to get the really crisp biscuity bite that everyone is after—so you don’t end up with custard all over you when you eat it!” Matt says.

“It just comes down to perfection with cuts. We make sure our cuts are perfectly straight and vertical, and there’s no crumbs left over from them—just putting those little details in, we’re there with our tweezers pulling out any little pastry crumbs that get into the custard before it goes into the competition.”
This meticulous attention to detail has rubbed off on Matt in a big way. After 18 years as a baker, he says, his favourite thing to craft in the bakery is a vanilla slice.

“At this point, [my favourite thing to make] is probably a vanilla slice. I feel very confident making it!” Matt laughs.

His own personal confidence in making the vanilla slices that North End is now so well known for is not the only reason he enjoys them, Matt says. They also provide him with the opportunity to pass his craft along to the next generation, something that he feels passionate about.

“I like showing our apprentices how to do it. I think they’re often quite blown away that I can do it quickly and effortlessly, and it comes out perfect. That gives them something to try to aim for. I always just say to them, ‘That’s 18 years of practice, day in, day out.’ That’s what I’ve always enjoyed working towards,” he says.
Prior to winning the competitions, Matt says, the bakery was putting out one or two slabs of vanilla slice a day. In the time since the wins, this has increased rapidly to more than 25 slabs a day. This is having quite the effect on Matt’s business, which is increasing past the point that the current North End store can handle.

“At the moment, we’re rapidly outgrowing our space. We’ve been building up quite a lot, so we’re looking at a relocation—a bigger facility for our production, and then in turn, hopefully more stores. [We want to] keep growing from that point,” Matt says.

However, this is not all that Matt is looking forward to in the future. Having tackled Australia’s toughest vanilla slice competitions, he is now turning his eye elsewhere.

“We’re trying to get into doing some pie competitions and keep building and getting recognised for more and more things,” he says.

 

Main image: Matt Aylett with his wife, Shekiah, and daughter, Addie


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