Vanilla Slice and…Not Everyone Can be a Ballerina

I went to ballet classes when I was growing up.  Did five years of them.  Every Thursday afternoon from 4-5pm.

Mrs Warwick was the teacher.  She was an older woman who ran the classes from a studio she’d purpose-built in her backyard.  She had carrot-read hair piled on top of her head like she was trying to channel Lucille Ball and she wore jet-black leggings and a jet-black leotard.

Vanilla Slice with Passionfruit Icing

Mrs Warwick didn’t like me.  No, that’s not true.  Mrs Warwick hated me.  She liked my mother though.  Because mum had all five of us enrolled and mum also went there for jazz ballet lessons on Monday nights.

Mrs Warwick would run parent/teacher nights where my mother would have to go and be given an oral report on my progress or lack of it.  She told my mother I was lazy and too lazy to try.  I thought that for a student with a lack of rhythm and an inflexible body I was trying very hard.

Mrs Warwick was very strict.  You weren’t allowed to talk in the class.  There were others in the class who like me, were bored stiff and would watch the clock wondering why the minutes were ticking by so slowly.  One day a girl younger than me who couldn’t tell the time whispered, ‘How much longer until it’s finished?’  I looked at the clock and whispered back, ‘Only 10 more minutes’.  Well Mrs Warwick heard that.  She turned off the recorder player, stopped the class, put her hands on her hips and screamed while glaring at me, ‘What are doing looking at the clock?  Are you that bored?  Don’t you like it here?  What don’t you like about ballet, Charlie?  Why don’t you tell the class, now that you’ve interrupted us all, why you hate ballet?’  And everyone in the class was looking at me and I said, ‘I just wanted to know the time.’  And she narrowed her eyes and yelled, ‘If you liked ballet or even tried, you wouldn’t be interested in knowing the time.  I’ll tell you when it’s five o’clock.’  And then she turned the record player back on.

One week, by a stroke of good fortune, my parents were overseas and had left us with an unsuspecting nanny.  When ‘dreaded Thursday’ rocked around and it was time for ballet, Emma and I hid from the nanny.  We hid in the lounge room behind the couch and she was yelling out, ‘Come out wherever you are, it’s time for ballet’, but we stayed where we were because we didn’t want to go to ballet.

The next week mum was back from overseas so she dropped us off and as the class was starting Mrs Warwick made Emma and I stand out the front and then she said to the class, ‘Who wants to know why Charlie and Emma weren’t here last week?  They weren’t here because they didn’t want to come to ballet.  They stayed at home being naughty, hiding from their nanny behind the COUCH.’  And she screamed the word ‘couch’ with her hands on her hips.   ‘That’s why they weren’t here.’  And when she’d finished letting everyone know our transgressions we were allowed us to join the class.

I was stuck in the same Thursday afternoon class for five years with no progression.  Everyone else apparently was full of promise and they would come into the class and within a short period of time would be moved on up to the Monday class.  Mrs Warwick always made a point of announcing very loudly at the end of each class who she had selected to progress to the Monday class.  My name was never called.

I hated the classes but I loved the pantomimes.  Mrs Warwick considered herself a director and would put on pantomimes at the end of every year.  They ran for a three-week season and every class was involved.  I performed in quite a few including ‘Mother Goose’ and ‘The Wind in the Willows’.  I danced as a poodle, a gale bird and a fairy.  My mother stayed up at night sewing my costumes and I still have them today.

I had to cross the Tasman to get out of those ballet classes.

And I haven’t danced since.

Not even socially.

Have you ever persevered at something despite a lack of talent?

Mrs Warwick was horrible but Vanilla Slice was wonderful.  You could buy vanilla slice from every cake shop and it was my comfort food of choice.

Vanilla Slice

Vanilla Slice with Passionfruit Icing

Makes:  16 squares

Degree of Difficulty:  2/5

Cost:  A very inexpensive delightful treat that brings great comfort

  • 2 sheets puff pastry
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup cornflour
  • 1/2 cup custard powder
  • 1 ltr (4 cups) milk
  • 60g (2oz) butter
  • 2 egg-yolks
  • 2 tspns vanilla extract

Passionfruit Icing:

  • 2 cups icing sugar
  • 2 tspns butter
  • pulp from 2 passionfruit
  • 2 tspns water, approx

Place each sheet of pastry on an oven tray.  Bake in very hot oven (250C) for 5-10 minutes until well browned.

Remove from oven and flatten puffy side with your hand.  Trim to fit into a 23cm (9in) square tin.

Line tin with baking paper that hangs over the sides to make it easy to remove the slice when set.  Place one piece of pastry into base of tin, flattened side uppermost.

Combine sugar, cornflour and custard powder in heavy-based saucepan, mix well to combine. Blend with a little of the milk until smooth, stir in remaining milk; add butter.  Stir mixture constantly over heat until custard boils and thhickens, reduce heat, simmer 3 minutes.  Remove from heat, quickly stir in vanilla, then stir in the beaten egg-yolks.  Pour hot custard immediately over pastry in tin.  Place remaining pastry on top of custard so the flattened side touches the hot custard.  Press pastry firmly with hand.

Spread evenly with passionfruit icing.  When cool, refrigerate several hours or overnight until filling has set.

Passionfruit Icing:

Sift icing sugar into small basin, add softened butter and pulp from passionfruit.  Add enough water, to make icing of thick spreading consistency.  The amount of water needed will depend on size of passionfruit.  Beat well.

This recipe has been adapted from The Australian Women’s Weekly Cooking Class Cookbook. 

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  1. Such a humorous and moving writing at the same time! Amazing how some teachers can turn us off a subject completely or make us love it despite it not being ‘our thing’. I think there should be stricter rules about who is allowed to teach innocent children…
    The recipe sounds awesome though 🙂

  2. Tennis.. I had to go to tennis lessons and I played up such merry hell the coach told Mum not to send me back.


  3. Given the choice between vanilla slice and just about anything, 99 times out of 100 I will choose the vanilla slice. It’s an absolute classic that even when done not-so-well, and I’ve come across a few of those in my travels, is still good. But I’ve never actually made it myself, and I think it’s about time I did!

    I took a ballet class once, when i was 12 or 13. The teacher told my friends mother that I had potential, but would have to lose weight. I didn’t go back.

  4. Your teacher sounds awful! I never had dancing lessons but I did hate the swimming ones, I would swallow so much water that I always ended up tired and cranky… I still hate swimming although I go now and then because my doctor recommended it for my back problems!

    The recipe sounds amazing with that great topping!

    • hotlyspiced says:

      I swim too because of my back issues. Let me guess – lower back??? Swimming is so good for lower back issues. I’ve had a few months off and am now in trouble so must start back this week. And yes, my teacher was awful.

  5. Yorkes Girl says:

    Calisthenics….I loved it. All the cool kids did it, and we got to wear pretty costumes and throw things around (batons, I think?!)….but was (and still am) incredibly uncoordinated and inflexible…two fairly key requirements! I also loved (and still do) vanilla slice, one of my favourite sweets! Thanks for sharing.

  6. (swoon!)

  7. Sewing lessons. Yup my mum booked me into sewing lessons when I was about 10. I HATED it and was bored out of my brain. It wasn’t until years later that appreciated what she trying to do and I regretted not maying any attention. My mum nearly strangled me when I asked her if she could help me learn to sew (last year) 🙂 xx

  8. I feel so sorry for your Charlie! Thankfully my parents never made me learn anything I didn’t want to when growing up. I did piano lessons and the first teacher I had was so so so lazy! I had to ask her to teach me more… then the next piano teacher I had was a nice gentleman but I was getting so bored of practicing and once during a lesson hahaha I fell asleep 😛 he had to cough SO loudly to wake me up 😛

    The vanilla slice with passionfruit icing looks great! I didn’t know it was so inexpensive to make, because its so expensive to buy mille fieulle here in HK 🙁

  9. What an old battle-axe Mrs. Warwick was. She probably wasn’t even married. Stories like that really make me angry. Talk about demotivating! But at least the vanilla slice looks delightful!

  10. How delicious! These look like such tasty treats.

  11. I also took ballet. Performed in the Nutcracker and some recital where I was dressed in a blue feathery thing. I think we were birds of some kind. I enjoyed dance, but wasn’t very good at it or at piano. I was never much for practicing anything on my own time!

    This dessert is a new one to me. What would work in lieu of passionfruit as that is not very available here?

  12. I love your writing style. Your posts are always make an interesting read.
    The vanilla slices look yum!!!

  13. The passionfruit icing looks fantastic, as well as the whole vanilla slice. It is not similar to anything I have ever seen or tasted. I’m intrigued and I think I’ll try it one day.
    Maybe you were very talented, but just hated ballet?

  14. I took a lot of ballet classes when I was young as well and imagined that I had some talent at it. When I was about 35, I thought I could go back en point. What a joke that was! I was clearly dreaming…

    I love the various “slices” from your part of the world. And this one looks yummy.

  15. I learned the piano for 10 or so years. I was actually good at it and enjoyed it. Then, when I did musicin grade 12, I received a bad mark for it. My school music teacher made us study jazz at school, something which I did not play and had no clue about. So this bad grade made me depressed about the piano and I haven’t played since. Thanks a lot, school music teacher.

    So I think that a teacher can either help you like something or can make you really dislike something. Unfortunately your ballet teacher sounds horrible!

    Vanilla slice looks yummy:) I’ve had only one before and didn’t like it too much…but yours looks nicer:)

  16. When I first saw the title, my mind read the following – Not Everyone can be a Bulimia – no kidding. None the less, looks good.

  17. My daughter is not very musically inclined. She loves to listen to it, sing along with it and can name every song and artist imaginable-, but just too uncoordinated to play.
    We did try, first the violin then flute, then piano, and she practised hard and faithfully to no avail. Things finally came to a head when her teacher rang me and confessed she ‘felt guilty taking my money’
    Oh well, her talents lie elsewhere I guess. As I’m sure yours do Charlie, and what a bitter woman to pick on you all those years punishing you instead of encouraging you.
    Lucky you can cook such yummy treats, not everyone can do that, that’s for sure! 🙂

  18. Poor you. Luckily I was never inflicted with ballet lessons – I would have felt like those little dancing elephants in fantasia if I was made to do it!!!

    The only thing inflicted on me was tennis – by my DH. I have come to hate tennis!

    Lovely story – lovely recipe!

  19. My mother always wanted me to take ballet lessons but I didn’t have any interest. Wish I had taken them now. I love passionfruit and this cake looks delicious!

  20. I believe that you had a poor teacher. A good one would have been able to find the correct method to motivate you and your sister as obviously screaming and trying to shame you into ‘liking’ ballet didn’t work. And, an honest one would have told your mother that you weren’t interested and shouldn’t have to keep coming. But she obviously cared more about having the fees that your mom paid than whether you were interested or had any ability.

    I’ve never tried vanilla slice but it sounds quite tasty. 🙂

  21. Gee the teacher doesn’t sound all that pleasant or inspiring does she! I remember dreading things I was signed up for as a kid like clarinet classes!

    Now to the matter of the vanilla slice…YUM…haven’t had one in ages and gee this looks great!

  22. I tried to have my daughter take ballet classes when all along it was gymnastics that she wanted! She struggled through until I finally realized she was no ballerina – but a darn good gymnist! Funny how we have certain dreams for our children! And this little dream dessert sounds heavenly!!

  23. No wonder you didn’t like ballet with a teacher like that.

    I had a clarinet teacher who was a witch. I hardly ever threw tantrums when I was little but one day I was literally on the ground kicking, screaming and crying because I didn’t want to go. She was a scary lady!

  24. I’d have gladly swapped places Charlie. I grew up in the country whereballet classes werenot available. I spend hours watching ballet on TV. Last year I went to performances by the Russian Ballet and The Cuba Ballet. My idea of heaven.

    Love Vanilla slice. It was my Dad’s favourite.

  25. Well, I hated Girl Guides and I went for five years. It was the only thing I was really forced to do and that was because my grandmother was the Guide Captain and we didnt have the heart to tell her we hated it. it’s a very cruel thing to do to a rythmless child Charlie

  26. I feel your pain. I never took dance classes as a child because we couldn’t afford them (six children on a government worker’s salary), so I took one as an adult with my youngest daughter. They were embarrassing, to say the least. I got to be a back-up dancer in one pageant and a tree in another. Now I am happy to say, I am done. My youngest loves to dance. I’ve never had Vanilla Slice, but it looks good; might have to try it.

  27. great cake and you poor thing your mum should have let you quit

  28. Believe me, there are still ballet teachers like that. A friend’s daughter was changed out her class and into another one.
    Vanilla Slice looks delicious

  29. Dear Charlie Louie,

    I love your sense of humour and your style of writing especially when talking about your family and children. Brings out the satire of our lives that most of us can relate to and feel what you feel. Thanks for sharing such stories because it also brings me back to my childhood too 🙂

  30. I started to laugh as soon as I read the title of your post, and stopped once I read the text. Then I started to quiver at the memory of Wednesday piano lessons, and the dread of Wednesday mornings when I knew the lesson was coming up in the afternoon. As a result of that, I never really push my kids to do anything. I am a failed Tiger Mother. 😉

  31. You really don’t want to know what I think of Mrs. Warwick. Instead, I’ll just it’s easy to see why Vanilla Slice is such a favorite. That passion fruit icing sounds delicious!

  32. What a terrible teacher! Sounds like she needs a lesson in how to motivate rather than berate! I’m mad for you Charlie! 😛

  33. BEAUTIFUL! I love your recipes…. I absolutely love vanilla slice.. this looks like a yummy version of it… I’ve really enjoyed going through your blog.. I’ve been a few times before… but I don’t know that I’ve commented much… will definitely be back for more 🙂

  34. Wow, this dessert looks SO delicious…yum! I definitely need to give it a try.

    Your post made me think about my experience with dancing…I always wanted to take ballet as a kid but my mom would never let me! So, this past year I ended up taking beginning ballet classes (for adults) at at 28! I will definitely never be great at it, but it is a lot of fun…hearing your story sounds like maybe I was best off to wait until I’m an adult to try it! 🙂

  35. Those little treats look delicious! And the pieces aren’t too big!

  36. Can’t dance worth beans. But I will have to try this dessert! It looks amazing.

  37. Um, yeah, I was the anti-ballerina in my ballet classes. It was mortifying! I still have the emotional scars to prove it…and a natural “turn in” of the toes.

  38. Thank God I never did ballet!!! My mother had no doubts about my lack of grace 🙂 😉

  39. Wow, what a colossal cow! I wonder why people end up like that – and why they stay in teaching if they hate kids so much! That said though, I used to have an English teacher who was a real miserable woman. I chose English as one of my subjects in my senior years, and the difference when I went back to school was astounding. I guess because she knew we actually “wanted” to be there, but all of a sudden she was talking to us like we were equals! Amazing 🙂

    Beautiful cake – I love the sound of that passionfruit icing especially! 🙂

  40. I swear, I’v been looking for vanilla slice recipes ALL day! And this is the only one I’m actually going to cook!

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