Since How to Be Australian was released in June, I’ve been waiting for someone to point out the book’s glaring inconsistency. It started when I first arrived in Sydney. One of my favourite discoveries was caramel slices, and particularly their wide abundancy at cafes everywhere.
Australia is a country that takes its desserts seriously, as evidenced by the existence of a one-dollar coin featuring Iced VoVos. This is actual Australian currency.
Yet while I learned about the Aussie origins of lamingtons, fairy bread and pavlova soon after arriving, it took almost a decade before I learned the Down Under origins of the caramel slice.
The first known caramel slice recipe appeared in the Australian Women’s Weekly in October 1970 under the name caramel shortbread.
Scotland understood how amazing caramel shortbread was, because a couple of decades later, the recipe became popular there under the name millionaire’s shortbread.
While that name gives you no indication of what’s in the dessert, I appreciate the implication it’s a dessert of millionaires.
In Australia, I’m not sure when the name shifted from caramel shortbread to caramel slice, but this Google Ngram shows the steep rise in the term’s use.
You can see I’ve done my research. After the book came out, I found myself talking about caramel slice a lot.
I ended up in a cross-country caramel slice showdown with author Monique Mulligan. (She won easily, since her slice was homemade.)
Readers made caramel slice and dropped it off at my home.
And author Josephine Taylor created an incredible deconstructed caramel slice decorated with grevillea blossoms in honour of the book. (She has a weekly project pairing newly released books with homemade desserts, check it out.)
I’ve even started to incorporate caramel slices into my wardrobe. Check out these earrings, which were a hot tip from another lovely reader.
When I started giving author talks, I was using this photo from my own archives. I reckon this caramel slice is perfect. It has a significant layer of chocolate, not too thin, an ideal consistency in the caramel, and a chocolate crumble base with – notably – no dessicated coconut. A reader who attended that talk pointed out that a proper caramel slice shouldn’t have a chocolate base.
But so far no-one has pointed out the inconsistency in the book, which is that while I love caramel slices, I strongly dislike dessicated coconut. I refuse to eat both Iced Vovos and lamingtons because of it. Look at this coconutty mess smothering otherwise delicious cake. I’ve been prepared to defend myself on this, to insist that the dried-up coconut nubs in the base of caramel slices are negligible (though still unpleasant and woefully unnecessary), and that I’m very much aware of them, but my love of caramel slices overcomes my dislike of dessicated coconut in this instance (even if sometimes, when I’m alone, I eat the base first so I can enjoy the chocolate and caramel without the pesky interference of other ingredients, proving I haven’t matured much since childhood).
So far no readers have challenged me on this very important and serious matter, nor has it come up in any reviews. But I’m bracing for it. Like I said, we take our desserts seriously here.