I appreciate that some of you may never have heard of a lamington before and to be honest I’m not sure I had even tasted one before I made these, but this well-loved Australian icon has had more than its fair share of interest and intrigue over the years! Lamingtons have probably been on my ‘to bake’ list for a while now, so when a colleague of mine was marrying an Aussie bloke it seemed like the time. Take a cube of dense buttery cake, dunk it in a well of chocolatey icing and finally toss it in some desiccated coconut, and that my friends, if you were wondering, is a lamington.
Their disputed origin has been the topic of much discussion and it seems even now, over 100 years after their conception, Australians, are still unclear as to where or how they were conceived. Actually that’s not true, all evidence points to Queensland, Australia and most likely the capital of the state, the City of Brisbane. The ‘how’, however is something else. The most popular explanation dates back to the turn of the 20th century when the maid of the then Governor of Brisbane, Lord Lamington, dropped a sponge cake into a bowl of chocolate (hate it when that happens) and then tried to rectify her mistake, by rolling the cake in desiccated coconut in order to make it easier to handle. Some even say it was Lord Lamington’s idea to roll it in the coconut although I find it hard to believe that a man, never mind a Governor, was hanging out in the scullery circa 1903!
Another less publicised, but slightly more believable version was that Lord and Lady Lamington hired a French chef who then presented the treat for afternoon tea. The idea caught on and next thing you know all the well-to-do ladies of Brisbane were requesting the lamington.
More recently, in an attempt to get to the bottom of the mystery, journalists and researchers have delved deeper into historic records, newspaper clipping and recipe files and now say maybe Amy Schauer, a cooking teacher at the Brisbane Central Technical College around the turn of the century was perhaps the inventor of the illusive lamington. Schauer worked at the college for over 30 years and was said to name the cake after the schools patroness, Lady Lamington!
Whatever the story, I don’t pretend to be an expert on Australian history or culture. I was just intrigued by the tale and was curious when almost every website I visited had a different version to tell (although the maid in the scullery seems to be the most loved). All sources also agree that in a hot and dry climate like Australia; sponge cake dries out quick, coating it in chocolate icing seals in the moisture and desiccated coconut keeps the messy chocolate from getting everywhere. Good enough reasons for most people I’d say. (I actually love the logic)
You can use your favourite butter cake (for a denser lamington) or sponge recipe for something lighter. Here’s the recipe I used that was sent to me by my Australian lamington ‘consultant’ for a nice heavy buttery cake and of course the icing. (I made a double batch which is why you see 4 eggs in the picture!(makes approx. 36 small lamingtons)
- 1/2 cup (125g) butter
- ¾ cup (170g) caster sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 eggs
- 2 cups (670g) Self Raising flour
- ½ (125ml) cup of milk
- 1lb (500g) icing sugar
- 4 tablespoon cocoa
- ½ cup (125ml) boiling water
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 cups (160g) desiccated coconut
Preheat oven 180°C/350°F – Prepare an 8 inch (22cm) square baking pan w/ grease proof paper.
Cream the butter, add the sugar gradually and beat until light and airy.
Slowly add the egg until it is all incorporated.
Fold in the flour, and then the milk and vanilla in 2 additions.
Beat well for 1 minute.
Spread into prepared tin and bake for approx. 30 mins.
Cake should be well risen and a cake tester should come out clean.
Cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then carefully turn out onto a cooling rack.
Icing the Lamingtons
It is best to use cake that is a day old for this recipe or at least been in the fridge or freezer for a few hours prior to icing.
Cut the cake into cubes
Sift icing sugar and cocoa together.
Whisk with boiling water and vanilla.
Add the butter and whisk until smooth.
The mixture should be thin, if it starts to thicken up, add another tablespoon of boiling water.
Place the squares into the icing in batches.
Using a fork or chopsticks drop into the desiccated coconut and toss
Place the lamington on greaseproof paper to set.
Lamingtons are thought best if they are left to ‘mature’ for at least a few hours before serving. Keep well sealed.
If you like coconut you’re really going to like these, they’re unlike anything I’ve ever tasted before (bar maybe a bounty). I’m glad I made them quite small so they weren’t too overbearing and the cake to chocolate to coconut ratio worked out pretty nicely. Now that I have given it a go and know that it is easier to do then I was expecting, I might try a lighter sponge recipe next time as I reckon the chocolate might seep even further into a cake that was more airy. Although the purist in me shudders, lamingtons, or ‘lammos’ if we’re striving for authenticity, are also available these days filled with jam or cream or even with different flavour icings. Carrot cake lammo anyone? I’m very pleased I gave these a whirl and will definitely be making them again – any of you fancy trying these this summer? – National Lamington day is the 21st of July!