This week marks the 5th anniversary of my move from Texas to Queensland, so I thought I’d make some cake. Lamingtons are an Australian food, little pieces of yellow sponge cake dipped in chocolate and rolled in coconut.
I like the idea of them, but the little Lamington cakes from the bakery aren’t very exciting. I decided to try my hand at making them, so my buddy Enid came by this afternoon to make a batch and catch up. Both of us have small children and limited discretionary funds, so an afternoon of baking is a great way to hang out for cheap with a sweet payoff. Besides, we split the baking so I don’t end up eating far more cake than is good for me!
It started with a simple Google search for Lamington cake recipes. Before I knew it, I was sucked in by the mystery surrounding the origins of this treat and its namesake. Lord Lamington was the Governor of Queensland around the turn of the last century. Though his term as governor was relatively short, he was well-respected and lent his name to both the Lamington cake and the spectacularly beautiful Lamington National Park. Not a bad legacy, having your name attached to a cake and a slice of paradise:
It seems fairly clear the cakes are named after the Governor, but less clear are the stories of its invention. My favorite story is that a clumsy maid knocked stale sponge cake into a plate of chocolate, and the thrifty Lord said “Cover it in coconut and serve it.” The more likely story is that Lamington’s French cook had to provide a nice dinner with little notice. He sliced some stale sponge cake, dipped it in chocolate and rolled it in coconut. European cooks at the time didn’t use coconut, but his wife was Tahitian and they used coconut in their cooking. The guests loved the “new” cake and clamored for the recipe.
At any rate, Enid and I (and Lila!) had so much fun in the kitchen today that I *had* to share the recipe and what we did.
I couldn’t find a well-reviewed “proper” or definitive Lamington recipe, so Enid suggested we use her family’s Victoria Sponge cake recipe. I took notes:
Lamington Cake Base:
200g (1 cup) caster suger (white sugar)
200g (7/8 cup) butter, softened
200g (1.5c) flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon orange zest (added when my eye fell on a basket of sweet local oranges in my kitchen)
1 package chocolate chips
2-3 cups coconut. I used shredded, but “dessicated” is the preferred coconut.
Grease and flour a 13″ X 9″ baking pan. Preheat oven to 180 C or 350 F. Cream together the butter and the sugar. Stir in vanilla and orange zest. In a separate bowl, mix or sift together the dry ingredients. Add 1 egg and 1 tablespoon of flour mixture to the butter, mixing until just blended. Repeat with each egg. Gently fold in remaining flour mixture, do not over-beat. Spread it in the pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let it rest 5 minutes, then turn it out to cool on a wire rack.
We could have taken greater care with the beating to make a softer cake, but even though we didn’t take great pains with it this yields quite a decent base cake with very little effort.
Assembling the Lamingtons:
The cake went together almost as simply as a cake mix, and came out a pretty golden color. It’s not a “soft” cake, but holds its shape well which makes it suitable for Lamingtons.
We sliced the cake into 1.5″ wide “strips” then cross-cut them into pieces. Enid decided she liked the variety of sizes we cut because sometimes you just want a tiny bite of cake, sometimes you’d like a little more. At this point, I got really excited and whipped out my camera. I used to enjoy baking before I moved here, but after the move my cakes and cookies never turned out the way they used to. I think it’s the flour. This is the first cake I’ve made in 5 years that actually behaves like cake.
Most recipes I found for Lamingtons involve a milk-icing sugar-cocoa mixture cooked over a double boiler to dip the cake. Instead, I grabbed a package of chocolate chips and mixed in some milk to thin it in a mixing bowl over a pot of boiling water.
We kept stirring and adding a little milk at a time (could have been more than 1/3 c) until the chocolate was melted and the consistency of chocolate syrup.
I dropped a piece of cake into the molten chocolate chips.
And rolled it around until it was covered, then lifted it out…
Then we placed them on the wire rack to let the chocolate set.
We rolled some of them in cocoa powder for a truffle effect because I’m not the biggest fan of coconut.
Enid and Lila and I had a great afternoon baking together. Who knew dipping little pieces of yellow cake into chocolate and rolling them in coconut would be so much fun?
Later on, my husband (a genuine Queenslander) tried one. “They’re good, but they’re not Lamingtons.”
I must have fancied them up too much with orange zest and shredded (rather than dessicated) coconut. Too bad, I like them the best of any Lamingtons I’ve ever tried! The chocolate brings out the orange flavor in the best way possible, dear me it’s delicious. And just a bite or two at a time, no more. Perfect.
Besides, apparently Lord Lamington himself didn’t care for the cakes, calling them “bloody poofy wooly biscuits.”
Australians: Have I committed a sacrilege with a beloved national food? How do you make your Lamingtons?
Do you ever get together with a friend or two to bake? What do you make?