Today’s the day to honour luscious lamingtons. Soft, fluffy sponge cake covered in dripping chocolate then rolled in desiccated coconut. Yum.
As The Book of Everyone’s resident Australian, explaining these delicious sweet treats to the rest of the team led me to looking a little closer into the story of the lamington…
Named after Lord Lamington, the former Governor of Queensland from 1896-1901, these choc-covered cakes have spread their sweetness south and westward to become national favourites after a lamington recipe first appeared in Queensland Country Life in 1900.
But the origins of the lamington has always been a bit mysterious (and a little controversial).
How were they created?
Some say a maid at Lord Lamington’s residence dropped a sponge cake into melted chocolate by accident, or was trying to make snowballs for dessert but didn’t have all the right ingredients. Others say it was his French chef who had to whip up a treat for guests and wanted to use up leftover sponge cake.
In fact, it’s so controversial in cake circles, that emeritus professor of history at the University of Southern Queensland, Maurice French, penned a book to dispel the myths (The Lamington Enigma: A survey of the evidence).
There’s even an urban legend saying they originated in New Zealand or was a spin-off of an American dessert. On 1 April 2014, Olaf Priol (anagram of April Fool) published an article in a Kiwi newspaper stating the lamington was actually from the Land of the Long White Cloud. Worse still, it was called a Wellington.
Even famed chef Heston Blumenthal admits it’s still unclear. He created his own version for Dinner, his restaurant in Melbourne that features an all-Aussie menu, but hasn’t come any closer to solving the mystery.
A flavour of tradition and some modern twists
Purists contend that having jam and cream in the middle of your lamington is sacrilegious. If the sponge is moist and there’s a generous cover of chocolate and coconut encasing it, the traditional way to devour it is sans filling. But a slathering of jam between a top and bottom half does the job for me. The truly decadent will spread both cream and jam in the centre.
There are plenty of contemporary versions too. I’ve never been tempted to try them – why bother when the original tastes so good? The adventurous can try the reputed Beechworth Bakery’s pastel pink Dame Edna version, a raspberry-flavoured concoction. There are also gourmet versions that include shaved coconut parfait covered in liquid nitrogen, or one that replaces a jam-centre with a hibiscus and eucalyptus infused gel.
I’m not convinced by the fashion for iced vo-vo lamingtons though. Iced vo-vos are iced vo-vos and lamingtons are lamingtons and never the twain should meet.
But this recipe for Vegemite lamingtons takes the cake. Just wrong. ‘Nuff said.
Apart from mixing up the flavours and fillings, we don’t mind messing around with the shape of lamingtons either. In an Australia Day lamington bake-off, one journalist entered the competition and honoured famous hirsute Aussies, making moustached-shaped lamingtons to place on the faces of David Boon, Chopper Read and Don Burke to name a few.
So get down to your local bakery today and scoff down a satisfyingly sweet lamington or two or bake a batch at home and invite some friends around for afternoon tea.