A few years ago, my friend Roulla had a craving for a favorite childhood treat, a classic Australian cake known as a lamington. It’s simple fare—just a cube of sponge cake dipped in chocolate and coconut, usually eaten with your hands—and one of the few culinary inventions that Australia can claim as its own. But when Roulla tried to order a lamington at a Sydney bakery, she was disappointed. “We haven’t sold lamingtons for yeeeears,” the clerk sneered. How had one of the sole contenders for the title of Australia’s national dish become the pariah of the local cake shop?
In decades past, almost every Australian grew up eating lamingtons. They were a mainstay of children’s birthday parties and the antipodean answer to Girl Scout cookies; schools and clubs baked and sold them for fund-raising drives. The best were homemade and filled with jam or cream or both. But at some point lamingtons fell out of fashion, and prepackaged supermarket versions took over.
According to folklore, the cake was invented around the turn of the 20th century in the house kitchen of Baron Lamington, the governor of Queensland. In one version of the origin tale, Lady Lamington had only stale sponge cake to offer visiting dignitaries, so she ordered the cook to dip the leftovers in chocolate and coconut. By another account, a maid accidentally dropped the cake in chocolate and was ordered to cover it in coconut to mask the stickiness and avoid waste. The governor, it’s said, didn’t care at all for his namesake cakes, whatever their origin. He referred to them as “those bloody poofy woolly biscuits.”
Baron Lamington might change his mind if he could try one of the lamingtons sold today at Flour and Stone bakery and café in Woolloomooloo, a suburb of Sydney. “The reaction has been pretty overwhelming,” says owner and baker Nadine Ingram, who made the decision to add lamingtons to the menu. “They always sell out. We can’t not have them.”
Ingram is at the forefront of a modern lamington revival. The throwback dessert now appears on the menu of high-end restaurants, has been showcased on food blogs, and is sold in trendy bakeries. Recent interpretations include everything from a lamington affogato, featured at the Sample Coffee Bar, to a blogger’s lamington tiramisu. At Flour and Stone, the twist is a panna cotta version.
Ingram’s motivation was to reinvent one of her favorite childhood dishes. She grew up on a dairy farm in the Hunter Valley, north of Sydney, and the highlight of her week was hearing the bakery van pull up outside. “We lived in the country, and we had a baker who used to deliver to us,” she explains. “He would drive out in his little van and open the side door, and everything would be there—pink finger buns, lamingtons, currant buns, all those sorts of things. The lamingtons would all be lined up in the crate. The presentation was no-frills, but it was a real treat when you didn’t get to the shops much.”
As Ingram grew up, her tastes matured, and she began thinking beyond the conventional lamington, which is often dry. Soaking the sponge cake overnight in panna cotta (before the cream has set) solves that problem. The next day, Ingram layers the cake with raspberry compote and coats the outside with chocolate ganache and shredded coconut. It looks like a lamington, but it tastes gourmet: rich and creamy, with a hint of chocolate and berry—nothing poofy or woolly about it.
(MAKES 25 LAMINGTONS)
Recipe by Nadine Ingram
10 ½ ounces butter
10 ½ ounces superfine sugar
5 eggs, beaten
10 ½ ounces self-rising cake flour, sifted twice
5 fl ounces milk
4 leaves of gelatin
4 ¼ cups pure cream
7 ounces sugar
1 vanilla pod, scraped
1 pound frozen raspberries or strawberries
10 ounces sugar
Juice of one lemon
14 ounces good-quality chocolate (don’t skimp on this)
3 ½ tbsp butter
½ pound icing sugar
3 ⅓ fl ounces milk
7 ounces each of desiccated, shredded, and chipped coconut (or 21 ounces of any one)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 8 x 12 inch cake pans and line them with greaseproof baking paper.
2. Cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy.
3. Add the beaten eggs gradually until fully blended.
4. Fold in the flour and milk alternately until the batter is smooth. (This can be done with a mixer on low speed.)
5. Pour the batter into the cake pans.
6. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, until the middle of the cake bounces back when pressed with your index finger.
7. Remove from the oven and cool.
1. Soak the gelatin leaves in cold water to soften.
2. Place the cream, sugar, and scraped vanilla pod in a saucepan. Stir and warm over low heat until sugar is dissolved.
3. Remove the gelatin leaves from the water and squeeze any excess water from them with your hands.
4. Remove the cream mixture from the heat and add the gelatin leaves. Whisk well until all the gelatin leaves have melted.
5. Strain through a fine sieve and leave at room temperature for an hour.
1. Place the berries and sugar in a saucepan and stir on low heat until sugar is dissolved.
2. Add lemon juice and increase heat until mixture reaches a rapid boil. Stir occasionally to ensure it does not stick to the bottom of the pan. This takes about half an hour.
3. To test the jam for setting, place a small amount on a saucer and put it in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
4. Check consistency, and turn off the heat once the jam is set.
1. Once the sponge cakes have cooled, pour equal portions of the panna cotta over the cakes.
2. Refrigerate overnight.
3. The next day, spread the jam over one of the cakes and layer the other cake on top.
4. Cut the sandwiched cakes into 2½ x 1½ inch pieces.
5. Put the lamingtons back in the fridge while you prepare the chocolate icing.
6. Place all icing ingredients except coconut in a bowl over a pan of boiling water and stir until smooth and all sugar has melted.
7. Pour one-third of the chocolate onto a flat tray.
8. Remove the lamington pieces from the fridge, place them on the flat surface of chocolate, and spoon chocolate over the top and down the sides.
9. After letting the chocolate set slightly, press the lamingtons into the coconut bits.
10. Keep refrigerated in a sealed container until ready to serve.
Where to Sample Lamingtons in Sydney
Flour and Stone
At the east end of Sydney in Woolloomooloo, Nadine Ingram’s cozy bakery and café, Flour and Stone (above), sells a range of sweets, including lemon drizzle cake. The menu also features such savories as leek and Gruyère tart and slow-braised lamb, potato, and rosemary pie. The panna cotta lamington is so popular that local office workers sometimes buy the entire supply in one go.
For a classic lamington with raspberry jam filling, head to Single O, a café in Surry Hills formerly known as Single Origin Roasters. Other sweet treats made in-house include muffins and doughnuts. The breakfast and lunch menus change seasonally and emphasize locally sourced organic ingredients in dishes such as muesli, poached eggs, and coffee-braised short ribs.
Located in the Stanmore suburb, Sixpenny is famous for its prix fixe tasting menus. The young chefs, James Parry and Daniel Puskas, have serious international credentials (Noma in Denmark, the Fat Duck in England) and cooked together previously at Oscillate Wildly in Sydney. The meals are capped by mini lamingtons and petits fours brought to the table in a cookie jar.
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