July 21st is National Lamington Day. What’s a lamington? It’s a sponge cake dipped in chocolate and topped with desiccated coconut that Australians enjoy at breakfast, afternoon tea, or dessert. A kitchen accident, it is one of Australia’s most famous desserts (the other is the Pavlova).
The classic Lamington can be single squares or layers with filling—whipped cream or jam (photo #2). Beyond squares, cooks have made Lamingtons in the shape of pies (photo #3), circles (like whoopie pies—photo #4), and loaves.
Sometimes called the national cake of Australia, you’re not likely to find Lamington’s on the shelf in the U.S., it’s the day to bake a recipe and invite your friends for tea.
(Editor’s note: In Australia, lamington is spelled with a small “l.” The Nibble’s policy is to capitalize all proper nouns. We’re sure that Lord Lamington would appreciate it.)
The Australian cake was invented in Queensland, Australia. A recipe appeared in the Queensland Country Life newspaper as early as 1900.
According to Queensland Government House, the Lamington was created by the chef of the state’s governor, Lord Lamington, Charles Wallace Alexander Napier Cochrane-Baillie. But it may not be that simple.
The story is that the governor ordered his favorite yellow sponge cake to be served to guests at Government House in Brisbane when a maid-servant accidentally dropped the cake into melted chocolate.
When his Lordship was told of the accident, not wanting to waste the cake, he recommended that the cook roll the squares in coconut shavings to make a less messy finger food to eat with afternoon tea. The error was proclaimed magnificent by all [source].
How do you drop an entire plate of sponge cake squares into melted chocolate? It’s one of those far-fetched stories, but then, that’s how chocolate ganache was invented.
In addition to National Lamington Day, there is the Australian Lamington Appreciation Society (ALAS), which is committed to the preservation of the Lamington and the celebration of Lamington Day.
However, there is controversy.
Research in neighboring New Zealand notes the earlier presence of the Wellington, a double-layer sponge dessert, covered in shavings of coconut intended to imitate the snow-capped mountains of New Zealand.
“What we have here is conclusive evidence that the Lamington cake was in fact a product of New Zealand” [source]. Them’s fightin’ words!
And there’s even more shade!
Lord Lamington was not the most accomplished of governors. Extensive research by the Governors of the Australian Colonies and States produced evidence that Lord Lamington had only “one, single, solitary, positive achievement of any Governor since the First Fleet arrived in 1788,” and that was the creation of the world-famous Lamington [source].
This recipe is from Paul Tully, a city councilor in Queensland, “a fanatic devotée of the Lamington,” and creator of the Australian Lamington Appreciation Society.
You can make superfine sugar by processing granulated sugar at high speed for 1 to 2 minutes. Stop before the sugar turns into powder. Let the sugar dust settle for 30 seconds, then remove the lid.
1. BEAT the eggs well, gradually adding the sugar until dissolved. Add the milk and vanilla extract and then stir in the flour. Whip the butter into the mixture.
2. POUR the batter into a cake pan or Lamington baking dish and bake in a moderate oven of 180 degrees Celsius for 35 minutes. Allow the cake to cool for at least 10 minutes and then stand for 24 hours preferably in the refrigerator, before applying the icing.
3. MAKE the icing. Stir the cocoa and powdered sugar vigorously in a large bowl. Add the milk, butter, and boiling water, warming the chocolate mixture over very low heat until it has a smooth creamy texture.
4. CUT the sponge cake into equal two-inch squares. Using a fork or thin skewer, dip each piece into the chocolate mixture, ensuring that the mixture is liberally and evenly applied.
5. DIP each piece into the desiccated coconut, allowing the Lamingtons to cool on a wire tray for several hours.
By the way, the dessert is so popular that Australians can buy a “Lamington pan,” a shallow cake pan that’s 30.5 x 20.5 x 2.8 cm. In inches, that’s 12 x 8 x 1 inch
Desiccated coconut is fresh coconut that has been shredded or flaked and dried. It is typically unsweetened.
Shredded coconut is dried but does retain some moisture. Here are the different types of coconut and their uses.