Since long haul travel looks like being impossible – or at least unwise – for the foreseeable future, let’s travel to the opposite end of the earth in our baking imagination. The Lamington is the definitive Australian cake, named after a sometime governor of Queensland (who apparently didn’t like them, according to TasteAtlas). There’s even a National Lamington Day, on July 21st, so if you’re reading this shortly after publication, you’ve got plenty of time to practise. This makes the Lamington one of a select collection of baked goods to have its own annual celebration day (cinnamon rolls are another, with Sweden’s Kanelbullens dag).
The recipe for Lamingtons could be written in a single line: cut a sponge cake into cubes, dip each cube in chocolate icing and roll it in desiccated coconut. I’m going to go into a bit more detail (after all, what self-respecting baking blog wouldn’t) but here’s the point: they’re a great option for hot weather because the coconut helps to stop everything melting onto your fingers. Anyway, I’m a sucker for anything made with coconut, so what’s not to like?
Most Lamington recipes are broadly similar. In fact, they don’t really vary much from the first recipe on record, from Queensland Country Life in 1900. You’ve basically got a couple of choices: filled/unfilled and portion-sized/bite-sized. Also, you can choose to use a filling or not. The original recipe specifies more icing, but you can also use whipped cream and/or raspberry jam, which is popular in New Zealand. I’ve gone for plain, largely because I think the recipe is sweet enough as it is, and anyway, keeping the cube structure looks really tricky with two layers of cake stuck together.
The much quoted Australian recipe in taste.com.au gets you 15 cakes of around 6cm on a side, which is a reasonable full portion size; Jamie Oliver’s somewhat different recipe gets you 30 cakes from around the same total weight of ingredients, which makes it more suitable for finger food at a party when there’s lots of other stuff. I’ve kept the sugar down a bit in my version.
What everyone agrees is that you should make the cake the day before you try to ice it: otherwise, your cake is going to fall apart horribly when you try to dip it. So here’s the day 1 part of the recipe:
- 150g sugar
- 125g butter
- 3 medium eggs or 2 large
- 240g self-raising flour, sifted
- 120ml milk
- Preheat oven to 180℃ (or 160℃ fan)
- Grease and line a baking pan (purpose made “Lamington pans” tend to be 20cm x 30cm; mine is 23cm square)
- Cream the butter and sugar together
- Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each one
- Add half the flour and beat, then half the milk and beat, then repeat
- Pour the mixture into your baking pan; do your best to spread it evenly
- Bake for around 20-30 minutes, use the usual “a skewer should come out dry” test
- Cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then on a rack
- Seal with cling film or in a tupperware and refrigerate overnight
The next morning, you’ll be doing the icing and rolling.
- Dessicated coconut: you’ll need somewhere in the region of 300-350g, but it really depends on your rolling technique
- 350g icing sugar
- 25g cocoa
- 15g butter, softened
- 125ml boiling water
You might as well start by getting the coconut ready: you’ll want a decent amount of it in a shallow dish into which you’re going to roll your cakes and the rest in a separate bowl which you’re going to attempt to keep clear of drips of chocolate. Also get a cooling rack ready, putting it on a surface which you’ll be able to clean easily, because icing will drip onto it despite your best efforts.
- Trim off the edges of the cake and cut it into your preferred size. With my square pan, I cut it into 16 squares around 5½cm on a side (they weren’t quite tall enough to be cubes, but it was close enough). A 20 x 30cm Lamington pan will get you 15 6cm squares.
- Sift the icing sugar and cocoa into a bowl, using the finest sieve you have. You’d be amazed at how lumpy they both of these can be when coming straight out of the packet.
- Add the butter and boiling water and then whisk until you’ve got all of the lumps out. You will have a wet, liquid icing.
- Here’s the tricky bit: you now need to completely cover each cake in icing and then roll it in desiccated coconut without making a giant, gooey mess. I did this by dropping the cake in the icing, turning it over gently with a fork and then picking it up by sticking the fork into it. I held the cake over the bowl of icing to let the excess drip off and then transferred the cake to the shallow bowl of coconut to coat the bottom; I then sprinkled coconut from the other bowl onto any sides that weren’t covered and shook of the excess (for use on the next cube.).
- Having transferred all your completed Lamingtons to the rack, leave them for a couple of hours for the icing to set.
That’s it. On a hot day, a Lamington and a glass of iced coffee is a snack fit for a king.