It’s almost Australia Day, which for many means back to work and back to school. How did that happen so soon? I wonder every year.
Our family baking tradition is to make lamingtons. Do you like to bake them on Australia Day?
Australian or New Zealand?
Before I share my recipe, I wanted to reflect on the cultural origin of the lamington.
According to the memoirs of Lady Lamington, wife of Lord Lamington who served as Governor-General of Queensland from 1896 to 1901, the lamington was created by their chef, French-born Armand Galland. Galland allegedly created the lamington to feed a hungry crowd at short notice. Galland’s wife was from Tahiti, so it is likely he was inspired to use coconut through her. (Another story is that Galland accidentally dropped some sponge cake in chocolate sauce and covered it in coconut to hide his mistake.)
The Australian – in fact, Queensland – origin of the lamington is strongly supported by Professor Maurice French AM, Emeritus Professor at the University of Southern Queensland, who wrote a book called The Lamington Enigma: a study of evidence.
But what about the New Zealand claim?
This is largely based on a 1 April 2014 article published by The Guardian, which quotes Dr Arun Silva of the centre for academic knowledge, excellence and study at the University of Auckland. According to the article, Silva said that Lord Lamington had visited Wellington in 1895 and had been served a cake covered in chocolate and coconut to symbolise mountain peaks. That cake was called a wellington. Many have suggested that the 1 April article was, in fact, an April Fool’s joke. My own Google search of Dr Silva could find no reference of him working at, or having worked at the University of Auckland – nor reference to the oddly named ‘centre for academic knowledge, excellent and study’. Of course, it’s possible that Dr Silva did work at the University of Auckland but there is no longer an online record.
An elaborate hoax?
What we do know is that Australia and New Zealand share many similar (sometimes even the same) culinary traditions. This perhaps reflects the close relationship between the two, similarities in English colonisation and also people to people links between Australia and New Zealand.
I’m personally not big on articles that claim a certain food is ‘owned’ by a certain culture – except, perhaps, where it was clearly created by a particular chef or food writer. What is wonderful about food and cultural tradition is the way that recipes change and adapt depending on which kitchen they are cooked in. I’m sure that scones, or pavlovas or even lamingtons are different in every single kitchen – and there are so many subtle variations. Think for instance of Middle Eastern pastries and how they have influenced things dishes like apple strudel – they’re similarity is not a coincidence. In Australia, we see how multiculturalism has transformed our diet. And I’m loving how bush tucker is now being embraced and I’m loving learning more about it. I rejoice in this constant shifting of culinary boundaries.
Green, gold and black lamingtons
I wanted to create green and gold lamingtons for Australia Day. My eldest son was horrified.
“But mum, lamingtons are always chocolate!” he said. He wouldn’t even touch my green and gold creations. “Nope, nope, nope,” he said. “Chocolate ones are the best.”
At first, I thought chocolate would ruin the green and gold theme. But then, on reflection, I decided that making chocolate ones – as well as other colours – is a good thing (and not just to keep my son happy.) I’m big on diversity and post the 2020 #blacklivesmatter movement, I feel it’s particularly important to model it. And that includes cooking. So in the spirit of wishing for a peaceful, diverse and multi-cultured Australia, here are my multi-coloured lamingtons.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 40 minutes
Makes: 18 large lamingtons
250g butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
3 cups self-raising flour
1 cup milk
1 packet lime jelly
1 packet mango jelly
1 bottle of chocolate topping
1 packet of desiccated coconut
- Preheat the oven to 160C (fan-forced).
- Line a large baking dish with baking paper.
- Cream the butter and sugar, add the vanilla and mix until combined. Add the eggs and beat after each addition. Sift the flour, and add alternatively with the milk.
- Spoon the mixture into the baking dish and smooth over with a spatula. Bake until golden brown and cooked through – around 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven, gently transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool.
- Meanwhile, make up the jelly according to instructions and place each in a shallow bowl. Allow to semi-set – i.e. it must be no longer runny yet not fully set.
- Cut the crusts off the cake and cut into cubes. Ours varied in size and we embraced imperfect action.
- Pour some chocolate sauce into a third shallow bowl, and place some desiccated coconut into a fourth bowl.
- To make the lamingtons, dip the cake into chocolate or jelly. Work quickly as the liquid will soften the cake. Toss into the coconut and then place on a wire rack and allow to set. I like to make one colour at a time as the coconut gets a bit messy. I’ve learnt also to put out a small amount of coconut and refill as required as it absorbs the chocolate or jelly.
- In terms of the size of the baking tray, I do mean large – the sort you do a Sunday roast in. Mine is 31cm x 26cm. This recipe makes a lot of lamingtons.
- Always crack an egg into a separate bowl just in case one happens to be a bit dodgy.
- Allow your kids (or grandkids) to help – they love messy play. Just don’t put them in their best white outfits.
- Don’t discard the leftover cake crusts! Instead, use them to make rum balls. Pulverise in a food processor or thermocooker. Add a cup of ground walnuts or almonds, a few tablespoons of cocoa powder, some liqueur of choice (if making for my kids I use vanilla) and condensed milk. Mix in enough condensed milk to bind, roll into balls and then toss in coconut or cocoa powder.