Stalwart of the cake shop, survivor of food trends, staple of afternoon teas, Australia’s fondness for these cakes knows no bounds. In its original form, the lamington is a cube of sponge cake coated in chocolate sauce and rolled in desiccated coconut with a popular variation including an interior layer of strawberry or raspberry jam and – for the hedonistic – a layer of cream. (Purists rail against these intrusions, but this writer is a fan of the jam).
So popular and entrenched in Aussie culture is the humble lamington that bake sale fundraisers are commonly referred to as ‘lamington drives’. Cake competitions in Australia have an entire category dedicated to the lamington with judges taking part in intense discussions on the distribution and texture of desiccated coconut and wielding measuring tapes to ensure that the cake is a perfect cube. Many a sorrowful tear has been shed when a stray fragment of coconut or 1mm bump has been the undoing of a blue ribbon.
Like many recipes, the lamington’s origins are obscured by time, but unlike the great Australian pavlova (which New Zealand can lay credible claim to), the lamington is 100 per cent Australian. Named after Lord Lamington, governor of the state of Queensland (1896 – 1901), an oft told tale is that his French-born chef Armand Galland was called upon to feed unexpected guests and improvised a sweet treat using the limited ingredients at hand. Coconut was not a common ingredient in European or Australian cooking 120 years ago, however Galland – whose wife was French Tahitian – was familiar with its use and had a ready supply in his kitchen.
Galland himself could possibly claim the title of ‘Australia’s first celebrity chef; reportedly a friend of Les Misérables author Victor Hugo back in France and a favourite of famed soprano Dame Nellie Melba, he was chosen to be personal chef to the Duke and Duchess of York – later King George V and Queen Mary – for their tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1901. We can only hope that the lamington received their royal blessing.
Ultimately, whether the ‘unexpected guest’ origin story of the lamington is correct, the creator of the lamington is widely seen to be Galland, and the result was that these cakes were an instant hit across the nation (although Lamington himself reputedly referred to them as “those bloody, poofy, woolly biscuits”).
Like any traditional recipe, lamingtons have had their turn of being augmented, deconstructed, and reimagined. In a subcategory known as ‘glamingtons’ you will find jelly lamingtons (rolled in semi-set strawberry jelly instead of chocolate), red-velvet versions, polenta and lemon versions, sub zero versions using frozen yoghurt, rainbow sponge lamingtons with sprinkles mixed in with the desiccated coconut, blue lamingtons, lamington wedding cakes, matcha lamingtons, a Vegemite version (I kid you not) and so many more. Australian manufacturers have even released special edition lamington flavoured milk, bars of lamington chocolate, and lamington icecreams (advertised by Dame Edna Everage, of course).
Whether a lamington purist or a keen experimenter, Australia’s love affair with lamingtons remains stronger than ever. Will we share? Of course we will. And we promise not to get out our measuring tapes,
Lamingtons are available at House of Oz, the brand new venue showcasing Aussie talent, art and food
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