Lamington Cake

Lamington cakes, an Australian favorite, are named after either Lord Lamington, governor of Queensland from 1896 to 1901, or his wife, Lady Lamington. Lamingtons are beloved enough that they are celebrated by an Australian Lamington Appreciation Society and have an official holiday, National Lamington Day, on July 21st.

There is much debate over the exact origin of lamingtons. One explanation, given on the Australian Lamington Official Website, is that they were created when Lord Lamington’s maid accidentally dropped a piece of sponge cake into chocolate. Instead of throwing it out, Lord Lamington suggested that she roll the cake in coconut to avoid getting his fingers messy. While this makes a fun story, it seems highly unlikely to me – it’s hard to picture the governor of Queensland hanging out in the kitchen and giving cooking suggestions to the maids.

On the other hand, you would expect a man with this mustache to be fastidious about mess:

Baron Lamington, Governor of Queensland, ca. 1897. State Library of Queensland.

While the true inventor of lamington cakes may never be known, it is certain that whoever it was created an enduring classic. This recipe, from a 1900 issue of Queensland Country Life, is the earliest known printed recipe for lamingtons (although unfortunately it gives no author):

I followed the recipe for the cake exactly, using 1/4 tsp of vanilla for my flavoring. I baked it in two 9×5 pans to create shallow layers for stacking. This was a bit nerve-wracking as the batter barely covered the bottom of the pans, but they rose significantly during baking so it worked out perfectly. I baked them at 350 degrees for about 17-18 minutes.

Naked lamingtons pre-frosting.

I made the interior frosting as specified, but found it extremely stiff and difficult to spread. For the outer chocolate frosting I ended up experimenting with the recipe a bit to make it thinner. I may have gone a little overboard with this as it ended up pretty soft; but since it still stuck to the cake and the coconut still stuck to it I guess it worked out alright.

Rather than waiting until the next day as the recipe suggests, I froze the cake squares for a few hours before frosting them to avoid dropping crumbs in the frosting. The cakes are very soft and crumbly so I would highly recommend this step.

Lamingtons are technically supposed to be perfect cubes. I didn’t measure mine, but I suspect that none of them achieved this level of perfection.

To add the coconut layer, I frosted each cake one at a time and placed it on a separate plate. Then, I added just enough coconut to cover one cake, pressed it on, and wiped off the plate before using it for the next cake. This helped avoid getting the coconut all gummed up with chocolate frosting.

Technically lamingtons are supposed to frosted on all sides; I cheated and didn’t frost the bottoms. Since my frosting ended up super sticky, I was worried that all the bottom frosting would just come off on the plate anyway. This would not pass muster at an official lamington-baking competition, but in my view is perfectly fine for home consumption.

Lamington cross-section.

Tasting notes:

Honestly, the cake base for this may be the best cake I have ever made. It has a perfect balance of moistness, fluffiness, and buttery flavor. Eating all the cake trimmings after cutting these into squares was my favorite part of baking this.

The chocolate frosting and coconut are good too, but I did think overall it ended up too sweet. I even added more chocolate to the frosting than the original recipe specified! I just used a basic, cheap cocoa powder; if I make these again I will try using the darkest chocolate I can find just to cut the sweetness a little. It’s also common in Australia to use jam in the filling; a tart jam would help prevent the overwhelming sweetness.

Lord Lamington supposed referred to lamingtons as “those bloody poofy woolly biscuits.” The coconut coating does definitely remind me of sheep (if sheep were square)! Although frosting and coating individual squares of cake is a lot more work than I usually like to take on, these little cakes were definitely delicious and fun to make. The Australian Lamington Appreciation Society may have just won over a new member.

References:

Davidson, A. (2006). Lamington. In A. Davidson & T. Jaine (Eds.), The Oxford companion to food (pp. 444-445). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

The humble Australian lamington – Created in Queensland in 1901. (n.d.) Australian Lamington Official Website. Retrieved from http://australianlamingtons.blogspot.com/2009/01/humble-australian-lamington-created-in.html

Useful recipes. (1900, Dec. 17). Queensland Country Life. Retrieved from https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/101452826#

Wong, J. (2019, Jan. 23). Everything you need to know about lamingtons, the most Australian cake. ABC Life. Retrieved from https://www.abc.net.au/life/everything-you-need-to-know-about-lamingtons-australian-cake/10720880#:~:text=jam.,Lamington%2C%20to%20feed%20unexpected%20visitors.

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