Whenever I am asked about Australia's national cuisine I tend to look at the ground, kick a few pebbles about and mumble something about meat pies.
It's not that Australia doesn't have fantastic food. We do. In bucketloads. It's just that most of it isn't ours. Australia is a melting pot of the world's cuisines brought about by a century of migration. Up until the 1950s most meals were the standard english fare of meat and three veg, white bread and butter and sweet tea. Now we think nothing of whipping up pasta one night, a green thai curry the next, followed by some nice stir fried noodles, then a vindaloo, and why not some kebabs, hummous and tabbouli. The world of food is our oyster.
I guess it's understandable then that, the few creations we do have, we cling to. I think those pesky New Zealanders have tried to claim almost all of them at some stage. The battle of the pavlova has been going on for decades. It's egg whites at 20 paces.
So what are these fabulous creations - well there's the pavlova I already mentioned. The pie floater - a hideous concoction of a meat pie drowned in a bowl of mushy peas topped with tomato sauce. ANZAC biscuits - sent to the troops during World War I. Pumpkin scones - which have become synonomous with Flo Bjekle Petersen. And of course the lamington.
This is a lamington.
A cube of sponge cake (traditionally stale), coated in chocolate icing and dipped in coconut. They were named after the 2nd Baron Lamington who was Governor of Queensland way back when. Noone is quite sure where they came from but I kind of like the story that Lord Lamington once dropped a piece of cake into his gravy and then flung it over his shoulder into a handy bowl of coconut. Some weirdo he was dining with had an epiphany and hey presto, the lamington was born. I like even more the story that he hated the things, calling them "those bloody poofy woolly biscuits".
I happen to love them. So in the best Aussie tradition, up yours Lord Lamington.
There is a lot of nostalgia associated with this. Lamington drives used to be the prime fund raising mechanism for sports clubs, girl guides, church groups etc in my very young girlhood. I have lots of memories of lamington bees. A big group of ladies would gather together and spend hours dipping cake into icing and coconut. The lamingtons would be put onto little styrophom trays, covered in gladwrap and then delivered to people who had subscribed to the drive. I liked being in charge of the gladwrap. It was my thing.
Now I like to make my own at home. You can buy lamingtons in any bakery. But they are never as good. Way too much cake and not enough icing. The best bit of a lamington is around the edges where the icing has soaked into the cake and it is all squishy and chocolatey. Yum. I won't even mention the ones you buy in supermarkets. They take the whole stale cake idea a bit too literally.
They are not hard to make, but they do take a bit of time and effort. For the cake I make a standard genoese sponge. The chocolate icing is just a mixture of cocoa, hot water and a little butter. The trick is to keep the icing thin. If it gets too thick and gluggy it is much harder to dip the cake. It will tend to stick in the icing and break up. As the icing tends to thicken quite quickly, it's best to make a number of small batches of icing as you go. Or keep re-heating the icing in a microwave throughout the whole process.
A variation is to add a layer of jam, or a layer of jam and cream in the middle of the cake cube. Full lamington cakes are also popular. A whole complete sponge cake is coated in icing and coconut and then split to add a layer of jam and cream. It's then sliced as served as you would any cake. I prefer just the plain lamington cubes myself.
(adapted from Cook's Companion by Stephanie Alexander)
60 gm of unsalted butter, melted
60 gm of unsalted butter, melted
150gm of plain flour
3/4 cup castor sugar
Beat eggs and sugar until thick and mousse like. This will take about ten minutes. Sift flour over the eggs and fold in with a metal spoon. Trickle melted butter down the sides of the bowl and fold in. Pour into a floured 20cm square cake tin.
Bake 15-18 minutes in a 180c oven. Do not open the door before 15 minutes are up.
Mix 1 part dutch cocoa with 8 part icing sugar, 2-3 part boiling water and 1 part melted butter.
If we say that 1 part = 1 tablespoon, I find that 3 tbspn cocoa, 24 tbspn icing sugar, 4-5 tbspn water and 3 tbspn of butter is just enough to coat all the cake. The thicker the icing the more you will need.
Leave the sponge for one day. Cut into cubes. I like to keep them small to maximise the icing to cake ratio. I usually go for around 41/2cm.
Prepare a tray of dessicated coconut.
Lay the cake cubes into icing and turn about using two forks to coat completely. Lift them up to drain slightly and then roll them in the coconut.
Set them on a wire cake rack to dry and then store in an airtight container.
P.S. Can you believe how yellow this sponge cake is? It's purely from the free range eggs I buy at the farmer's market. They are amazing.