While Vegemite is probably the food most commonly associated with Australia, the lesser known lamington is definitely the most revered. Lamingtons, are small, two-to-three bite sized squares of buttery vanilla cake, glazed in chocolate and rolled in coconut. They are at once simple and decadent and it is not difficult to understand how they became a national favorite.
Theories vary on the origin of lamingtons, although most concur that it was named after Lord Lamington, the governor of the state of Queensland from 1896 to 1901. One story has it that one of Lord Lamington's servants accidentally dropped pieces of sponge cake into some melted chocolate, but remedied the situation by rolling the cake pieces in coconut before serving them so that guests eating them would not wind up with chocolate all over their fingers. Other stories say that the lamington was created by Lord Lamington's personal chef and still other accounts credit Lady Lamington for the creation of this delicacy.
Having never been to Australia, I have not yet had the opportunity to sample an official lamington. As a matter of fact, before I purchased a copy of Karen DeMasco's cookbook The Craft of Baking last year, which shows a photo of lamingtons on its cover, I had never seen nor heard of them either. I am, however, a professed chocoholic, and have a hard time resisting anything involving coconut, and when I saw the photo of lamingtons, I just knew I was going to need to make them at some point. Then recently, my Australian born neighbor sent me a photo of herself eating lamingtons while visiting home, and went on to describe them to me in such loving detail, that it became clear that the time had come for me to have a go at making them.
Traditionally, the cake for lamington's is baked in a sheet and then cut into small squares, but DeMasco simplifies things in her recipe by having you make the cakes in a muffin pan. I wanted to create lamingtons that were more close to the petit sized ones I had read about, though, so I decided to use mini-muffin pans. I baked the cakes and let them cool and then dipped them into a rich chocolate icing and generously dredged them in toasted coconut.
Upon first taste, I thought that the lamingtons were very good, but not necessarily worthy of national praise. Then, a few hours later, I tried one again. By this point the icing had firmed up and the flavors seemed to have balanced out a bit, and I have to say, they were really quite delicious. The buttery, vanilla flavor of the cake was nicely accented by the thin chocolate coating, but the addition of crispy coconut steals the show by imparting wonderful contrasts in both texture and flavor.
The true test, however, came about when I brought some lamingtons to my neighbor for an honest critique. Much to my relief, they receieved rave reviews and while she was a bit taken aback to see a round lamington instead of a traditional square shaped one, she said that the flavor was spot on and that the cake itself was better than most others she had tried. I call that a success.