Before I start, I should explain that I’m a decent baker, okay? I make my own bread (when I can be arsed). I can knock up a really awesome-looking birthday cake for loved ones (when I can be arsed). I am able to royal my icing and pipe with the best of them (again… you know the drill).
But I’ll be honest. My confidence took a knock with these bad boys. It started so well. I love my Lovely One. He, being half-aussie (the other half is German and a long story, but it means I get to eat All the Baked Things so I’m happy), loves Lamingtons. For the uninitiated, they’re like Australia’s very most favourite small snack cake. The aussie equivalent of a fondant fancy, or even a twinkie, if you will. They’re sold in their millions every year during something called a “Lamington Drive” which I think is like the Girl Scout Cookies thing in which millions is raised for charity and it’s a Rather Good Thing. Wikipedia tells me they’re named after a former governor of Queensland but the reasons for this are murky – when wikipedia gives you up to four explanations regarding origin then asserts these might be a New Zealand thing I figure you should bracket the origins of whatever you’re looking up under “unsolved mystery” lest you start a war (see also: Baklava, Pavlova and Hummus).
At their heart, they’re a buttery sponge cake, cut into cubes and dropped into a thin, rich chocolate sauce (more on that later) then rolled in coconut (again, more on that) before being left to set. They can be filled with jam, cream or even lemon curd but LO informs me that jam is the preferred option.
So I set to with a recipe from fully-paid up aussie Master Baker and GABO host Dan Lepard. I figured he had gravitas and authority to bear on the matter of Lamingtons, but then discovered he’d caused something of a hoo-ha with an all-chocolate version. Nonetheless, I persevered.
The first issue came with the cake. Lepard recipes are deceptively tricky, I find, requiring precision and adherence to the recipe. Deviate at your cost. Which is where I fall down, as my oven, which even after 6 months I’m still working out, is quite bluntly hotter than the damn sun. While professing to have a dial it seems to veer between “screamingly hot” and “off” only. So when the cake ballooned alarmingly in size and then went toasty brown even while being virtually raw in the middle I was unsurprised.* So I blasted the hell out of the sponge which left it tough, a real shame as it was richly buttery and very pleasantly vanilla-y.
Spreading with jam and making the toppings, I actually felt pretty good about these. This was a bloody doddle. The chocolate icing was particularly tasty, being mostly cocoa powder, icing sugar and water with a small amount of chocolate in, presumably to help with the set on the finished cake. The chocolate was chopped very finely as I have a fear of splitting, but it was very well-behaved as chocolate icings go. Would that I could say the same about most of its ilk.
Then… then my friends, it was time for the ol’ dip n’ roll. Which is where I fell down. I have a few theories about this:
1) balancing a slippery mess of sandwiched jam and cake with two forks in warmish chocolate icing is a nonsense when you’re cackhanded like me.
2) NOT ENOUGH COCONUT. Dan Lepard is a filthy liar in the recipe quantities (see also the huge amounts of chocolate icing left over) and the quantity he recommends should be increased for rolling perfection.You need to make it SNOW in that damn kitchen.
3) Inadequate preparation. I started in a small soup bowl but quicky moved to a baking tray spread with coconut. This gave more room for the all-important roll.
4) not enough speed. I dunked the cake in the liquor and let it sit for a bit, meaning that lots of sweet sweet liquid soaked in, but then seeped out of the cake during the roll. This led to clumps of chocolate soaked coconut bloody EVERYWHERE.
On the upside? These were tasty despite being a bit dense and cut way too big (pro tip: when your significant other says that they’re “a few fingers wide” that’s not what he means. Lamingtons should be two-bite treats). But, well. They looked like crap. Quite literally. Crap rolled in coconut.
Recipe: Traditional Jammy Lamingtons, adapted from Dan Lepard’s Short and Sweet (4th Estate, London, 2011)
(see the correction on the Guardian Website where these were originally posted as “Jimmy Lamingtons”. HA!).
Makes 12-16 depending on how accurately your own LO describes their size. Also there will be chocolate icing left over. Do as thou wilt with this – I found it very nice over ice cream.
3 large eggs, seperated
225g golden caster sugar
115g unsalted butter
1.5 tsp vanilla extract (always extract. never essence)
300g plain flour
4 tbsp cornflour
3 tsp baking powder
To decorate –
Icing – 6 tbsp cocoa, 190g icing sugar, 190ml boiling water, 50g dark chocolate (finely chopped)
Filling – 6 tbsp raspberry jam (possibly more, and possible strawberry, it depends on your jam sensibilities)
Coating – ALL THE DESICCATED COCONUT YOU CAN FIND. Or at least 250g if you’re me.
First, make your sponge. Heat the oven to 170c and line a 20cm square tin. Then, beat the egg whites to a froth then add 75g of the sugar, beating further to make a soft meringue.
In another bowl, beat the remaining sugar, butter, egg yolks and vanilla until “fluffy”. In practice, this means realise the butter is too hard, cry, fish it out, stick in the microwave for 15 seconds then toss half melted mess back into the bowl and beat like hell until all incorporated and beginning to lighten in colour. It will essentially start looking like grainy buttercream. Sift the flour, cornflour and baking powder together in yet another bowl (all the while cursing the washing up) and gradually beat this into the fluffy stuff alternating with the milk. Three or four goes should do the trick.
Finally, fold in the meringue and pour into the tin, then pop in the oven for 35 – 45 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean when you test it. Other good tests involve checking the springiness of the sponge, listening for the finish of the “singing” (the idea being that the cake will hiss if it’s still wet inside) or, if all else fails, prayer.
Whisk the cocoa, icing sugar and boiling water together then throw in the chopped chocolate and stir together. Resist the temptation to eat it all and leave until cold. While this is happening, cut the cooled cake into little rectangles, split and fill with jam before sandwiching back together.
Dan then says you should “reassemble and carefully dip each one into the chocolate and roll in the coconut to finish” which sounds easy. In practice, you should try and skewer these mofos through the two layers with a cocktail stick then dunk in the chocolate (the cocktail stick holds them together very niftily). Then you have a fairly easy roll into the coconut (which you have already scattered over a baking tray) then scatter more coconut over the beskewered side to cover and finish. Slide the whole onto a rack to dry and remove the cocktail stick carefully once dry. It leaves a little hole but this method is much, much easier than mucking about with forks.
*you’ll be unsurprised to learn that after this episode (just one in a line of new-flat cake fails) I gave in and purchased an oven thermometer which is a permanent fixture and has just made things SO much better. I can now even feasibly attempt to cook meringue.