When Lord and Lady Lamington, the governor of Queensland from 1896 to 1901 and his wife, first bit into the chocolate-coated, coconut-sprinkled sponge cake (it is said he called them “bloody, poofy, woolly biscuits”) that was soon to become their legacy, they couldn’t have known how far the namesake cake would travel.
Australians are quick to claim the snack as theirs – lamingtons are invariably found in supermarkets, bakeries and kids’ lunch boxes across the county on any given day. Alongside pavlova, the lamington sits as one of the nation’s most famous desserts; it’s even enshrined in Peter Gilmore’s fine dining menu at Bennelong Restaurant, where a team of chefs pump out least 50 cherry jam lamingtons daily to great fanfare (more on this beauty below).
And then, of course, there was that time Adelaide created the longest line of lamingtons in the world. We’re enthusiastic about them, to say the least.
But as Maurice French, an emeritus professor of history at the University of Southern Queensland attests in his book The Lamington Enigma: A survey of the evidence, the lamington’s exact origins are a little murky.
Who had the wild idea of rolling the cake in coconut, then an uncommon ingredient in Australia? Just how Australian are lamingtons, anyway?
Little is known about where the recipe actually came from. Did Lord Lamington’s French-born personal chef create it from scratch, or was it, as legend holds, a happy accident? Did he draw inspiration from other small cakes that existed at the time? Who had the wild idea of rolling the cake in coconut, then an uncommon ingredient in Australia? Just how Australian are lamingtons, anyway?
Just like the story of its origins, the lamington art form is open to interpretation – maybe that’s why we’ve ended up with these great iterations of a beloved baked good. From South Africa’s ystervarkies (porcupines) to pandan-flavoured varieties, we’re celebrating the world’s best on Lamington Day on 21 July.
Cherry jam lamington, Australia
Peter Gilmore’s take on the classic lamington is an ode to Australian nostalgia, elevated to the point of cult-dish status. On the plate: a square of cherry jam coconut ice-cream and sponge cake, coated in a glossy chocolate ganache, all surrounded by a halo of liquid nitrogen coconut milk parfait that acts as desiccated coconut.
For Lamington Day, Saturday 21 July, the team at Bennelong Restaurant, are throwing a true-blue, old-school canteen lamington drive, with all proceeds going to R U OK? Starting at 12pm for lunch and 5:30pm for dinner, Gilmore’s famous cherry jam lamington will be available at The Restaurant, Cured and Cultured and, for this one day only, at Bennelong Bar (no bookings necessary at the Bar, just drop in).
“Mental health is something many of us have difficulties with at some point in time,” Bennelong Head Chef Rob Cockerill tells SBS. “I hope by openly discussing it amongst our team and hospitality community we’re able to maintain awareness, and also ensure our peers don’t ever feel alone or helpless.”
To find out more, contact Bennelong here.
Caramel tres leches lamingtons, South America
Make like an Argentine and give your laminations a boost with dulce de leche (a caramel-like spread) and three different kinds of milk – condensed, full cream and evaporated. Not for the faint of heart, this rich, roasted coconut-topped sponge cake might change the way you see Australian lamingtons for good.
Get the recipe here.
Ystervarkies, South Africa
In South Africa, the lamingtons are much like you’d find in Australia – only they’re a lot smaller (around 3-4 square centimetres) and named after hedgehogs which is so darn cute. Ystervarkies is an Afrikaans word, pertaining to the desiccated coconut on lamingtons that apparently resembles a hedgehog’s spikes.
Pandan lamingtons, South East Asia
The pandan flavour craze has swept the world from its South East Asian roots, leaving its tropical fruit-flavoured impression on a number of surprising dishes. Laminations are no exception – and some argue they’re better off for having been given the pandan treatment.
Forget what you know about lamingtons, though: these ones are chocolate free, iced instead with a mixture of pandan leaves, icing sugar, butter, and optional green food colouring. Go on, be brave.
Get the recipe here.
Australian lamington, or Hungarian kókuszkocka? At first glance, they appear the same. But look closer (and perhaps arrange a few taste tests) and it’s clear not all cakes are created equal. While Australian lamingtons are made with classic sponge, Hungarian Kókuszkocka are made from a honey-based dough, rendering them a few shades darker underneath the chocolate coating. Here’s a recipe.
Lamington semlor, Sweden
Semlor are traditionally eaten in Sweden on Shrove Tuesday as a pre-Lent sweet treat, but when they’re combined with lamingtons they’re extra special (and even harder to give up once Lent comes around). In this version, desiccated coconut replaces icing sugar as a topping, while healthy dollops of whipped cream and jam work to soften the layers of sponge.
Get the recipe here.
Black Forest panna cotta lamingtons, Australia (via Italy)
What do you get when you combine a magnificent Italian dessert with an Australian staple? This, the inimitable panna cotta lamington from Flour and Stone bakery. Technically this version of the lamington calls Sydney home, but we think Italy’s influence is hard to miss. Ten points for originality.
What could next for our humble sponge? An avo-lamington?!
"My citrus spin on all-time Aussie favourite. The dipping bit requires a bit of patience but I promise it’s worth it!" Poh Ling Yeow, Poh & Co. 2
Just when you thought lamingtons couldn't get any better, along comes a banana bread version. Arguably these are simpler to make than the traditional sponge-based type, as banana bread is so simple to whip up. You literally measure everything out then stir it all together and bake. Too easy.
I debated about what to call these — a combination of the much-loved Arnott’s Iced VoVo biscuits and the iconic lamington. Such a visual treat. I hope you love these fun little cakes as much as I do.
Gluten-free cakes are sometimes hard to come by. Moist and flavoursome, these lamingtons won’t disappoint. Those with gluten or wheat intolerances and sensitivities won’t ever have to compromise if wanting to enjoy this Australian classic.