It shouldn’t really be surprising that the lamington was invented by a Frenchman. Predictable, but deeply unsettling. After all, facing of the primacy of French cuisine, how could we find a food culture of our own? Australians could draw proudly on few dishes as a national icon.
Pies were invented by the Poms, as was ‘fish and chips’. Sausage rolls are German, and Bolognese is molto Italiano. Even the pavlova isn’t ours – like Crowded House and Russel Crowe, it’s from New Zealand.
So I had high hopes pinned on the lamington, that quintessentially Australian treat. For it’s not just Australian: it’s from Queensland!
It was a particularly hot summer in 1900, and Brisbane sweltered under a blanket of dank humidity. The Governor, Charles Cochrane-Baillie, 2nd Baron of Lamington, departed for his country house in Toowomba, cradling a dim hope that the mountains would provide some relief. He and Lady Lamington brought their staff along, including their renown chef Armand Gallad.
As was the fashion, myriad guests arrived to visit, and the Governor’s household put on great entertainment. Chef Gallad was kept busy baking and grilling in the kitchen, striving to feed the gourmet hordes.
One afternoon, in an effort to create a novel high tea, he dipped some leftover sponge cake into a light chocolate sauce, then rolled the resulting cakes in coconut. The effect was simple, but very elegant, and decidedly delicious.
Lord Lamington was impressed, almost as much as his guests. Several of the society ladies in attendance requested the recipe for this delectable new treat, and the chef, suitable chuffed, obliged. Next month, the recipe was published in the Queensland Ladies Home Journal, attributed as ‘Lady Lamington’s Chocolate-Coconut Cake’, soon after known by its diminutive, the lamington.
Today there are significant variations in the lamingtons you’ll find around Australia. In Queensland they are still made in the traditional way, while in Victoria and South Australia they are filed with jam. In WA, bakers slice the finished cake in half and fill it with mock cream. But for any version the key remains that you must start with a perfectly light sponge cake, and a chocolate syrup of the right consistency.
If you’ve never made a lamington before, then here’s your chance. Wednesday July 21st is National Lamington Day. To be honest, I’m unsure what it is celebrating, other than the lamington itself. But as any lamington aficionado will tend you, that’s a great festival in its own right.
Not entirely Aussie? Perhaps. But that’s the great thing about our fantastic country – we take the best of everywhere, and make them our own.