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Listed as an Australian icon by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, alongside the iconic Vegemite spread and Aussie meat pie, the Lamington has long held great popularity across the country. With over eight million Lamingtons eaten every week, we take a closer look at Australia’s favourite fluffy cake.
Traditionally homemade, the Lamington consists of a fluffy sponge cake cut into squares before being completely coated in chocolate sauce and rolled in desiccated coconut. Not only is this a favourite, but common variations consist of either a layer of cream or strawberry jam spread between the two halves – or if you’re lucky, a bit of both.
The first known recorded mention of the ‘Lamington Cake’ appeared in a newspaper during 1896 in regards to a Lamington Function held in Queensland honouring Governor Lord Lamington. At this event, there were a variety of foods named after him from Lamington Tea to Lamington Soup. Although the Lamington Cake was featured here, there is no evidence of a description as to what this cake was specifically.
Despite the inability to exactly pinpoint where this cake originated, all possible contenders for creating this cake are linked to Lord Lamington. Appointed to serve Lord and Lady Lamington at the Old Government House in Brisbane, it is said that French chef de cuisine Armand Galland had some French vanilla sponge cake left over, which he dipped into chocolate and set in coconut. It has also been said that Fanny Young was a temporary cook at the Governor’s summer residence in Toowoomba where she created this cake; whilst cookery instructor Amy Schauer at the Technical College in Brisbane crafted this cake, naming it after Lady Lamington who officiated the opening of the school.
The first published recipes for Lamington Cakes were found in a 1900 edition of the Queensland Country Life newspaper, followed by the original Lamington recipe, argued to have been first published in The Sydney Mail in 1901. This recipe then quickly traveled to neighboring New Zealand, in one of their newspapers in 1902. Although published in several publications, no known recipes have indicated any creator – remaining a mystery to this day.
Throughout the early 1900s, there was a brief interest in this dessert, and although the Lamington became a common feature in rural agricultural shows across Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia, it didn’t become a popular dessert across the country until the ’20s. However, the love for this dessert gained great enthusiasm from the ’50s to early ’80s with the introduction of the Lamington Drive in fundraising activities.
Much like the iconic Pavlova, the Lamington has become another dessert that has dived into the rivalry between Australia and New Zealand. Upon examination of archives at the University of Auckland, expats came across evidence that Lord Lamington visited Wellington in 1895, where the New Zealand Herald reported that he was ‘much taken with the local sweets provided him by local bakers A.R. Levin.’ Further stating that among the sweets he tasted was a ‘Wellington – a double sponge dessert, dressed in shavings of coconut intended to imitate the snow-capped mountains of New Zealand.’
Not only has this been found, but an uncovered portrait named Summer Pantry by landscape artist JR Smythe also revealed a half eaten Lamington Cake, dating back to 1888.
Although the Lamington may have been originally a Kiwi dessert named ‘Wellington’, it has been discovered that there is a much more complicated culinary past between the two sibling countries than originally thought.
Following the first National Lamington Day in Australia on Friday 21 July 2006, the National Trust of Queensland named the Lamington as one of Queensland’s favourite icons. Showing this love, there have been a number of attempts to take out the record of the World’s Biggest Lamington; however, the most recent success saw the new Guinness World Record weighing in at 2,361 kilogrammes in 2011 by Quality Desserts and the Toowoomba Chamber of Commerce. This Lamington was then cut into pieces and sold, raising money for a local children’s hospital foundation.
However, it’s not only a popular dessert down under; similar desserts have also been discovered overseas. Typically smaller, in South Africa, this dessert has been known as ystervarkies (translating to ‘porcupines’), whilst in the Balkans, theirs is known as Čupavci. Taking it to the States, the Lamington has been popular in Cleveland for decades under the name ‘coconut bars’, before making its debut in LA under the name ‘Cleveland bars’, and ‘rum bars’ for those that hold rum extract in the chocolate icing.