Lady Lamington's chocolate-coconut cake

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Lamingtons are to Australian kids what un pain au chocolat is to les enfants français. From a young age Australian children are taught that if you take a square piece of plain sponge cake, coat it in runny chocolate and roll it around in shaved coconut it will make an absolutely delicious treat. When eating it as an adult the mixed taste of the sponge cake, the chocolate and coconut just tastes like childhood.

As popular as it is, ask anyone who first thought to coat a sponge cake in chocolate and coconut to create the 'Lamington' and you will likely receive a blank stare as your answer.

Few people may mention Lord Lamington, Governer of Queensland from 1896 until 1901. It's not absolutely confirmed he had anything to do with its inception, however the similarities between the names is somewhat hard to ignore. The story goes that one day the Lamingtons had impromptu guests to entertain for afternoon tea. All that was available to serve was day-old cake. Now, this point in the story is where the outcomes become ambiguous as to how the cake came to be encased in chocolate and coconut. However the one that seems to be most credible, and most definitely the one that I'm more partial to believe, is the one that ends with the Lamington being invented by a Frenchman!
Monsieur Armand Gallad was the Lamingtons' chef while they resided at Queensland's Government House and, after being pressed to whip up something for their surprise guests, he took a traditional Italian génoise cake he'd made the day before and did what every Frenchman is quite good at - he dipped it in chocolate. He then he rolled it in something quite rare in dessert-making at that time, shredded coconut, on hand thanks to Gallad's French-Tahitian wife.

The cake proved to be so popular the recipe was immediately demanded by their guests and very shortly there after was printed in the woman's journal of the day, given the name 'Lady Lamington's chocolate-coconut cake'. After time it became known as just the Lamington and the most iconic cake in Australia. Cheers Monseuir Gallad!

As ubiquitous as the cake is in Oz it is positively unheard of on this side of the world. So, to celebrate this Australia Day weekend, I armed myself with (web)pages of recipes, Mr M's patience and attempted to recreate M. Gallad's first ever Lamington.

**Please note, this recipe requires overnight refrigeration for the cake (it helps to ice it the next day, and follows how the original one was made). I don't recommend icing a warm cake, I don't believe it will work as well. This recipe also requires the use of hand held electric beaters. If you don't have any, but have the biceps of Popeye, feel free give a hand-whisk a whirl - pun absolutely intended.

Génoise Cake
Adapted from various recipes found on the internet, credits follow.
Makes one 20cm x 30cm (approx) rectangular cake.

(French terms for ingredients are provided in brackets for those on this side of the world to establish them more easily in a supermarket).

+ 6 x eggs (ouefs)
+ 180 grams x caster sugar (sucre on poudre)
+ 180 gms x cake flour, sifted (farine pâtissière #45) + extra for pan greasing
+ 30 gms x unsalted butter, melted then cooled (beurre doux) + extra for pan greasing

Preheat a fan-forced oven to 180ºC. Take a large cake tin (I used a glass baking dish) and grease bottom and all four sides with butter. Cut a piece of baking paper the size of the base and lay down flat over the butter. Sprinkle flour over all sides and bottom until the butter is coated and shake out the excess. Leave the pan aside.
In a large bowl put the whites and yolks of the six eggs then with a fork mix together to break the yolk membranes. Place the bowl over a saucepan of just simmering water, ensuring the level of the water doesn't touch the bottom of the bowl, and add the sugar. Using a hand beater whisk for about 5 minutes. The colour will change from very yellow to a pale cream and the consistency should change from very runny to mayonnaise-like. The volume should third in size and the movement of the whisks should leave a visible tail.
After the five minutes remove the bowl from the heat and keep whisking for another 5-10 minutes. Stop when the volume has almost doubled from its original size, the colour is quite white and the consistency is very mousse-like. When you take the beaters out, the mix should stand upright where they were lifted.

Before folding in the flour, heat the butter on low until half the butter is liquid, then take off the heat and mix to melt the rest.
Lightly dust the sifted flour onto the mix, covering the whole top surface area and then properly combine with as minimal folds as possible. Do this in about four batches - you do not want the weight of the flour to deflate the size of your egg/ sugar mix.
Letting the butter cool a little beforehand, take a large scoop of the egg mixture and place into the pan with the butter. Mix well to form the same consistency as the egg mixture. Add more egg mixture if needed. Once mixed well add the butter mixture to the egg mixture, folding in as little as possible.

Gently pour the cake mixture into your prepared pan and pop on a middle shelf in the oven for approx 25-30 minutes - it will be ready when the cake starts to pull away from the sides of the pan and the middle springs back when lightly touched.
Leave to cool a little in the pan, then place a cooling rack upside down over the top of the pan and flip the both over. Leave to rest and the cake should fall out on its own accord. Very gently peel off the baking paper.

I left the cake like that until cooled to room temperature as it left neat straight indentations where I planned to slice to make the individual Lamingtons. If you want to gingerly attempt to flip it back so you don't get any markings feel free.
When cooled to room temperature wrap in cling film and pop in in the fridge over night.

Chocolate-coconut icing for Lamingtons
Adapted from various recipes found on the internet, credits follow.
Makes enough to ice 22 10cm x 4cm slim slices of sponge cake.

(French terms for ingredients are provided in brackets for those on this side of the world to establish them more easily in a supermarket).

+ 170 gms x good quality milk-based cooking chocolate (chocolat pâtissier)
+ 2 tbsp x unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted (poudre de cacao)
+ 2 cups x icing sugar (sucre glace)
+ 3 cups x unsweetened desiccated coconut (noix de coco rapée)
+ 3/4 cups x milk (lait)
+ 40 gms x unsalted butter (beurre doux)

Cut your Génoise cake into slices or squares.

Over a simmering saucepan of water place a bowl containing the cooking chocolate, butter and milk. Lightly stir until the butter and chocolate have melted and the mixture is smooth. Take off the heat and whisk in the icing sugar and the cocoa.

Set up a drying rack off to the side where you'll leave the iced cakes to set with baking paper or cling film underneath to catch the the drips.
In a separate pan or wide plate - it helps if it has a flat bottom - put half the coconut. It makes things easier to have the cakes at one end of your bench and the drying rack at the other, with the chocolate and coconut in the middle, to form somewhat of a production line.
Using your hands dip the cake slices first into the chocolate, covering all sides and wiping any excess on the edge of the bowl, then flip them through the coconut pressing down to coat it evenly. Top up the coconut as needed.

Place coated slices on the drying rack for about 20 minutes to set - they will be set when the chocolate and coconut coating doesn't come away from the cake onto your fingers when picking it up.

Then, make yourself a nice cuppa and enjoy eating a little combined culinary history of Australia and France.

Recipe credits;
+Zabar's - A classic: Génoise (Basic French Cake)
+ Azélia's Kitchen - How to make: Genoise Cake
+ David Lebovitz - Lamingtons


  1. This looks delicious! Hope you had a very happy Australia day...!

    1. Too delicious! I spent a very happy day yesterday eating them all! Ooops! :) xx