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A lamington is an Australian confection that is made by dipping squares of sponge cake in chocolate, then rolling the covered cube in coconut. Lamingtons have been wildly popular desserts throughout Australia and New Zealand since the early 1900s. They are believed to have originated in the eastern Australian state of Queensland, where Lord Lamington served as governor from 1896-1901. The story of how the treat came to be, however, has been largely reduced to legend. The majority of accounts pin the creation on Lord Lamington’s household, but even within these narratives, claims of who made the first lamington — and, importantly, why — vary wildly.
Making lamingtons is usually quite simple. Cooks begin with a sponge cake or any basic yellow type of cake. After it has been cooked and cooled, it is cut into relatively uniform square segments. Traditional lamingtons are about 3-4 inches (about 8-10 cm) square, although more bite-sized versions also are popular.
Most recipes call for day-old cake or cake that has had at least a bit of time to dry after baking. After the desired dryness is achieved, cooks prepare a melted chocolate frosting that typically is made of little more than sugar, cocoa powder and milk. Butter might or might not be included. Most cooks find that it is easiest to work with thinner frosting, so they often heat the mixture to melt it and make it more viscous.
Cooks dip the cake squares into the chocolate to coat them completely. With the chocolate is still wet, they roll the cubes in unsweetened desiccated coconut flakes, then set them on a rack or shallow plate to dry. Desiccated coconut helps the frosting set almost immediately, and the dessert is often ready to eat within a few moments after completion. The dryness of the desiccated coconut also helps keep the treat from becoming sticky, which makes it easy to transport and to store.
As far as Australian desserts go, the lamington is by far one of the most popular. Neighboring New Zealand also features the confection as part of its national cuisine. School groups and student organizations in both countries have been known to host “lamington drives” as a means of fundraising, and the confection is featured at a great many bake sales, community picnics and dessert buffets throughout the region.
Most cakes follow the basic lamington ingredients, although variations are common. A cream-filled version, for instance, can be made by layering two finished cubes with butter cream or sweetened whipped cream between them. Using a jam or fruit-filled sponge cake also is common in some communities.
The majority of these treats are homemade or are made in small batches at bakeries. Some manufacturers produce the sweets commercially, however. Commercial lamingtons often contain preservatives to increase their shelf life, and most contain more sugar than homemade versions do. A traditional lamington is sweet but not overwhelmingly so.
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