The experts' secrets to making a prize-winning lamington (2024)

What comes to mind when you think of a lamington? Licking chocolate and coconut off your fingers? Australia Day? Lamington drives?

For the uninitiated, a lamington is a sponge or butter cake dipped in chocolate and covered all over with desiccated coconut. Inside you might find a layer of cream or perhaps even jam, if that's your… jam.

This Australian cake was first invented in Queensland, with a recipe appearing in the Queensland Country Life newspaper as early as 1900.

According to Queensland Government House, the lamington was created by the chef of the state's eighth governor, Lord Lamington, to feed unexpected visitors.

Since 2006 it's even been honoured with its own National Lamington Day, which is 21 July.

Here are some tips in case you're keen to make your own — or simply enjoy a lot of — lamingtons in time for Australia Day (or any other day).

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Lesson one: Make a really good cake

"Really good lamingtons need to be fluffy with a fresh sponge," says Nadine Ingram, a baker who owns an eastern Sydney bakery where they've created cult-status lamingtons with panna cotta.

On their busiest days in the lead up to Australia Day, Nadine and her team will bake up to 240 lamingtons a day. She recommends using fresh sponge cake for your lamingtons.

"I know it's easier to cut a perfect rectangle with day-old sponge, but stale lamingtons will be the result," she says.

"And a generous coating of chocolate is also a must."

When it comes to baking the cake, Nadine recommends using fresh eggs, and choosing a tin that will yield the correct depth of sponge cake.

"It needs to cook quickly to maintain the air in the sponge, so don't spread the batter any higher than 2.5 cm," she says.

If you like your lamingtons a little firmer, you might prefer to use a butter cake, like Major Cathryn Williamson from the Salvation Army in Cowra, who's won blue ribbons for her lamingtons at the Royal Easter Shows in Sydney and Brisbane.

For Cathryn, a lamington is a cake that requires a bit of planning — you need at least two days.

"Once the cake has cooled, I freeze it overnight so that when you dip it in the chocolate, it doesn't soak in and the cake doesn't break up, or lose what my husband calls 'its structural integrity'," she says.

This is important because at the Royal Easter Show, all lamingtons that aren't a perfect cube are eliminated straight away, says Cathryn. (She used a ruler for her lamingtons after being eliminated once.)

Lesson two: Coat your cake with chocolate and coconut

The experts' secrets to making a prize-winning lamington (1)

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When coating the lamingtons with chocolate, make sure the mixture isn't too hot.

"This will give you a thicker coating rather than it just running off the sponge," Nadine says.

At Nadine's bakery, the lamingtons are coated with chocolate individually using a small offset palette knife, and then gently covered with coconut.

For her Royal Easter Show award-winning lamingtons, Cathryn sifts the desiccated coconut so only the finest coconut is applied.

"They look heaps better," she says, but it's not something she bothers with for monthly bake sales for Salvos or at the local hardware store.

There's no need to be afraid of getting your hands dirty at this stage. Cathryn grew up helping her mother bake lamingtons, and to this day still hears her mother saying "Press it on! Press it on!" when patting on the coconut.

Lesson three: Add your own twist

The experts' secrets to making a prize-winning lamington (2)

When it comes to the lamington, the flavours aren't always black and white — it seems the flavour possibilities for lamingtons are boundless.

"For the most part I think you can be as creative as you like," says Leonie Drexler, from her Sydney bakery that bakes 11 different flavoured "glamingtons" alongside the original chocolate and coconut lamington.

She began experimenting first with strawberry flavoured lamingtons, before adding fairy bread lamingtons to the mix.

"The classic lamington is still the most popular, followed by salted caramel, apple crumble and peanut butter," she says.

Cathryn is also a fan of mixing it up.

"I love jelly lamingtons, where you dip the cake into raspberry jelly," she says.

"You use half the water that it says to on the jelly packet, and you wait until the jelly starts to set before you dip in the cake. Then you cover it with coconut."

It's not just about experimenting with the flavours of the cake or the coating. Size also matters.

The experts' secrets to making a prize-winning lamington (3)

Last year, cake decorator Melissa Sleiman from western Sydney made a lamington wedding cake with vanilla cake, swiss meringue butter cream flavoured with vanilla beans, and raspberries.

"When I opened the car boot to unload the cake, it smelt divine," she says.

If you're keen to recreate this, the key is to use a dense cake like a vanilla or a sponge cake, and leave out layers of cream mid-cake.

"This will make sure that there's no seeping or dripping between layers," Melissa says.

While the wedding cake is pretty big at 10 kilograms, it's not the biggest lamington ever.

That title belongs to Toowoomba Chamber of Commerce and a local bakery, who earned a Guinness World Record in 2011 for the world's largest lamington. Its weight? 2,361kg. As some would say, that's a lot of lammos.

In our Food Files series, ABC Everyday takes a close look at a seasonal ingredient every fortnight. From how we eat it, where to find it, and the best ways to enjoy it at home.

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