Harriet’s How To: Lamingtons

Words Harriet Boucher, Images Brydie Thompson

I’m ashamed to admit it, but this all started with a love for Pak ‘n Save lamingtons. I know what you’re thinking, they can’t be that good, can they? Oh, but they are. The unbelievably light sponge, thin but moist chocolate icing, perfectly textured coconut and a lick of almost certainly fake cream all meld together for the perfect bite. The only ones I’ve tried that are a very close second, if not tied first, are those from the Grumpy Baker in Hamilton.

My friend Carissa worked in the New World bakery when she was younger and let me in on a little (unsurprising) secret that the sponge comes from a pre-mix. I assume this is the case for Pak ‘n Save too, but challenge accepted to try to beat theirs from scratch.

Vicki vetoed pink lamingtons, so I put the hard work in to finding the best homemade chocolate lamington recipe.

The Sponge:
I started off with Donna Hay’s sponge cake from her Modern Classics book. During my research I discovered that lamingtons are in fact Australian, but Kiwis were the ones who invented the raspberry version, so of course I had to try Donna’s recipe. Her recipe was a simple four ingredients: flour, eggs, sugar, and butter. It was the only recipe I made with butter in it and while it enriched the flavour, I felt it made the sponge heavier. The six eggs made the fresh out of the oven sponge smell like a Sunday breakfast and for an egg hater like me, it was a bit off-putting. This sponge held its height the best, and I made nine generous sized lamingtons out of the mix. I found the flour dominated the senses; a hint of vanilla would have improved the overall taste.

Next on my list was Jackie’s Mum’s Sponge from Stephanie Alexander’s 1000+ page bible, The Cook’s Companion. This sponge is gluten free, using cornflour, custard powder, cream of tartar, baking soda, eggs, and sugar. I was blown away with how light and airy this sponge was, you wouldn’t know it was gluten free. My test tasters were drooling over these lamingtons, but unfortunately this isn’t a practical sponge to glaze. It’s so light that it’s tricky to slice and you must be incredibly gentle when either dipping or spreading icing onto it or the crust just crumbles off. I tried this recipe twice and even freezing the sponge (we’ll get to this soon), doesn’t hold it together enough to make it a feasible option. If you’re looking for a sponge cake to ice whole or you’re gluten free, I highly recommend giving this a go.

I ventured into The Great New Zealand Baking Book next to try Kate Fay’s sponge from her Raspberry Lamington recipe. Her recipe uses flour, baking powder, salt, eggs, sugar, milk, and vanilla. This sponge was light and flavoursome without being eggy or crumbly. It cooked evenly and came out of the tin with no blemishes on the outer.

The final sponge I tried was Vicki’s edited version of the Edmonds Cookery Book. I added vanilla to the ingredient list of eggs, salt, sugar, cornflour, flour, and baking powder. Kate Fay’s cooked more evenly than this, but Vicki’s was my favourite sponge of the four to eat in its plain form. My lamington loving dad had tried a few of my previous recipes and told me “your lamington skills have improved” after eating this one, so I was confident I’d found the right sponge.

As much as I would have liked Jackie’s Mum’s sponge to work, Vicki’s version was the most practical to ice while being the closest to a Pak ‘n Save sponge in flavour. It needs vanilla added to enhance it, but other than that I think she had nailed it. Carissa had also let me in on a hot tip that her grandma had taught her, which was to freeze the sponge before glazing it. This proved to be a game-changing trick and the quality of the sponge wasn’t compromised.

The Glaze:
Going into this research I expected the sponge to be the most complex component, but it was the glaze that had me stumped. When I made Donna Hay’s lamington recipe, I used her chocolate icing, which was the classic icing sugar, cocoa, hot water, and butter. I thinned it out with far more hot water than the recipe specified but I could have made it even thinner. Being a rookie lamington maker at this point, I used a knife to spread it on the six sides of the sponge cube and I don’t think I’ve ever made a bigger mess in the kitchen. This didn’t come close to the Pak ‘n Save lamington glaze, I needed to find one that was pourable, would adhere to the sponge, keep it moist, and possess a deep chocolatey flavour.

Mirror glazes were trendy a few years ago, and I thought one of these might tick my glaze criteria. They’re designed to be so shiny and smooth that when poured over a cake, you can see yourself, hence the name. I tried the Recipe Tin Eats chocolate mirror glaze, which uses water, cocoa, gelatine, cream, and sugar. I found it to be really thick, despite adding extra cream, and I ended up spreading it onto the sponge like Donna’s icing. The cocoa gave a rich chocolatey flavour without it being too sweet so I felt like I was on the right track.

I wanted to try a chocolate-based glaze, which I found on a blog called Chef Iso. This glaze made a HUGE recipe, even after I halved it. It used dark chocolate, water, sugar, condensed milk, vanilla, and gelatine. He recommended adding cocoa if you wanted a dark glaze, but I stuck to just chocolate at first. The consistency of this allowed me to dip the frozen lamington sponge directly into it which made for a far cleaner job. Initially I found it too sweet, but when paired with the sponge and coconut, it balanced well. I added cocoa and extra water to the remaining glaze to thin and enrich it, but the Recipe Tin Eats glaze was still my favourite.

For curiosity’s sake I made a dark chocolate ganache using just cream, chocolate, and a bit of gelatine to help it set on the sponge. It coated the sponge unenjoyably thick, and I found it overpowering, so I quickly dismissed using a ganache.

I went back to the Recipe Tin Eats glaze and halved the gelatin, increased the liquids, and added vanilla bean paste, then modified the method so that I used it whilst still quite warm. This is as close as I’ve got to the Pak ‘n Save glaze and I love the chocolatey flavour it brings to the lamington.

The Coconut:
I was surprised by how big of a part the texture of the coconut plays. Over the course of my trials, I used a very fine coconut, thread, and desiccated. The fine coconut was floury in texture, and I really had to press it into the glaze. The coconut flavour was lost being so fine so it ended up being a gritty layer on the palate. Initially I found the thread coconut too dominating, but visually this is the most appealing, and when paired with the right glaze, it brings a welcoming texture and flavour. The desiccated coconut was my favourite all round. It’s the perfect mix between the other two extremes, although visually thread is best.

When up against a pre-mix undoubtedly filled with additives, preservatives, and artificial flavourings, I’m proud of my final lamington. The whole family will love these classic bakery treats. I know I’m addicted.

Chocolate Lamingtons
I’ve fallen in love with lamingtons. The combination of a light fluffy sponge, chocolatey glaze, and coconut are just glorious. I like making 16 smaller ones but if you’re piping cream in the middle, I’d make 9.

For the sponge
3 size 7 eggs
pinch salt
½ cup + 1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla
3 tbsp cornflour
¼ cup + 1 tbsp flour
1 tsp baking powder

For the glaze
2 tsp gelatine powder
1 cup water
1 cup cocoa
1 cup cream
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla

2–3 cups of desiccated coconut
whipped cream to serve (optional)

For the sponge
Preheat the oven to 180°C (not fan bake). Butter and flour* a 20cm square cake tin.

Beat the eggs, salt, and sugar until thick and pale, approximately 5 minutes, then add in the vanilla and beat well.

Sift together the cornflour, flour, and baking powder, then sift it again over the beaten egg/sugar mix. Use a large metal spoon to fold the dry ingredients in. A tip I learnt at chef school is to gently shake the spoon as you lift the mix over, which helps disperse the flour. Don’t over mix but also ensure there’s no flour pockets left.

Gently pour the mix into the prepared cake tin and place it into the oven. Do not slam the oven door, treat it with respect so you don’t knock the air out. Bake for 15–20 minutes. Don’t open the oven door until 15 minutes has passed. This just helps it have the best chance of staying light and airy. When cooked, the cake will be coming away from the side of the tin and it will spring back when lightly touched.

Allow the cake to sit in the tin for 5 minutes, then tip out onto a wire rack to cool. Once cool, cut into 9 (3×3) for larger lamingtons or 16 (4×4) for smaller lamingtons. Place the sponge squares in an airtight container and freeze for a few hours or overnight.

*To butter and flour a tin, rub softened butter right around the inside of the tin, ensuring you evenly coat it. Add about a tablespoon of flour into the tin and shake it around so it sticks to the butter. Tip out any excess flour and ensure the whole inside of the tin is coated.

For the glaze
Sprinkle the gelatin over 2 tbsp of water, give it a stir and allow to bloom.

In a pot, mix the cocoa and water together to make a paste. Add in a little of the cream to loosen the mix, then add the rest of the cream, sugar and vanilla. Place over a medium heat and slowly bring to just below boiling point, whisking to get rid of any lumps. Once hot, take off the heat and whisk in the bloomed gelatin.

Strain into a deep jug or bowl, wide enough to dunk your sponge in and allow to cool for about 15–20 minutes.

Place a layer of coconut on a plate or tray. Gently stick a piece of frozen sponge onto a fork and give it a quick dunk in the glaze. Allow it to drip for a few seconds before prying it off onto the coconut. Roll the glazed sponge in the coconut until it’s fully coated, then place on a clean plate and repeat with the remaining sponges. Top the plate of coconut up as you need it rather than putting it all on the plate at once.

Serve with whipped cream.

Tip: Work with a few pieces of sponge at a time, keeping the rest in the freezer. They defrost quickly and are much easier to work with from frozen. You can also make the glaze ahead of time, just warm it up when you’re ready to use it.

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