‘Tis once again the season when the much-loved lamington turns from teacake to time bomb on the highly competitive turf of the show circuit.
Even as I write women and men across Victoria are slaving in their kitchens to perfect their plates of four absolutely uniform lamingtons.
This year the Royal Melbourne Show cookery folk have added a little extra icing on the cake by introducing a new “creative” class to celebrate 60 years of lamington competition.
Pitting lairy lamingtons against the traditional is certain to upset the purists who even scorn the inclusion of jam; saying this benign Victorian variation is nothing short of scandalous.
Sharon Douglas, the winner of best lamington in show in 2013, welcomes the addition of the creative category, but will unfortunately not be contesting this year.
But, the St Arnaud farmer and CWA cookery judge offers a tip that could prove the winning edge.
“It is important your cubes are actually cubes and the angles are right angles and that your edges stay sharp when you put them in the chocolate mixture because when you put them in the chocolate they can round off,” she reveals.
“Instead of using an icing mixture for the cake I use a chocolate gelatine mixture.”
Who will triumph in the Royal Melbourne Show’s 2014 Great Lamington Challenge is almost as deep a mystery as the origin of this little Aussie icon which is shrouded by the dessicated coconut of time.
Despite feeble attempts by the New Zealanders to swipe the “lemington” in addition to the pavlova, there seems no doubt that the great coated cake originated in Queensland.
According to legend it was there in the late 1800s that someone either accidentally dropped or deliberately dunked a block of sponge or butter cake, which may or may not have been already stale, into some chocolate, then rolled it in coconut in a bid to overcome a catering problem at Government House.
The incumbent Governor, one Charles Cochrane-Baillie and 2nd Baron Lamington, was said to be deeply unimpressed to have his good name given to a cake and called them “those bloody poofy woolly biscuits”.
A far more prosaic but plausible story containing no profanities or politically incorrect inferences is that the lamington was invented by Amy Schauer, a teacher of cookery at the Central Technical College and named it in honour of the Baron’s wife – an enthusiastic patron of the school.
Indeed, there is a recipe for a whole cake dipped in chocolate icing and sprinkled in coconut in the 1909 Schauer Cookery Book.
Just as there are Jack the Ripper experts who have devoted themselves to the great murder mystery so, too, are there lamington scholars who have applied their learned minds to the cookery conundrum.
Foremost is Towoomba academic, historian and author Professor Maurice French who produced a 272 page tome on the subject titled: The Lamington Enigma: a survey of the evidence.
The first record of the cake being cut up into little squares appears in the Kookaburra Cookery Book, produced by Adelaide’s Lady Victoria Buxton Girls Club in 1912.
Like pre-sliced bread, this was the making of the lamington. It swiftly spread across the land to become the staple of fund-raising cake stalls, Australia Day parties and citizenship ceremonies.
And this is why, blue ribbon or no, we eat this little cake hand on heart.