In Hobart, late one night, in the kitchens of the casino, they saw a lamington on a plate. Hush closed her eyes and nibbled. Grandma Poss held her breath - and waited.
"It's worked! It's worked!" she cried. And she was right. Hush could be seen from head to tail. Grandma Poss hugged Hush, and they both danced "Here We Go Round the Lamington Plate" till early in the morning.
So from that time onwards, Hush was visible. But once a year, on her birthday, she and Grandma Poss ate a Vegemite sandwich, a piece of pavlova and half a lamington, just to make sure that Hush stayed visible forever.
And she did.
Possum Magic, Mem Fox
When I was eight years old, I donned a leotard, a set of ears taped to a headband and a pair of tights stuffed with paper and tied around my waist as a tail. I was playing Hush, a young possum in one of my favourite picture books, in our school play. After two years as 'Narrator' this challenging role was an exciting departure for me. My teachers had adapted Mem Fox's Possum Magic, a wonderful tale about magic in the Australian bush, featuring some of our most iconic animals and a veritable feast of national foods. The premise is simple - young Hush is made invisible by her Grandma Poss, and to make her visible again, they have to travel around the country sampling different Australian wares. It's a great book. That said, as I have a somewhat repressed memory of the 'Tassie Devil Rap' (it was the '90s), I'm not entirely convinced the same can be said of the play. You'll have to ask our parents.
The resemblance is uncanny.
I will inevitably be revisiting this book here in the future (certainly once I have my fraternal Grandma's wonderful recipe for pumpkin scones to hand) but, in the meantime, it's lamingtons I've been dreaming of. Their ubiquitous presence in the lunchboxes of Australian schoolchildren makes it hard for me to believe that no-one in my adopted country - outside the bakeries of Clapham - knows what on earth they are. Despite only a few looks of recognition from the ex-pats (and shared memories of lamingtons enjoyed at afternoon tea time in various backyards in the sun), I can confirm they were enjoyed by all guests at my friend Jess' recent birthday party. And I will certainly be making them more frequently from now on. Not only are they much easier than I had always assumed - the chocolate and coconut do actually stay on the cakes! - they're also quite the trip down memory lane.
This recipe is from Dan Lepard, whose breads, cakes and desserts are always reliable (and delicious). I read a number of lamington recipes in preparation for this post, and gravitated towards his for the use of chocolate, rather than just cocoa, in the icing. Most importantly, he's Australian. If you're going to do something, do it right.
ps. Special shout out must go to my mum, who patiently found my copy of Possum Magic in one of the many boxes in my old room, and dictated the last half of it to me over Skype. And to my dad, who managed to dig out a long buried photo of me in a possum costume! I'd make you both a lamington if I could.
300g caster sugar
250g crème fraîche
2tsp vanilla extract
50mL vegetable oil
5 medium eggs
3tsp baking powder
300g dark chocolate
300g caster sugar
250g desiccated coconut
25cm square cake tin - ideally loose-bottomed
2 large trays
1. Line and grease the base and sides of the cake tin with greaseproof paper. Preheat the oven to 170C.
2. Melt the butter in the saucepan and allow to cool slightly. Pour into a bowl with the sugar, crème fraîche, vanilla extract and oil. Beat for a minute until smooth, then add the eggs one at a time, beating each one in well before the next is added.
3. Sift in the flour and baking powder, and fold in with the spatula. Pour the batter into the tin and cover the top with foil. Bake for forty minutes, then remove the foil and bake for a further twenty minutes until a skewer inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and cool in the tin, covered with the foil again, until the cake is cold and you're ready to use it. The cake can be made the day before you need it, and left like this overnight, if you're going to be pressed for time on the planned day of eating.
4. While the cake is cooling, make the chocolate icing. Very finely chop the chocolate with a sharp knife, and put aside in a bowl. Whisk the milk, sugar and cocoa together in the saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat, pour over the chocolate in the bowl and stir to melt the chocolate. Allow to cool to body temperature before using.
5. Using a ruler if you're pedantic (like me) slice the cake into 25 even squares. Each should be 5cm wide x 5cm long x 5cm high. Obviously this isn't actually important, and if your cake rises like mine your middle ones will be a little taller. But it's nice to imagine you're aiming for perfect cubes.
6. Spread one of the trays with the coconut; if you have one with a lip around the edge, to contain the mess, that would be ideal. Place the tray next to your bowl of chocolate and place another tray, lined with baking paper, on the far side of the coconut tray. Each cake needs to be dunked in the chocolate, shaken a little to get rid of the excess icing, rolled in the coconut and then placed on the greaseproof paper to set. I set up a bit of a production line with my friend Bryony (I dipped in chocolate, she rolled in coconut) but if you're making these solo, make sure you do a couple in chocolate, drop them all into the coconut, wash your hands, roll them until they're covered, place them all on the paper, then go back to the chocolate to begin again. Otherwise, you'll end up with chocolate covered coconut - not a sin in itself, but it is nice for the lamingtons to have very white coconut on top of the chocolate layer.
7. Allow the chocolate to set for a couple of hours (on the bench, rather than in the fridge, unless you're making them during an Australian summer) before eating. From memory, lamingtons keep really well in an airtight container, but at the speed we consumed them, I really wouldn't know about these ones.