These are not lamingtons.
They’re little donuts by Marty, and crudites from JJ. They’re the top of an Earl Grey chiffon and some caramel & nut dipped madelines by Sally.
They’re Sally’s poached pears and JJ’s spinach balls. My little passionfruit / burnt butter / vanilla / yoghurt pannacotta and some sables and some tea.
Because as much as my heading would have you believe it, this is not just a post about lamingtons.
(There’s lamingtons right at the bottom. Stunningly delicious ones, with a whole tablespoon of jam in each one. But you’ll have to wade through the rest of this pretty to get there.)
I’m often a little bit cowed when faced with the prospect of meeting (and eating) with a collection of creatives. Moreso when the list of attendees are followed in their thousands (and tens of thousands!) on instagram, and take beautiful photographs and make mouthwatering treats and curate immaculate collections.
And I stress out. About which one of my identical long sleeved tops and pairs of jeans I should wear. About what to bring! (My last few baking escapades were disasters! Tears! Tantrums! Binning!) So there I was, late on a weekday evening, diary in hand, pans scattered throughout the kitchen, muttering to myself, when Koji pulled up to the counter and asked me what I could possibly be losing my mind over this time.
“It’s a thing! And I’m making lamingtons… and there’s people! And morning tea”, said I, gesturing wildly about the kitchen and trying to mop up stray piles of shredded coconut.
“But, what is it for?” he prodded, slightly confused and wondering where dinner was.
“Cancer Council. Biggest Morning Tea. Raising funds for…”
and with that, I realised that I was being a muppet.
There’s nothing quite as scary as hearing the word “growth”. “Unknown growth” is worse. “Too risky to biopsy” is especially bad when linked with the first two. And then there’s “wait and see if it gets bigger”.
We had a scare in our family, sometime last year while Koji and I were perched in the upper rooms of a lofty estate in San Miniato, Tuscany. My daily phone call home was met with a suspiciously absent parent and a couple of frenzied “Don’t worry!”s from the other. Emergency appendix removal aside, the news was curious. A misdirected x-ray. A smattering of nodes where nodes shouldn’t be.
Fear and heartbreak.
I can’t lose another one.
Around the same time, a friend’s growths, shrunken by a combination of treatments that are almost too numerous to mention, had returned.
On the other side of the family, a sore belly became something far more serious when scans and biopsies turned into chemotherapy and surgery.
Here’s the thing about cancer. It’s an ugly disease. It doesn’t just take over your body, it messes with your mind as well. Holidays are put on hold, birthdays are planned tentatively. Outings are organised based on when the medication will have its worst side effects and cancelled when reactions are more severe than projected.
You can’t work, because the treatment lowers your immunity, but life still needs living. There are still bills to pay, broken appliances to replace and food to be put on the table (when your appetite is strong enough to manage it). There’s still homework to supervise and errands to run.
Life doesn’t stop around you, but your body won’t let you keep up with it.
We were lucky, this time.
One clear biopsy.
Two shrunken growths.
Five lumps successfully removed.
But we wait for more news and more treatment and hope, always for the best.
We are lucky, all of us, because we’re still here, on tenterhooks sometimes, but here. And living. And thriving. Even when we’ve dropped half a bowl of lamington glaze on the floor because we were dancing to the theme song for the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and forgot that it was perched precariously on the edge of the counter.
(It’s a MIRACLE!)
And so, lamingtons.
(Because what is an Aussie morning tea without them?)
They’re my sister’s favourite, and though I despised them as a child, I’ve grown to really appreciate these half-cake-half-dessert-treats.
Burnt butter and vanilla sponge . A giant dollop of jam. A spin in some thick chocolate glaze and a smattering of shredded coconut on top. (Please, no dessicated). There are worse things in life.
And while they’ll take you the better part of an afternoon to make and assemble, it’s ample time for you to think about how #blessed you are, and what you might be able to do to help others who may be having a slightly harder time of it, thanks to some unknown radicals that happen to be coursing about their bodies and causing carnage.
So, after a morning of beauty, and some very complementary mutterings about my offerings, I shuffled back home and pulled out my credit card, because cake doesn’t help to replace a broken fridge. Or pay the bills. Or have the nurse around to help change the dressings.
You can donate to the Cancer Council, through JJ & Sally‘s Virtual Biggest Morning Tea, or just find out a little more about what the #virtualbiggestmorningtea is through their blogs (click on their names to get linked through).
- 150g unsalted butter
- 1 tsp vanilla paste
- 400g egg (7 large or 8 small eggs)
- 250g castor sugar
- 270g plain flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 pot of your favourite jam, curd or spread (optional)
- 300g icing sugar mixture
- 50g good cocoa powder
- 20ml water
- 1 tbsp butter
- 100ml thickened cream
- 2 cups shredded coconut
- Line a 10 inch, square tin with baking paper and preheat your oven to 160C (fan forced).
- In a small saucepan, melt the butter and keep it on the heat until it starts to go brown and smells a bit nutty. Remove the butter from the heat and stir in the vanilla paste. Leave it to one side to cool.
- You will need to find a heatproof bowl that will fit snugly over a saucepan, without it touching the bottom. Fill the saucepan with water so that the bottom of the bowl won't get wet when it's propped on top. Put the saucepan over heat so that it comes to a simmer.
- Meanwhile, crack the eggs into the bowl and add the sugar. Pop the bowl on top of the simmering water and stir every now and then so that the sugar starts to dissolve into the egg. The water should only be simmering - not boiling - as you don't want to cook the eggs through just yet! When the egg mixture is warm to touch, remove the bowl from the heat.
- Whisk the egg mixture using a stand mixer or electric mixer until it is very pale and has at least doubled in volume. It will be very fluffy and should have cooled down completely from its turn on the stove.
- Sift the flour and salt together over the egg mixture, half at a time, and fold in gently with a metal spoon, being careful not to deflate the mixture too much.
- Trickle the melted butter into the mixture down the side of the bowl and stir it in gently.
- Transfer the mixture to the prepared tin and bake it for about 35 minutes. It will be bouncy in the middle and have a browned top.
- Once the cake is baked, let it cool completely on a wire rack.
- Cut the cake into even squares and then split each square down the middle like a sandwich. I ended up with 16 squares (and some trimmings for later). Pop a tablespoon of jam in the middle of each lamington and spread it to the edges.
- Place the lamingtons on a tray, then put them in the freezer to harden together a bit before dipping them.
- While the lamingtons rest in the fridge, pop the saucepan of water back onto the heat, clean out your egg bowl and add all of the icing ingredients to it - the icing sugar, cocoa powder, water, butter and cream.
- Stir them together over the heat until they are melted together into a glossy glaze. Reduce the heat so that the water underneath is barely bubbling. You want the glaze to stay warm as it hardens and thickens when it cools, making it difficult to dunk and coat your lamingtons.
- Set up a workspace around your glaze. You'll need a fork and a spoon in the glaze bowl, a cooling rack set over a tray on the right, and a big bowl of shredded cocount to the right of that. Next to the coconut bowl, you'll want a tray lined with baking paper. Pull the lamingtons out of the freezer and put them to the left of your glaze.
- Using the fork, lower a lamington into the glaze bowl and spoon more chocolate glaze on top so that it's fully covered. Use the fork to lift it out of the glaze bowl and onto the cooling rack so that any excess chocolate can drip off. Repeat this process until three or four lamingtons are coated in glaze. If you do them all at once, the glaze will start to set and the coconut won't stick, so work in smaller batches.
- Now lift the glazed lamingtons with the fork again and drop them into the coconut. Use your fingers to press the coconut into the top and sides. When the lamington is coated, lift it with your fingers and place it onto the lined baking tray. Repeat this process with all of the glazed lamingtons.
- Keep glazing and coating, a few at a time, until all of the lamingtons are coated and ready to serve up!