Saturday, February 27, 2010

Nostalgia, National Pride and Lamingtons.

Food is nostalgia. A reimagining of old loves, flavours, textures, celebrations of the past. I try to say this without pretention, and I am self conscious writing this, as I know it is also a great many other things: political, social, economic and ethnic. Despite this, I firmly believe food connects us to the places we are from, it tells us stories about our past and most importantly I think it speaks of who we are.

I will never be able to eat red lentils without seeing them, in my mind’s eye bobbing in a pot of soup on the wood stove in my parents’ kitchen, my dad toiling over piles of earthy vegetables for his signature stock. Eating garlic prawns I am transported to a tiled tavern in Spain, shells crunching beneath my feet, eating the entire fire softened prawn, chased by sticky fortified wine. The taste of Merlot: my wedding, the texture of liquorice: my first trip to Ireland as a child, the smell of green melon: too many evenings spent working behind a bar serving ‘Squashed Frogs’. New flavours, textures and aromas likewise herald new phases, new associations.

No doubt everyone has these associations, memories triggered by flavours. Food is a great leveller, it is intrinsic to being human, it both connects and separates us from each other. At a recent ‘International Dinner’ it was touching to see the pride taken with each national dish and to hear the patient explanations of how to best enjoy each one. I was taught by a friend from Colombia how the cornmeal dumplings offset the ceviche style prawns, and listened while a Greek friend explained how brining and baking feta cheese brought out its flavours.

One of my favourite ‘Australian’ dishes is Lamingtons. While I don’t really care for coconut or Madeira cake, once the chunks of cake are rolled in the cloying icing and showered in flaky coconut shavings, the lamington ceases to be just something to serve on Australia Day and becomes a lightning rod for the memories I associate with the unassuming little cake. It tastes of countless primary school cake stalls, the coconut flakes shake off and I feel like I am ten again, lugging home boxes of lamingtons ordered by neighbours as part of our lamington drive, hoping to be offered one (especially a pink one!) when dropping them off. As much as I love eating lamingtons, I think I enjoy making them more, the production line of coconut, chocolate and cake creating a satisfying mess.


Madeira Cake I use Rachel Allen’s recipe. Marbling optional.
Cocoa Powder
Icing Sugar
Desiccated Coconut

Make the Madeira cake in a square loaf tin. Once the Madera cake is completely cooled, place cake into the freezer for half an hour to prevent crumbliness during the next step.

Cut cake into 3-4cm cubes and set aside.

Melt one tablespoon of butter in a heavy pan over medium heat. Once melted, stir through two tablespoons of cocoa until smooth. If the cocoa is lumpy sift it, there is nothing worse than a chunk of cocoa powder perched atop a lamington.

Add milk to the cocoa butter mix, stirring the entire time. Remove from heat.

Sift in icing sugar and transfer to wide bottomed bowl.

Assemble one plate with the cake cubes, one with the cocoa icing and one filled with desiccated coconut, start with half a cup. Prepare either a wire rack with baking paper underneath, or a plate for the finished lamingtons.

Working quickly roll each cube in the chocolate icing, making sure each side is saturated, before rolling through the coconut and setting aside on the tray.

Leave for one hour to set and sprinkle any splodgey bits with extra coconut.


bwhite said...

How do you make the pink ones?

I'm lovin' the usage of crumbliness.

Kristin said...

As a fellow expat, I know exactly what you mean about food and nostalgia. I've never heard of lamingtons, but these look delicious and I definitely want to try them soon.

kate said...

Thanks for this recipe. While not an expat or an Australian, I hanker after my time in Australia. Lamingtons always remind me of the food counter in the hospital where I worked, staffed by Australian Red Cross volunteers. I look forward to trying to make these and to indulging in a bit of nostalgia

'NEEN at 9 BEAN ROW said...

B, Bizarrely, with jelly crystals! Taste Australia has a good recipe.

Kristin, it feels like even foods I didn't like in Australia make me homesick now.

Kate, you could use a store bought madeira or trifle sponge to cut down on the time involved!

Lu said...

we had an Aussie girl in work who brought these homemade lammingtons into us for Australia DAy - I loved them - hers might have had some jam in - or I might be remembering wrong! Great recipe

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