This post was imported from my short-lived, now-defunct food blog, Cooking With Ginger.
Just when the body has recovered from the guts-and-starch-orama that is Burns Night, along comes Australia Day on January 26. If I was Down Under I 'd have celebrated traditionally beneath relentless sunshine — pavlova, snags on the barbie and the Triple J Hottest 100 Countdown blaring on the radio. But I was in Scotland, so I trudged off to work in the darkness. On the way home I bought a can of Fosters Lager for 67p, presented it to Gareth and said, "Happy Australia Day!"
"Ah, thanks!" he said and wrinkled up his nose. "How about some lamingtons?"
Crikey. Lamingtons. Baking and diets are incompatible. Sure, one may experiment with applesauce and low-fat margarine and artificial sweeteners. But for me, if it's not the real deal I'd rather not eat it at all. And since I can't seem to bake without licking the bowl, spoon and kitchen bench clean, my tactic has been to completely avoid baking altogether while trying to lose weight.
Unless, of course, it's a Special Occasion™. Recently I surveyed the year ahead and declared the following 2006 Official Special Occasions:
- Australia Day
- Wedding Anniversary – March 3
- Anzac Day – April 25 – the mandatory Anzac Biscuits
- Easter – It's about time I learned to make Hot Cross Buns
- Gareth's Birthday – August 12
- My Birthday – November 1
- Christmas Day – an inevitable trifle
Now that sounded all well and good, until I added a few Supplementary Occasions. Such as the Anniversary of the Day I Moved To Scotland, the Anniversary of the Day I Met Gareth, the Anniversary of Our First Date and the Anniverary of the Day I Discovered Green and Blacks Chocolate. Then there's the birthdays of my mum, sister, best friend and grandmother. They don't live anywhere near me but it would be rude not to have cake in their honour. And while I'm at it, I should pay respect to Halloween, the summer solstice and the National Days of a few obscure African nations.
It is all too easy to find a flimsy premise for a baking frenzy, and before you know it your healthy habits have been derailed. But there is something so fundamentally peaceful and satisfying about smushing butter and sugar together; of cracking eggs and waiting impatiently by the oven door, that I can't imagine limiting that pleasure to a few times a year. So here are a few more tactics I've employed:
- Bake smaller quantities. I love fruit scones, and once had a craving that would not shut up. So I got a trusty recipe and divided the quantities until it yielded just four scones. Yes, it's not very energy efficient to fire up the oven for such a small batch, but two for me and two for Gareth meant I could answer the Call of the Scone without the Baker's Remorse for weeks afterward.
- Go through your favourite recipes and enter the ingredients into a calorie counter/recipe builder/Points©™® Calculator such as Weight Loss Resources. How many calories per serve? How much saturated fat? How small can you make the servings to reduce the damage but still be satisfying? Some results will be so shocking it will put you off them for life, but others will surprise and be a managable treat.
- Bake stuff you don't like. For me the kick comes from the stirring, creaming and messing up the kitchen just as much from eating the results. So make something you don't fancy then give it someone who does.
- Freeze half of the batch. But this only works if you can be trusted not to eat frozen cookie dough in a weak moment. Not that I've done that that or anything.
- Bake for a crowd. I like to make a batch of brownies, allocate myself a piece or two, then take the rest to work where it's guaranteed to be snarfed up in minutes. This Bake-and-Dispose method means you are popular AND your house stinks deliciously of chocolate without affecting the size of your arse.
Anyway, back to the lamingtons. Lamingtons are a great Australian tradition, and defined as "a small square of sponge cake… coated all over in softish chocolate icing and then in desiccated coconut". An exhaustive history can be found here. I like my lamingtons after a day or two in the fridge, when chocolate icing has seeped into the sponge, making each bite a coconutty chocolately mess. It goes down like a charm with a cup of tea.
My grandmother is the master Lamington Maker. Her sponge is always light and airy. Her lammos are always uniform cubes, with just the right balance of icing and coconut. Back in the Farm Days she'd whip up a batch at Shearing Time. We'd carry them down to the shearing shed for morning tea, along with cheese and tomato sandwiches and Billy Tea. The shearers held the dainty cakes in their thick greasy hands, coconut flying in all directions. The dogs snuffled around on the wooden floors, searching for stray crumbs amongst the tufts of wool. My eyes would be glued to the Tupperware container, counting and calculating, hoping there'd be one left over for me.
I was discussing lamingtons with my grandmother when I was back in Oz last October, whining that mine were always a deformed, lumpy mess. The kitchen floor and my shirt inevitably wore more icing than the cakes. But she said the problem was my technique. I'd been cutting the cake into cubes then dunking them in the icing, fondue stylee, then throwing them into the dish and pelting them with coconut. She said it was far easier to divide the cake mixture into two loaf tins, then simply ice a WHOLE cake and roll it in the coconut, one side at a time. Then once it's set you cut it into smaller pieces and then carefully ice the remaining sides. Much tidier and far quicker.
Well that all sounded very good in theory but my lamingtons turned out just as sloppy as ever. First I realised after 25 minutes that I'd set the oven ten degrees too low, so I turned it up to 180 then promptly forgot about it. So the cakes were a little bronzed and dry. It was somewhat easier to ice a whole cake in loaf form, but I still had my usual problems of dripping excess icing into the coconut dish, and spraying excess coconut into the icing dish. Oh, and excessive manhandling of the cakes, resulting in huge thumb dents and smudges that you can only fill in with so much coconut.
So: lamingtons! Very Australian, very tasty, but very messy. By the time I'd made the bastards I was so cranky that I didn't want to eat them. Now there's another Diet Baking Tip: Bake something so convoluted and frustrating that you'd rather throw it at a wall than eat it!
FAIR-DINKUM AUSSIE LAMINGTONS
Source: The Grandmothership
Makes: 24 (or 12 bigguns if you are greedy, or just too lazy to go on)
For the cake
125 g butter
125 g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
250 g self-raising flour
1/4 cup milk
Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F). Grease and line a rectangular tin (30 x 22 cm approx) or two loaf tins. Cream butter, sugar and vanilla together until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well. Add flour and milk alternately, beat well. Pour into tin(s), smooth surface with a spatula. Bake for 30 minutes or until risen and firm. Allow to stand for a few minutes then turn out onto a rack. Once cooled, refrigerate cake at least 30 minutes before icing.
For the icing
125 ml boiling water
3 heaped tablespoons cocoa powder
2 tablespoons softened butter
1 tsp vanilla
500 g pure icing sugar, sifted
250 g dessicated coconut
Mix water, cocoa, butter and vanilla togeter in a bowl over a saucepan of hot water. Gradually beat in icing sugar to form a smooth mixture. Trim cake edges and cut into 24 cubes, or less if you want bigger lamingtons. Place coconut onto a tray or dish ready for rolling. Using a fork, dip cake into icing then toss in the coconut. Leave on a cake rack to dry for a wee while.
NB: I tend to use slightly less water so the icing is thicker if doing the whole cake method, as opposed to the fondue-esque technique.