Cake. Sometimes nothing else will do. It has a child-like simplicity that never fails to win me over. Perhaps it takes me back to those childhood days when a cake was a special treat: my grandma's Victoria Sponge or Coffee Cake (note: this is a plain but tender sponge cake flavoured with coffee and filled with coffee buttercream) or perhaps the cake I insisted that my Mum made for me every single birthday: the Hansel and Gretel chocolate house. I insisted that the chimney always went to the birthday girl, a small square of sponge with about an inch of buttercream icing used to cement it to the top of a rickety cake roof. Later on, my Mum discovered the joys (and simplicity) of the Lemon Drizzle Cake, a cake with such longevity that we would be eating it two weeks after it was baked and it still tasted great.
England is a country of cake eaters. We love dense fruit cake with virginal royal icing and marzipan, we enjoy the daintiness of Fairy Cakes (although these have been somewhat usurped by the ubiquitous Double-Choc or Blueberry Muffin in recent years) and Chocolate Cake holds a special place in the hearts of dumped females the country over.
Yet, it still seems that the ratio of being buying cakes compared to baking them is top-heavy. People seem to fear baking as though it were a sophisticated French technique. Indeed, there is a certain art to icing cakes but there is nothing at all to creaming some butter and sugar together, beating in some eggs and folding in some flour. I have said before that baking becomes more like second nature as your confidence improves and don't the cakes that our mothers and grandmothers bake(d) taste so much better than their chemical laden shop-bought variants?
I am living proof that practise does indeed make perfect. I have had many disasters in the kitchen but as your grow more experienced, you learn certain pitfalls, specific methods, and your success rate grows exponentially. Remember that you are in charge of the ingredients and not the other way around.
One Christmas, about 6 years ago, my Mum bought me a cookbook, simply entitled Chocolate. I remember baking several disastrous recipes over the course of the Christmas Holiday, including a Dobos Torte (which was a clear case of running before I could walk) that resembled a stack of malformed pancakes. I did, however, bake an Almond and Hazelnut gateau that was successful if not pretty. It was my first truly delicious cake and I haven't stopped baking since.
That Chocolate Book was long filed away as it became replaced by Delia Smith, Nigella Lawson, Tamasin Day-Lewis, Elisabeth Luard et al. But, whilst searching for a Andy Warhol book the other day, I stumbled across the Chocolate book once more and fell upon it, lavishing it's dusty pages with kisses. It was like being given a brand new book.
I spent hours salivating over the 250+ pages of chocolate cakes, mousses, gateaux, cheesecakes, crepes and souffles, all of which seemed perfectly cookable. Recipes that, five years ago, seemed gruelling, now seemed achievable. I allude this to my time spent with the Daring Bakers, time which has boosted my confidence and skills immeasurably.
Whilst I bookmarked every page in my new find, there was one cake that I had always wanted to make, long before I had even received this cookbook. The memory of this cake lurks in my mind from the days when I would return home from school, hug our Labrador Monte around the neck, and then sit down to watch an Australian soap opera called Sons and Daughters. Notable, as most soap operas from the early 1980s were, for having wobbling scenery and badly written scripts, this was compulsive viewing back in those grey days of television. What I remember most of all was that when the characters in the soap would sit down for tea and a chat, they would always eat a gooey, chocolately, coconutty cake called a Lamington. And no matter how much I pleaded with my Mum to bake some for me, she always refused, citing grounds of getting her fingers icky. And I can see her point.
The Lamington is another one of those legendary foods, the origin of which is strongly disputed depending on who you talk to. Some say that a fortuitous but clumsy accident involving the 2nd Baron Lamington dropping a cake into a terrine of gravy and then into dessicated coconut inspired this cake, others say that it was named after the aforementioned Baron for his taste in headware, the cake resembling this favourite titfer. A slightly more believable story comes once again from the kitchen of Baron Lamington, a thrifty cook utilising stale cake by rolling it in chocolate icing and then in coconut to disguise the dry gateaux. It was hailed a success and history was supposedly made that day. The Baron himself though didn't like the cake or the honor of having them named after him, and referred to them as "Those bloody poofy woolly biscuits."
More fool him because these delightful squares of goodness deservedly take their place in the International Cake Hall of Fame. And you don't have to use stale cake these days either. Some recipes call for a chocolate sponge (as mine does) but it is traditionally made with a butter cake, so if you have a favourite plain sponge that you would prefer to use, then please do.
This version of the Lamington is slightly different. It is baked in a loaf tin, iced and coconutted, before having a wedge cut from the top of the cake which is piped full of whipped cream. The wedge is then restored and more cream is piped around the edges. It is a delightfully dense cake, just like my grandmother used to bake (and still does actually!) that is complimented wonderfully by the coconut. If you omit the whipped cream element, the cake lasts for several days. In fact, you could replace the whipped cream with butter cream if you wanted to go really over the top (and with chocolate cream, icing and coconut already, why not?). And if this isn't enough to tempt you, the cake is incredibly quick and simple to make too!
So, if you want to make this yummy Chocolate Lamington Loaf Cake, here's how:
CHOCOLATE LAMINGTON LOAF CAKE:
(taken from Chocolate)
3 Eggs, lightly beaten
150g Self-Raising Flour or 150g Plain Flour sieved with 1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
2 Tablespoons Cocoa Powder (good quality, I used Green and Blacks)
125g Icing Sugar
50g Dark Chocolate (or a mixture of milk and dark, as I used), broken into pieces
1 Teaspoon Butter
5 Tablespoons Milk
8 Tablespoons Shredded Coconut
100ml Whipped Cream or Buttercream (optional)
Grease and flour a 1Lb Loaf Tin. Preheat oven to 180c.
Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. I used a handheld electric whisk for this.
Gradually beat in the eggs until completely combined.
Sift together the cocoa powder and flour, then fold into the butter/sugar/egg batter.
Pour into your loaf tin and bake for about 40 minutes until springy to the touch. The top may rise and crack slightly, this doesn't matter as you will cutting this wedge out anyway.
Once baked, remove from the oven, leave to cool for five minutes then carefully turn out onto a cooling rack. Leave to cool completely.
To make the icing, melt together the butter, chocolate and milk over very low heat (the recipe recommends a double boiler but providing you keep the heat very low and keep whisking, it won't burn or split). Sift in the icing sugar and whisk rapidly until the icing sugar has dissolved and the icing is smooth.
Leave to cool until thick enough to spread. Note: It won't be thick like buttercream, more like the texture of thick cream. It really is used just as an adhesive for the coconut.
This is the messy but fun part. Cover the cake in the icing. I found it best to stand the cake on the rack over some kitchen paper and pour the icing over the top, allowing it to spill down the sides. Then, using a palette knife, spread over any dry spots of cake. Sprinkle all over with dessicated coconut. You will need to apply the coconut to the sides of the cake with your hands. Make sure to use up all the coconut.
Leave in a cool place to set, preferably overnight (I fridged mine).
When cool, the cake will be no longer sticky and is fine to handle. Cut a thin wedge, running from one end of the cake to the other (lengthwise), set to one side and pipe some whorls of whipped cream into the cakey crevice. Replace the wedge and pipe more curls of cream along each side of the wedge.
Serve in big chunks with cups of tea.