A plate of lamingtons at a work morning tea has been the catalyst for a great debate among my colleagues: should lamingtons have jam in the middle or not? My answer is an unequivocal no!
First, some background. A proper, home-made lamington is a true delight: a cube of light, airy butter or sponge cake, dipped in chocolate icing and rolled in desiccated coconut. Lamingtons are one of my favourite cakes and there is nothing more delightful for morning tea when made properly. Get it wrong, though - the cake is too dry and crumbly, or the icing is not the right consistency - and there's nothing worse.
There's no clear indication of when or how lamingtons were first baked, with many weird and wonderful anecdotes on the internet. Some stories say that a cook improvised when discovering that the sponge cake to be served up for afternoon tea had gone stale and the chocolate icing and coconut was used to disguise this and make it more palatable. It is thought that the cakes were named after Charles Cochrane-Baillie, 2nd Baron Lamington, who served as Governor of Queensland from 1896 to 1901.
However they came into being, lamingtons have become a recognisably Australian cake - indeed, in 2006 the National Trust of Queensland named the lamington as one of Queensland's 12 favourite icons. When I was growing up, lamington drives were very popular as fund-raisers for schools and the football and netball clubs. I think this is where some people developed a preference for jam-filled lamingtons, as these lamingtons were flatter and drier than home-made ones and the strawberry jam helped to moisten and flavour the cakes.
The classic Australian cookbooks all agree that lamingtons do not have jam or whipped cream in the middle. The Presbyterian Women's Missionary Union (PMWU) cookbook (first published in 1904), Cookery: the Australian Way (the standard home economics textbook for secondary school students, first published in 1966) and Stephanie Alexander's The Cook's Companion all feature similar recipes for butter cake and chocolate icing, although Stephanie prefers a Genoese sponge cake to butter cake.
It is easy to get lamingtons wrong. The cubes should not be too big, nor too small (too many bakeries sell gigantic lamingtons that are disappointingly dry and tasteless). The cake should be moist and not dry or crumbly. The cubes are much easier to cut and ice if you make the cake the day before and leave it in the fridge overnight. I like the contrast of the butter cake with sweet chocolate icing and the coconut. To me, a filling of jam or whipped cream makes the cake too sweet and detracts from the lamington's pure simplicity. Those who prefer otherwise say that the jam adds a sweetness and texture to what is an otherwise bland cake.
Let me know what you think - jam or no jam?