These Lamingtons or Ystervarkies have a delicious soft vanilla sponge covered in chocolate icing and dipped into desiccated coconut.
The Aussies love them so much they have National Lamington Day which is celebrated on the 21st of July. I’ve marked my calendar, have you?
Having learned that the Lamington is an Aussie treat came as a bit of a surprise for me. Why you may ask? Well, they are kind of everywhere. Many bakeries sell Lamingtons, I’ve even seen them in supermarkets. Plus…we also call them Ystervarkies which is Afrikaans for little porcupines.
I was certain I had come across the recipes in my childhood – low and behold two of my recipe books, namely the Kei Road Women’s Association Centenary Recipe Book and the 1978 version of Cook and Enjoy It, South African Cookery Manuel (de Villiers) had versions of this little snack cake.
The History Behind the Lamington
It is said that Lamingtons were named after none other than Lord Lamington himself. He served as Governor of Queensland from 1896 to 1901.
There are a few stories about how the Lamington was invented, my favorite being the accident. And this is how I imagine it went down.
"We are standing in the Lord’s vast kitchen. The heat from the kitchen is almost palpable. The camera pans left to show copper pans, a beautifully arranged roast, and the hustle and bustle of the kitchen. It stops and zooms in on the cook, Armand Galland, carefully yet confidently cutting the vanilla sponge he baked into squares. With a sigh, he wipes his brow. He picks up the sponge, eyes it out deciding what to do next. Then oopsie daisy, he drops it into the chocolate that just happens to be on the counter.
The camera pans up to this face, his eyebrows raised in surprise. He spies some coconut, looks into the camera, and winks. He tosses the accidentally covered sponge in the coconut. He smirks with a head nod. Scene over."
The most likely story is that Galland needed to feed some unexpected guests. He had some leftover vanilla sponge, dipped it in chocolate rolled them in coconut, and wowed the guests. This version of events was even put into Lady Lamington’s memoir.
Of this I imagine her sitting at her small writing desk, pen in hand, gazing out over the majestic gardens before she wrote about the previous day’s events.
What you need for this recipe
This recipe uses 23cm x 23cm square cake tins and the following ingredients:
Butter always makes it better. But a baking margarine or vegan alternative should do just fine.
White sugar can be substituted with caster sugar.
Flour – plain old standard grade/all-purpose flour is all you need here.
Whole/standard milk can be substituted with lower-fat alternatives.
Baking powder for lift.
Salt and Vanilla Extract - the backbone of flavors in many baked goods.
Eggs bind the cake together.
Icing sugar, cocoa powder, boiling water, and a touch of butter make the thin icing that cakes are dipped into.
Desiccated coconut enrobes these small cakes. This is a finely shredded or flaked dried coconut that is usually not sweetened. And may also be known as unsweetened desiccated or macaroon coconut.
Making the Ystervarkies aka Lamingtons
Step 1 - Bring all your ingredients to room temperature, prepare your cake tin by lining and greasing, and preheat your oven to 160°C fan-forced, or 180°C without a fan.
Step 2 - for the sponge, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and beat until really well combined, light and fluffy. Really take your time to cream everything together.
Step 3 - Add half of the flour mixture and half of the milk mixture to the butter mixture. Mix until just combined. Add the rest of the flour and milk, and mix until just combined. If using a stand mixer, scrape down the sides of the bowl and fold the mixture to ensure everything is mixed in. Place the vanilla sponge batter into the cake tin and bake for 30-35 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool in the tin for 10 to 15 minutes before placing it on a wire cooling rack to cool completely. Once the cake has cooled, place it in the fridge or freezer for 20 to 30 minutes.
Step 4 - Make the icing by whisking together the boiling water, icing sugar, cocoa powder, and butter until smooth. Cut the cake into 16 squares or fingers.
Step 5 - Using two forks, dip the cake into the icing sugar making sure to cover all sides of the cake. Lift out the icing and let the excess run off before covering the iced cake square into coconut. Set on a wire rack (which is placed on top of a chopping board, cookie sheet, or parchment paper for easy cleaning. Allow the cakes and the icing to set before serving.
Pro Tips for this Recipe
Allow all your ingredients to come to room temperature. This allows the ingredients to combine and get to know each other a little easier. If it's a bit cold, zap the butter in the microwave in 10-second bursts. For cold milk do the same. Cold eggs can be placed in warm water for 10 to 15 minutes.
Weighing & Measuring Ingredients
Weighing ingredients with a kitchen scale is more accurate than using measuring cups. All my recipes are developed and tested using grams only.
However, I have activated the metric-to-cup conversions. Simply click on "cups" or "metric" for your preferred measurements. For these conversions, cups are equal to 240 millilitres/8 fluid ounces, tablespoons are 15 milliliters and teaspoons are 5mL.
The temperatures stated are for conventional ovens. For convection, fan-forced, fan-assisted, or air-fryers, the temperature must be reduced by 20°C/25°F.
For baking, make sure the oven is fully preheated, and that the rack is in the middle of the oven. Open the oven as little as possible. For best baking results use an oven thermometer.
Remember that all ovens work slightly differently and bake times may need to be adjusted for your specific oven.
Cake rotations may be required for an even bake, especially if your oven runs hot in a particular corner.
Cold cakes for icing are a must! By this I mean the sponge for the Lamingtons should be a fridge or freezer cold before dipping them into the icing sugar.
Baking ahead of time? Cakes can be baked, allowed to cool completely and then wrapped in cling-film/plastic wrap before placing in the fridge for a day or two or freezer for use later.
When icing the cakes, set up a small station. The icing bowl, a plate with the coconut, and a wire rack which is placed on top of a chopping board or parchment paper for easy cleaning.
Lamingtons / Ystervarkies FAQ
Lamingtons originated in Australia, but are a popular treat here in New Zealand, as well as South Africa.
Lamingtons are vanilla cakes that are dipped into chocolate icing and covered with coconut, while Anzac is biscuits (cookies) that are made with golden syrup, oats, and coconut.
Lamingtons, without icing sugar, can be wrapped in cling film and stored in an airtight container for up to 3 months.
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- 9x9 Inch (23x23cm) Square Cake Pan
- 125 grams butter (softened)
- 220 grams white granulated sugar (caster/granulated)
- 2 eggs (large)
- 225 grams plain flour (all-purpose/standard grade)
- 3 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon table salt
- 250 ml milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 500 grams icing sugar (sifted or whisked through to break up lumps)
- 30 grams unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch-processed)
- 15 grams butter
- 125 ml boiling water
- 2-3 cups dessicated coconut
- Allow all ingredients to come to room temperature. Approximately 30 minutes.
- Prepare a square (23cm x 23cm) or rectangle (20cm x 30cm) cake tin by greasing and lining with parchment or baking paper.
- Preheat oven to 180°C/355F.
- Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.125 grams butter, 220 grams white granulated sugar
- Add in eggs one at a time and beat until combined.2 eggs
- Combine the flour, salt and baking powder into a bowl and give a mix to distribute the baking powder.225 grams plain flour, 3 teaspoon baking powder, ½ teaspoon table salt
- Combine the vanilla extract with the milk.250 ml milk, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Add in half of the flour mixture, and half of the milk mixture to the butter mixture. Mix until just combined.
- Add the rest of the flour and milk, mix until just combined. If using a stand mixer, scrape down the sides of the bowl and fold the mixture to ensure everything is mixed in.
- Place the vanilla sponge batter into the cake tin and bake for 30-35 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.
- Allow the cake to cool in the tin for 10 to 15 minutes before placing it on a wire cooling rack to cool completely.
- Once the cake has cooled, place it in the fridge or freezer for 20 to 30 minutes.
- Cut the cake into 16 or more squares or fingers.
- Place the sifted icing sugar, cocoa powder into a mixing bowl.500 grams icing sugar, 30 grams unsweetened cocoa powder
- Place the butter into a cup or jug and pour the boiling water over it, allowing the butter to melt. Add in the vanilla extract.15 grams butter
- Pour the boiling water into the icing sugar and mix until well combined. The icing will be runny.125 ml boiling water
- Construction of the Lamington
- Pour out some of the coconut into a plate. Topping up as needed.2-3 cups dessicated coconut
- Lift a piece of cake using two forks and dip into the icing sugar, flipping to cover all sides of the cake.
- Lift the covered piece of cake out of the icing sugar and allow the excess to drip off.
- Using the forks, lower the cake into the coconut and roll to cover all the sides of the cake. Place the covered pieces of cake either onto a plate or back onto the cooling rack to allow excess icing and coconut to drip off.
- Once all the cakes have been covered, place them in the fridge to set for 10 to 15 minutes.
Nutrition information is an estimate. If scaling the recipe remember to scale your cook and bakeware accordingly. All temperatures stated are conventional, unless otherwise stated. Recipes tested in grams and at sea level.