cakes, prose, woes -- the photos, food & thoughts of a french-speaking seattle-native in brazil

In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it. -AB
In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Lovely Little Lamingtons

I have recently finished reading a memoir by an Australian ex patriot struggling to adjust to a new life in Paris. The read turned out to be more than just a journal trailing after the author's personal experiences, it evolved into a psychological deconstruction of the city; delving into the highs and lows encrusted in Paris' centuries old aura. Offered raw and stripped of their guild, the true tones of the city are exposed--the beauty, the flaws, and the secrets. The New York Times best seller Almost French, by journalist Sarah Turnbull, is a preview for life in Paris--a preview both exhilarating and worrisome. Reading of the countless cafes and bistros to visit, the never ending lanes of fresh market stalls and glittering boutiques to roam, and the undiscovered pockets and alleys of the less glamorous and forgotten quartiers to explore has left me with a restlessness that can be appeased only by the long in coming arrival of 14 September. A commentary on what to expect, Sarah's tales have, if anything, made me more certain than ever of my conviction and need to go as well as instilled in me a flutter of new nerves. The city, as she describes it, is a minefield in which every step must be carefully chosen and played so as to abide by the unwrit regles du ville. One such rule is the superficial, yet highly crucial upkeep of appearance.

Early one morning Sarah's boyfriend pleads her to be "fair" to the baker and trade her track suit casuals for slacks and a blouse. Uh huh. Personal upkeep is an omnipresent necessity for Parisians, a necessity that foreigners are expected to adhere to as a proffering of "respect" for the scenery. I admit my secret joy upon reading these words, I agree with the Parisians on the importance of personal upkeep as a sign of respect, for I maintain my life-long aversion to the American trend of wearing sweat suits and the like out of the confines of ones home. There is no less comfort in wearing jeans or trousers to stroll the aisles of a market, or sit through an hour long class lecture than there is in wearing floppy gray sweat bottoms. And I can find no need for one to ever wear runners when one is not running, that is why man created leather. No I will not keep my opinionated insecurities to myself, this is my blog. I say Parisian for the city exists in a world of its own; an island floating landlocked and impervious to the vast difference that is the rest of the country. To a Parisian, there are the French, and then there are the Parisians. Regardless of my own style convictions which, I admit, pale and fade in their conservative tones and cuts to the sleek and haughty cotour of the native Parisians, I find style as a rule superficial and insensitive to individuality and personal choice. But who am I to question another culture's inner workings--as the saying goes, if you don't like it, leave. So put some pants on.

Overall Sarah's insights appear helpful; warnings of the difficulties of foreign acceptance, the language barrier (ah oui, I suppose there is a difference between my textbook French and the vrai langue francais), the laundry list of people and places to visit, and the warning of falling madly in love with the entire package: the streets, dogs, people, smells, sounds, and feel.

As a dedication to Sarah, and an admittedly strange gesture of appreciation for my overall liking of the book, I decided to bake a treat that has been on my to-bake list for weeks: Australian Lamington cakes in tribute to the author's homeland. How thoughtful I am, I know.

Lamingtons are defined as any variety of cake--sponge, pound, or butter--cut into cubes, dipped in a chocolate icing, and then rolled in coconut. Traditionally they are served with a creme fraiche or jam sauce, or just plain. The equivalent to French croissant and American muffin, Lamingtons are statically found in coffee shops and bakeries throughout the nation. The confection is often the crux of tea receptions following naturalization and citizenship ceremonies. I henceforth dub said confection the patriotic kiwi cube, as Australian as Apple pie is American. Like most dishes that boast a national sentiment, the Lamington is wrought with an Urban legend as convoluted as any. Word has it that the cake derives its name from Charles Cochrane Baillie, the Second Baron Lamington of Queensland. Mind you the second. How the cake came to his honor is under wide dispute, one account attributes the incident to a government dinner party when Lord Lamington accidentally plopped a piece of cake in a gravy pot, ill mannered as he was, the Lord proceeded to chuck the gravy soaked cube over his shoulder whence it landed in a tin of coconut. The gravy was later replaced by a chocolate icing. Another account attributes the cakes creation to a savvy manor chef, who, overwhelmed by an abundance of stale plain cakes, invented the recipe to make the cake palatable. Still another merely draws the connection to a similarity in appearance with the Lord's favorite style of hat. Nevertheless, what is unanimously agreed upon is the Lamington's disapproval of his namesake pastry, he is remembered for having referred to them as "bloody poofy woolly buiscuits." Mine certainly are quite woolly.

To begin, I awoke early and proceeded with a gluten free batch, and a normal batch. Surprisingly--and undoubtedly for the first time--the gluten free batch surpassed the wheat flour with high marks. The former was an adaption of the recipe by the Kiwi food blogger, Bron Marshall. The later was an anonymous recipe from an evidently non Australian chef, as it broke into crumbly pieces upon its acquaintance with the chocolate icing. The coconut to be used is actually dessicated coconut, which to my naivety is different from shredded coconut. It worked non the less, an added sweetness. Although mincing the shredded coconut would have aided the appearance--less woolly. Bron's recipe was definitely a sponge, as it called predominately for eggs and no butter. The result was a dense, yet airy sponge that yielded few crumbs and held tightly to fork and absorbed the perfect amount of icing. The other, well lets just say I have created a new recipe--Lamington puddding. A clear sign of gluten free superiority.

Gluten Free Lamingtons:

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup gluten free baking mix (I used Pamela's Kitchen)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
Beat eggs (whole eggs, not just whites) in electric mixer 6-8 minutes, until creamy. Add sugar until incorporated. Sift flour and bp in separate bowl, and gently fold into egg and sugar mix. Pour into greased and floured square or rectangle baking tin. Bake in a preheated 350 degree over for 20 minutes, or until done (tooth pick tested) cool completely on rack, and then cut into cubes.

Chocolate icing
  • 1/3 cup cocoa
  • 4 cups confectioners sugar
  • 3 tbsps butter
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • coconut
Melt butter in small sauce pan, add milk. In another bowl sift sugar and cocoa, add butter and milk mixture. Using a fork, skewer the sponge cubes and submerge in icing until coated. Let drip the excess, then roll in coconut. Let dry on wax paper.

The wheat flour batch, though a complete disaster, did not go uneaten. After polluting my remaining icing with bits of the crumbling cake, I decided to throw the massing pieces back into the square baking pan of their birth. Already gritty mass that resembled turkey stuffing, I smashed them down bread pudding style, and to moisten mixed milk, melted butter, vanilla, and powdered sugar and proceeded to soak. The remaining chocolate icing was then spread thickly on top, and layered with coconut. Refrigerate overnight, pop in the oven the next morning, and voila! You have lovely Lamington pudding for breakfast. Never waste, and never make it look like an accident.

A recipe in honor of an author's homeland--hey whatever inspires. Lamingtons are delightfully simple, and are sure to impress a crowd. Whether or not Sarah's account will hold true of Paris--we shall see. The journalist's experience will be played against the students. Either way await my departure. As of now Sarah and I undoubtedly share a common link, as she states: "On the stress-factor scale, encounters with the French bureaucracy send the needle soaring into the red. Living legally in France requires a breathtaking amount of paperwork, and getting it all in order requires inhuman reserves of patience, not to mention a second life of spare time." Preach it sister, preach it. I need another Lamington, but with milk or merlot is the question.

A bientôt


B@ said...

Etonnants ces petits gâteaux australiens ! Et très jolis aussi !

Mais surtout Mallory, il faut cesser de lire ces drôles de livres sur les français (ou sur les parisiens). En ce qui nous concerne, il n'y a qu'une seule chose à savoir, ou plutôt non il y en a deux :
- nous sommes tous différents : tu trouveras ici et là le pire comme le meilleur (et je te souhaite le meilleur)
- nous pratiquons une forme d'humour que les étrangers mettent beaucoup, beaucoup, beaucoup de temps à comprendre (ou même à assimiler à de l'humour) : l'art de la vanne ! la "vanne" se situe à mi-chemin entre l'ironie et l'insulte, mais ce n'est pas la même chose qu'un sarcasme. La vanne doit être passablement drôle (ou au moins amusante), mettre en avant un défaut, obliger l'adversaire soit à se taire, soit à faire de l'esprit (ou de la provocation). J'espère que tu comprendras vite ce qu'est une vanne, ainsi tu pourras facilement te faire passer pour une "vraie petite parisienne" !

Le reste n'existe pas : non nous ne passons pas des heures à la terrasse des cafés (ça c'est l'activité favorite des touristes, qui sont les seules à commander des cuisses de grenouilles au restaurant - beurk !), non nous ne passons pas deux heures trente à déjeuner (sinon comment survivraient tous les points de vente à emporter - take away services je crois en anglais), non nous ne portons pas de bérets, nous ne nous habillons pas en Chanel pour aller au marché, nous ne sommes pas moins liants que les anglais ou les allemands, et nous pouvons survivre sans avoir une baguette de pain à portée de main ... etc.

Le plus simple, et le plus facile pour bien comprendre ce qu'est un français, ce serait, à la limite, de ne pas te poser la question, et surtout de ne jamais, jamais la poser à un français. Tu vas sûrement rencontrer des personnes (des français en l'occurence) qui voudront paraître malins et qui te diront "les français sont comme ceci ou comme cela", "les parisiens sont comme ceci ou comme cela", "les marseillais disent toujours ceci ou font toujours cela" ... mais qu'est-ce qu'ils en savent ?
Peut-on dire que tous les Etats-Uniens mâchent tous des chewing-gums, boivent tous du cherry coke, ne se nourrissent que de T-bones steaks, ne sortent jamais sans leur arme et roulent tous dans des 4*4 ? Et bien c'est pareil pour nous : tous différents je te le répète !

Allez, courage pour le 14 septembre !


Mallory Elise said...

Oh oh merci de noter sur mon blog, et j'apprecie ton avis, merci! je comprends que tu as dit, les stereotypes sont tous les temps mal, et ce livre, apres je l'ai fini j'ai lu que l'auteur l'a ecrit depuis 1998-2002. alors merci, et je pense que je suis seulement un peu nerveuse et ca c'est pourquoi je fixe mes yeux sur quelque chose francais! je sais que quand j'arriverai a Paris personne devra manger un baguette et porter des stilettos et Chanel, c'est tout dans ma tete.

et que tu as dit: " sortent jamais sans leur arme et roulent tous dans des 4*4 ?" HAHAAHA! je l'aime beaucoup. merci merci et desole pour mon francais, ce n'est pas trop fort maintenant.

-mallory ^_^

Anonymous said...

Mallory, you seem a little confused - Kiwi means New Zealander, quite a separate country from Australia. yep, own government, currency and everything. lamingtons are made in both countries (tho both choc and pink ones are common in nz), but beware mismatching your monikers!! we are a bit sensitive about these things!