Recently I flew via Honolulu to Auckland, New Zealand, where I spent a week researching the life of Kiwi author Janet Frame. In my downtime, I also did some research into another of my passions: desserts. Specifically, I wanted to find out about local desserts that I might try to make back home.
Even before I boarded my flight to Auckland, I heard from locals about something called a "Lamington." I loved the formality of the name, which inspired images in my head of colonial armies marching in neat rows, with bagpipes in the background. In fact, the Lamington is a typical homemade dessert that parents would make for and with their kids, but which, I unluckily, could only find at the supermarket.
The version you see here, which I bought at Countdown, a New Zealand chain of grocery super stores, consists of cubes of sponge cake coated in either a berry or chocolate glaze and then sprinkled with coconut. The cakes are sometimes split in half and filled with cream or jam.
The dessert, which combines European and tropical influences, intrigued me, but I'm sorry to report that these were a bit dry, and I wasn't a fan of the coconut either.
Another New Zealand/Australian dessert classic (and there's a debate raging over which country is responsible for its origin) is the Pavlova, which is basically a large meringue circle filled with whipped cream and topped with berries. While browsing through some cookbooks at a bookstore, I found a few devoted entirely to this subject. Pavlovas streaked with lemon curd. Pavlovas flavored with chocolate, or coffee, or pistachios. I didn't get to actually try one, but you can find a recipe for them via the Barefoot Contessa.
However, the dessert that really got me excited was something called, simply, "Slice."
"Slice" is a kind of softer shortbread crust that gets topped with a filling, and then another piece of shortbread, and then is finally coated with a thin layer of icing to match the filling. (Though sometimes they are only one layer, without the filling.) You can find them all over New Zealand, north, south, in bakeries, cafes, supermarkets, and in a variety of flavors. Of course, if you know me, you'll know my favorite was lemon, but they also had caramel, apple, chocolate chip, berry, coffee, even Mars Bar. Again, having done no research on the subject, my sense is that the name comes from the fact that you slice this large piece of shortbread into tiny bars, like brownies, in order to serve.
Whatever the reason for its name, I intend to experiment at home to see if I can come up with my own version. Here's a recipe I found at allrecipes.com.au by Samantha King, which I've tried to convert to an American version:
1 package shortbread cookies, like Walkers
1 cup dried coconut
1/2 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1. Crush the cookies until they are very fine, either with a roling pin or in the food processor.
2. Grate the rind of one lemon, and juice both of them (set aside half the juice).
3. Heat the condensed milk in a saucepan. When warm, add lemon juice, rind and coconut. The milk will curdle but thats ok.
4. Add the warm mixture to the crushed biscuits and mix through until it is well coated.
5. Pour biscuit mix into an 8 x 8 or 9 x 9 pan - the size depends on how thick you want the base.
6. Refrigerate for 40 minutes.
7. Meanwhile, make icing with the confectioner's sugar and the other half of the lemon juice.
8. Spread the icing over the top of the slice, and refrigerate for a further twenty minutes to allow the icing to set.