Was the first lamington you tried from a supermarket? Did it have a dry sponge and a questionable cream filling? You’re not alone. Pastry Chef Eddie Stewart set out to change that very experience with his venture Tokyo Lamington, which recently opened the doors to a new store in Newtown, Sydney.
The idea for the concept was born in Japan when Stewart was running N2 Brunch Club. “We started selling lamingtons there and they became quite popular, so we decided to create a sub brand: Tokyo Lamington,” says Stewart.
“We were about to open in March last year, but then COVID-19 hit, so we had to abandon plans and come back to Australia.”
Stewart describes the lamington as the “quintessential Aussie cake that everyone knows, but not loves”. It was a challenge he was willing to take on, with the foundational elements providing myriad opportunities to mess with the classic.
“It’s the perfect vehicle for us to be creative with,” he says. “The only boundaries are that it has to have two bits of sponge cake, cream in the middle and it has to be dipped in coconut or something dried out. It has to have that basic lamington structure.”
The Tokyo Lamington team took the time needed to master the sponge, which is anything but dry. “It’s a cross between a butter and a chiffon cake; it’s soft and buttery yet light and fluffy,” says Stewart. “It took a couple of months to get it perfect.”
The team are working with a local cream supplier and using chocolate from Callebaut and South Pacific Cacao. Quality ingredients have made all the difference to the sponge-centric sweet, and Stewart says some customers have had a total turnaround on their lamington stance.
“A lot of people say they don’t like lamingtons, but they try ours and they like them,” he says. “We’re serving lamingtons the way they should be: moist and tasty; not with cheap chocolate, jam and cream.”
Tokyo Lamington prices their range at $7, except for yuzu meringue, which is $9. “We’ve had a couple of customers complain about prices, but that’s what it costs us to make,” says Stewart.
“It’s a handmade product; its not machine-made. 98 per cent are happy with the price and they think it’s good value. The thick layer of cream in the middle sets us apart.”
Tokyo Lamington originally launched as a pop-up in Haymarket in 2020, with Thai milk tea and yuzu proving to be the most popular flavours. Yuzu is also a top seller at Newtown, but the OG (raspberry jam, vanilla cream, chocolate and coconut) is the heaviest hitter.
The evolving range also features Neapolitan, vegan carrot cake, fairy bread and pandan, with Stewart veering off to take a more nostalgic route for some future flavours.
“A lot of people are bringing back the classics and reinventing the wheel,” he says. “I’m going through a phase at the moment where it’s more nostalgia like caramel slice and Iced VoVo.
“We have blueberry cheesecake, which is a cheesecake my family would make and has a memory attached to it. We’re also doing a black forest (but it has to be done traditionally) and vegan peanut butter and jelly, which was voted by our customers. Watermelon cake was behind it.”
While the famed watermelon cake from Stewart’s Black Star Pastry days isn’t going to be appearing in lamington form just yet, there’s another innovation: a lamington latte.
“We get local milk and macerate leftover OG lamingtons overnight, which is a rarity because we sell out nearly every day,” says Stewart. “We blend it up, strain it and stretch it on the machine and serve with a shot of Single O coffee. We’re taking lamingtons to the next level.”
Over at the newly opened Good Ways Deli in Sydney’s Redfern, Co-Owner Jordan McKenzie and Baker Greer Rochford are sticking with tradition, for the most part. “Doing the classics well gives you more longevity as a business model, but I just like all those things from the old days,” says McKenzie.
The venue is focusing on a limited selection of baked goods including lamingtons, which are currently stuffed with cream and rhubarb jam. Rochford is using a recipe from The Australian Women’s Weekly’s Cake and Slices Cookbook, a cornerstone in local baking vernacular.
“I’ve only changed the recipe slightly because of upscaling, but we are using a rhubarb jam, which is sour in a nice way,” says Rochford. “It balances the chocolate and the sponge so it’s not completely traditional; I remember my grandma used strawberry jam from a jar.”
Rhubarb is currently in rotation, but there are plans to switch up the jam according
to seasonality. Lamington fans can expect a Davidson plum run soon with fruit sourced from native produce supplier Indigiearth.
“The Davidson plum version was the main idea for the lamington, but they’re hard to get this time of year [June], so we’re waiting on when Sharon [Winsor, Founder of Indigiearth and Ngemba Weilwan woman] can get them,” says McKenzie.
The team are mindful of the mantra ‘fresh is best’, and bake the sponge on a daily basis. It’s made with Wisemans eggs, resulting in a sponge with a yellow hue from the yolks. “It’s nice for customers to come in and see us making lamingtons in the morning in front of them,” says Rochford.
Nailing a classic all boils down to the simpler elements such as keeping an eye on how many products are walking out the door and ensuring each treat is in optimum form.
“It’s a lot to do with execution and making sure everything is fresh coming out of the oven,” says McKenzie. “A product might be great, but it’s great for a limited amount of time, so we’re making sure the quantities are right for how fast we’re moving.”
Gelato, as we now know it, is said to have been created by Florentine Bernardo Buontalenti in the 16th century. The architect, engineer and sculptor was charged with organising a banquet for the Medici family and made a dessert; a sorbet with ice, salt, lemon, sugar, egg, honey, milk and wine. The cold cream was flavoured with bergamot and orange, and crema Buontalenti is still in circulation today.
Mapo Owner Matteo Pochintesta is also an architect who turned to gelato-making. And while he’s not out to reinvent the wheel, in many ways, it’s exactly what he’s doing. Instead of relying on frozen products and packing gelato with everything under the sun, Mapo’s products showcase seasonality and are an example of less is more.
Pochintesta learned the craft of gelato in Milan alongside Stefano Guizzetti at Ciacco. “He’s a food technologist and is across the science of gelato and food in general,” says Pochintesta. “His way of making gelato is different from the usual way; all the ice creams have a different recipe and there’s no common base. Individual recipes make the process slower, but you can guarantee a more consistent result and texture for all the flavours.”
Mapo opened in Sydney’s Newtown in 2019, with another outlet launching in Bondi this year. Pochintesta takes a tailored approach to each flavourway, which he says is now commonplace in Italy. However, there was a time where tradition veered off course in the gelato mecca.
“In the 90s, there was a uniform base and then the flavour was added,” he says. “But in Italy, there’s been a change towards making gelato like before with less flavours and focusing on the ingredients again. If you use a lot of ingredients, they’re probably not the best quality. When you have good-quality ingredients, you want to use them as much as possible and highlight the flavours.”
Some local gelato concepts are still making gelato en masse: “it’s a bit like how it was in Italy before the change,” says Pochintesta, but the wheels have started to turn. “I see the change in Melbourne with stores like Piccolina with less ingredients,” he says. “It’s all about simple ingredients and making them shine. I see the world of food going towards that.”
Seasonality is king in restaurants, but the concept is often not extended to sweeter counterparts. Mapo only uses produce when it’s in its prime to make gelato and the results speak for themselves.
“You really notice the difference between a nectarine sorbet in summertime compared to [a product made with] frozen nectarine,” says Pochintesta. “You wait for the fruit to be perfectly ripe and you use less sugar because it’s in the fruit. It’s also cheaper and the products are better; I like slowing down the process.”
Using seasonal produce also means there’s a broader spectrum when it comes to flavour profile, which is a reflection of the reality of using real ingredients versus purées. “The fig sorbet may be sweeter or more tart one week to the next, but it keeps it more interesting,” says Pochintesta.
Mapo makes the majority of their gelatos with a minimum of 60 per cent fruit, resulting in a more textural mouthfeel. “When people eat the fig gelato, it’s like eating a fig in gelato form,” says Pochintesta. “You really feel the texture of the fruit and all the sorbets are different because they’re not [made with] pulp. A nectarine has a different texture to a kiwi or a fig because of the seeds and the impurities.”
Moving with the market also means more scope to launch different flavours rather than supplying a uniform range year-round. “People are intrigued by new flavours and it’s so rewarding to see customers try the gelato,” says Pochintesta. “We’re doing mascarpone with mandarin jam and black truffle and wildflower honey, which is the main winter special. It’s a cold infusion in milk of black truffle and honey.”
Brownies are uniformly treasured and loved among the public and are a key part of Good Ways’ sweet selection. The team are working with a recipe McKenzie initially developed during his time at Smoking Gun Bagels. “We cooked it in the wood-fired oven and it came out really well,” he says.
While Good Ways doesn’t have a wood-fired oven, the brownies have another core difference — the addition of wattle seed from Indigiearth, which lends a toasty element. “Often, you use coffee to bring out the flavour of chocolate and wattle seed has a similar flavour profile, so we’re tweaking the recipe to get the best out of the ingredients,” says McKenzie.
The wattle seeds are roasted before they are blitzed into a fine powder to emulate the consistency of flour. “It’s more for flavour profile because it’s quite an earthy flavour so it balances out the richness and sweetness,” says McKenzie.
Rochford melts butter with Callebaut chocolate before slowly folding into brown sugar and eggs that have been whisked for around 15 minutes “to get them super airy”. The brownies also happen to be gluten-free thanks to the addition of rice flour. “It’s so fine and it can tend to work better than regular flour,” says Rochford. “We don’t use too much flour otherwise they can dry out.”
The brownies are baked for around 35 minutes; a strategic play by Rochford who
prefers a gooey end product. “People tend to overcook them as they set after you bake them, so I always try to do what I think is undercooking them so they stay nice and moist in the middle,” she says. “We want to do these as well as we can and refine them and once we have that down we want to add more sweets into the mix.”