So, we cannot claim lamingtons to be a Croatian invention. But we do have a love affair with čupavci, our own version of this classic Australian dessert.
Čupavci are a favourite sweet at weddings, kids’ birthdays and other festive occasions. For some, Christmas table is not complete without these ‘choco-coco’ bites.
The generation of people who grew up in the 70s can almost turn teary at the sight or mention of čupavci.
And this is where my conundrum begins. A question that I hope you’ll help me answer in the comments below.
How come that of all the places in the world, Australian lamingtons spread only to Croatia? (and neighbouring countries)
OK, we know the Kiwis love their raspberry lamingtons. We also know that in South Africa they are called little porcupines or ystervarkies. In some places across the US, they are coconut bars.
But here? In Croatia? How?
Think about it and tell me later. Now, let’s jump right into the cupavci recipe.
I have the moistest, juiciest recipe for you. The one which is approved by my husband’s inner child. And I tell you, he is one big kid with his fingers always in a cookie jar.
Cupavci recipe in English
dish size: 23 x 27 cm
250 g [2 cup] all-purpose flour
200 g [1 cup] powdered sugar
4 whole eggs
2 tsp baking powder + pinch salt
150 ml [2/3 cup] sunflower or canola oil
150 ml [2/3 cup] milk
200 g [7 oz] dark chocolate
30 g [2 tbsp] sugar
50 g [1/4 cup or 1/2 stick] butter
250 ml [1 cup] milk
250 g [9 oz] desiccated unsweetened coconut
- 1Separate the eggs. Beat egg whites. Add sugar slowly until you get stiff peaks.
- 2Whisk milk and oil into egg yolks to get wet ingredients. Combine dry ingredients: flour, salt and baking powder. Mix with the wet ingredients until you get a smooth mixture. Gradually fold in the meringue.
- 3Grease and flower the cake pan. Bake at 170 C [325 F] about 28-30 minutes.
- 3Let cool completely. Cut into squares 3x3 cm or rectangles 3x4 cm. The smaller the piece more chocolate filling you’ll get. But it will be more finicky to handle. Leave the sponge cubes to dry out while you do the chocolate filling.
- 4Melt milk, chocolate, sugar and butter in a saucepan until everything comes together in a smooth, runny liquid.
- 5Take each piece with 2 forks and dip it in the filling from all sides. Let it sit on a cooling rack for 1-2 min. Work in batches of 4. Dip, let drip, dunk into coconut. This way it will be easiest for the coconut to stick to the filling.
- 6Pop cupavce in the fridge for a few hours. They can last for 3-4 days - if!
What is so special about my recipe?
Short answer: they are super moist. Now the long version.
Let’s revisit the origin of Australian lamingtons. The first mention of ‘Lamington cake’ goes back to 1896 when it honoured Lord Lamington at the namesake function. In 1900 the Queensland Country Life newspaper published a recipe for Lamington Cakes. A Sydney newspaper followed a year later and so the foodie fad was born.
But it was born in haste, and from a pickle (read trouble) that Lord Lamington’s chef found himself in.
Armand Galland had to rustle up a dessert for Lord Lamington’s unexpected guests. So he took some vanilla sponge from the day before, dunked it in chocolate and rolled it in coconut. Of course, everyone loved it.
Now the problem with lamingtons and our own cupavci is the sponge itself.
Even though everyone seems to be crazy for cupavci, the most common complaint is this: they are so dry inside. Which is why lamingtons are so often paired with tea. You gotta wash down that dry sponge with something!
The search for moist cupavci is like the search for a holy grail.
The improved cupavci recipe
Remember the day-old vanilla sponge? The good thing was that the sponge was slightly dry so it could sop up lots of chocolate. The bad thing is that it a sponge.
A sponge uses melted butter, and when it cools down it also dries out.
There is a different breed of cake pastry. It’s called a chiffon cake. A pastry that has a perfect balance of structure and moistness. At least for our cupavci.
A chiffon batter is made with oil, not melted butter. And the airiness is achieved with stiff meringue folded into the base mixture.
Using oil in baking is not news in Croatia. On their long journey to Croatia, Australian lamingtons switched melted butter for oil to become cupavci.
They also lost any variations, such as jam or cream filling. Or the double chocolate version.
Psssst! Sometimes, I make these dark babies for my husband. And though he adores all things chocolate, he prefers the original cupavci.
And so we are back to my original question. How did lamingtons end up here? In Croatia? And when did it happen?
My guess is this. Many Croatian families emigrated to Australia. When travelling by plane became more affordable, people came to visit their motherland. So they brought lamingtons.
This must have happened in the 70s. Because I doubt we had desiccated coconut available in Croatia before that time.
What is your best guess? Or maybe you have facts? Maybe it was you who brought lamingtons to Croatia? 🙂
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Received your dessert book. I really like it. What recipes I have tried we enjoy them, not to sweet. My grandparents came from Croatia, and I remember my grandmother making Croatian dishes and desserts.
Thanks, Antonia. I agree about the level of sweetness. Traditional Croatian desserts are quite balanced in terms of sweetness.
I love your enthusiasm and your dedication in promoting Croatian desserts and…your Cookbook. I not in ‘baking mode’ right now, so have not yet purchased (plus I am a nomad at present) but one day..,I may have to succumb.
Keep it up!
🙂 OK, one day, you’ll tell me all about your baking experience, when you succumb 🙂
Got your dessert book and loving the recipes! Thank you so much. Born in Australia, lived in Croatia for 12 years and now living in Canada for thepast 35 years and never had Cupavci! They will be next on the list!
Thank you, Jelka. I am glad I inspired you to try out cupavci!