That sounds fancy! I don’t think I have ever had Baked Alaska. I’m not even sure if I’ve ever seen it served. This was intriguing to me. I of course had a lot of questions. Was this something I could do? Does it require a certain level of pastry skills? What’s in a Baked Alaska? Is it fish? That seems kind of Alaska-y. Did I have enough time? The right equipment? The right pedigree?
It turns out that Baked Alaska is simply ice cream encased in some sort of hot casing like meringue or pastry. The casing you use shields the ice cream from the heat allowing you to cook it at high temperature for a brief amount of time without melting the inside. The result is a warm/cold combination that brings joy to your palette. This type of cooking has been around for a long time and in fact, Thomas Jefferson even served a form of it (ice cream in pastry) at his state dinners in the early 1800’s (you know, back when we had a republic). The classic Baked Alaska is attributed to the famous steakhouse in New York City, Delmonico’s in 1867. They served a version of the dessert that was made with ice cream on a sponge cake and surrounded by meringue and then torched in a hot oven. They named it Baked Alaska in tribute to the newly acquired Alaskan territory purchased from Russia that same year. The ice cream was considered the “Alaska” because it was like a glacier. It’s actually still featured on the restaurant’s menu today, as well as on other menus throughout the world. (Info from Foodreference.com)
When I told Lola that today was Baked Alaska Day, she was excited. It was something she has been craving for a long time. Apparently when she was younger her friend Jill’s sister had served Baked Alaska to them and it has been on her mind ever since. She just loved the thought of a fun looking dessert that came out and was set on fire. She’s tried to find it ever since to no avail. Those were big shoes for me to fill. First off, from what I can tell if you set it on fire, you actually have a Bombe Alaska, not baked. To achieve that, you would have to pour some alcohol over the top so it would light on fire. I was a little skeptical about recreating that at home, not just for the fire hazard, but also because the addition of alcohol would create a different taste. I’d stick to baking mine. There’s always the option of taking a torch to it too however that’s one kitchen tool I have never acquired. Probably safer that way – I can see myself trying to use a torch for everything: toast, grilled cheese, revenge.
I got an early jump on things today because I knew that the dessert would need to set up in the freezer for some time before cooking. I looked for recipes for mini baked Alaskas because I didn’t want to create a giant dessert for just the two of us, plus space in our freezer is tight, so I had to stay vigilant of that. I found one which seemed good from a blog called Marisa’s Italian Kitchen. She used chocolate cookies as the base for her dessert and I liked that. I really didn’t feel like baking a whole cake just to use a little bit for this dessert. More importantly, she gave me the recipe for meringue and also the directions for making mini versions. I headed to Clements Market and picked up some eggs and also some Double Chocolate Dream cookies. These are from the bakery there (they call them Kirsten’s Cookies) and if you are looking for good fresh cookies, check them out. They are usually packed six to a bag (the salted caramel chocolate chip versions are excellent too). Then I went home and started to piece my recipe together.
I had vanilla ice cream, so I scooped some and formed them into balls and placed a ball atop each cookie. I decided to make three, one for each of us and one as a back up. I put them on a jelly roll pan and then placed them in the freezer to harden up a little. About 45 minutes later, I made the meringue which wasn’t that hard. I used three egg whites, cream of tartar, some lemon juice and a cup of sugar. I beat them with my hand mixer until they started turning frothy and white, adding in sugar as I went. Eventually I had achieved stiff peaks which is what you are always looking for in a meringue (Stiff Peaks will also be my porno name if I ever go back into that business). I took the meringue and completely covered the cookie and ice cream stacks, using the meringue liberally. When I got everything covered, I went back and tried to create some peaks in the meringue with the back of my spoon for decorative purposes. I then put them back into the freezer for the next seven hours.
When it was time for dessert, I took them directly from the freezer and put them into a 400 degree oven for about ten minutes. Our freezer can be temperamental. Sometimes it makes things too cold – our ice cream will be as solid as marble. Other times, it doesn’t seem to get everything as cold as you need it. Maybe that’s some kind of Murphy’s Law. I have a thermometer inside that I monitor pretty frequently and it was hovering around 10 degrees today, but I don’t think it froze the Baked Alaskas as well as it should have. I say this because when I pulled them out of the oven, there was some melting that I don’t think was supposed to happen. Maybe I didn’t cover the outside enough with the meringue, but two of the three had a definite slouch giving them a sorting hat look as they sat on the tray. However, the meringue had browned in spots as it should have, so they really didn’t look too bad. I carefully used a spatula to take them off the tray and served them in bowls.
They meringue gets firm (like a meringue cookie) so when you put your spoon to it, you can tap it to make a little sound. That was a unique texture. When you scoop through, the ice cream is somewhat soft, although not overly melty, and the cookie is warmed. It’s an incredibly good combination. The crunch and sweetness of the meringue, the cool vanilla ice cream and the chocolatey cake-like cookie base. Really, really fantastic. I loved how the meringue would stay in chunks so you got this fantastic airy, crispy bites mixed in to your milky, sweet ice cream. Wow, I’ll have to make that again. Lola was also equally impressed. I don’t think I recreated exactly what she was looking for, but I gave her something sweet that she really enjoyed (that sounds like something Stiff Peaks would say).
Baked Alaska – nailed it! Ok, not exactly, but I now understand it. I think I could pull of a large version now too if ever the occasion arises. I get the concept. I just have to give it more time in the freezer. I understand now why people rave about this dessert. It’s impressive looking at the very least which is always an important element to a memorable dessert. This was one that deserves celebration and I’m glad I was able to do so. I could see why Thomas Jefferson was a fan. Maybe I’ll invite him over for the next one. I hear he has done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice. Cheers!
Next Up: National Heavenly Hash Day