Classic Baked Alaska Cooking Forward Part II
This dish is a great example of Cooking Forward, one of my favorite techniques in which a component of last night’s meal gets transformed into something entirely different today (now that’s make ahead!). In this case we’re taking the Espresso Gelato from yesterday’s post and turning it into this classic retro dessert. So go ahead and make some Espresso Gelato and then come back to this post. We’ll wait. (OK if you don’t want to make ice cream you can se store bought and still make this dish).
I first heard of Baked Alaska as a young child. When I asked my mother what it was and she explained it was baked ice cream, I thought that was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard of. Turns out, if your ice cream is frozen hard, it can actually withstand a high oven temperature for longer than you’d think without melting — 5 minutes or more, plenty of time to brown the meringue topping. I know the thought of this recipe may sound impossible and thereby scare off a lot of people from trying it. Don’t let it do that to you. Once you actually make a Baked Alaska you’ll realize you had nothing to fear. It really isn’t all that difficult to make and can be done completely in advance and stored in the freezer, save for the final browning of the meringue right before serving (and all that entails is popping the prepared Alaska into the oven for a few minutes).
The childhood wonder and disbelief at the thought of baked ice cream remains in most adults. If you want to wow dinner guests, serve them Baked Alaska. Most people have heard of this elusive dessert, but never actually had it (see the fear factor comments above).
This recipe is more a formula than an actual recipe. Likewise it is highly customizable.
Consider these 3 essential and 2 optional components of Baked Alaska:
- Ice Cream — I used the Espresso Gelato from yesterday’s post to make the Baked Alaska in the photo, but you could use any flavor of homemade or store bought ice cream or sherbet to make yours.
- Cake — I used a base of brownies for the baked Alaska in the photo as I liked the way the fudge brownies went with the flavor of the Espresso Gelato. You could use any kind of cake you choose. Pound Cake is a good neutral choice that does with most everything. Use whatever flavor and style goes best with your ice cream choice or vice versa. Bake whatever batter you choose in a sheet pan. You will want a single layer base for Baked Alaska.
- Meringue — Meringue Topping is what makes Baked Alaska what it is. Your options here are in how decorative you want to get. You can just spoon the meringue on and spread it over the ice cream and cake and your Baked Alaska will still look wonderfully impressive. That said, if you have decorating skills with a pastry bag, this is a good place to use them. Put meringue into a decorator’s bag and pipe it on — I used a large star tip for the photo.
- Size — You can make one giant Baked Alaska that can then be cut and served at the table, or you can do what I did and make small individual desserts, one for each person.
- Sauces — The dessert is delicious without any sauce but you can make it even more so by adding hot fudge sauce, butterscotch sauce, fruit sauces, or any other type of sauce you’d normally serve on ice cream. Spoon sauce on the lace, serve on the side, or drizzle over meringue just before serving, if desired.
How to Make Baked Alaska
Note: My photos and instructions below show making small Baked Alaskas with the intention of serving each person at the party their own dessert. Alternately use the same techniques but make one large dessert. To do so pile ice cream on a single round cake layer, freeze hard, then proceed as below.
Bake cake (I used a favorite brownie recipe). Allow to cool. Use a drinking glass or small round (3 to 4-inch) cookie cutter to cut out small rounds of cake. Arrange on a parchment lined baking sheet. Top each cake round with a scoop of ice cream and freeze and ice cream until ice cream is very hard, at least several hours in a very cold freezer.
Prepare meringue: (this recipe makes enough for 6 individual baked Alakas or one large one made a single 8-inch round cake layer)
6 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 cup sugar
Beat egg whites with an electric mixer until foamy. Beat in cream of tartar and continue to beat until starting to form soft peaks. Gradually beat in sugar. Continue to beat until meringue reaches stiff peaks. You can now spread the meringues onto the prepared cake and ice cream rounds or alternately place meringue in a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip and pipe onto the prepared cake and ice cream as shown in the photo below. Whichever way you decide to apply the meringue, be sure to completely cover the ice cream and cake until it meets the parchment paper. Work quickly in order to minimize the time the ice cream spends out of the freezer (alternately remove one at a time, cover with meringue return to the freezer and so on). Freeze prepared Baked Alaska on parchment lined baking sheet until ready to brown and serve.
Bake and Serve
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Take baking sheet of frozen desserts from freezer and place in oven. Bake until meringue is nicely browned, about 3 to 5 minutes. Watch closely as you don’t want to end up with a melted mess, but providing your ice cream is frozen hard (meringue will be slightly sticky, not hard) you have more time than you think. I have made this many times and even though the meringue s brown, the ice cream inside is still hard!
Serve immediately, with or without dessert sauce of your choice.