Monday, February 4, 2008

Baked Alaska

When I was a senior in high school, I had to cook a dinner - complete with appetizer, main course, vegetable, potato or rice, salad, and dessert - and invite someone to eat dinner with me. I wanted something elegant; something that others would never consider making. I'm not sure what I prepared for the main course, but I do remember making a Baked Alaska for dessert.

The French call it a bombe, a conglomeration of solid ice cream and cake, coated with the meringue. Legend has it that the dessert evolved from the French. A Chinese delegation was visiting Paris, and the Chinese chef showed the French cook how to prepare the dessert.

Baked Alaska features a sponge cake topped with hard ice cream. Uncooked meringue covers the entire dish and it is placed in the freezer until serving time. Just prior to serving, the dessert is placed in a hot oven or under the broiler until the meringue begins to brown.

Many claims to discovering the dessert exist. An American physicist boasted about his creation in 1804 after testing the heat resistance of beaten egg whites. His "invention" is known as omlette surprise.

But the name, Baked Alaska, originated in 1867 at Delmonico's. Chef Charles Ranhofer coated a brick of ice cream with meringue and popped into a toasty oven for a short time. The cause for celebration: America's acquisition of the Alaska Territory. Ranhofer dubbed the dessert Alaska-Florida.

Considered a sign of wealth, the dessert was served in fancy hotels and was popularized in America with a mention in the Fannie Farmer Cookbook.

Here's a fairly easy recipe for Baked Alaska:

1 sponge cake or 1 1-inch layer cake, any flavor
1 qt. ice cream sliced in half to fit on cake; any flavor
5 egg whites
1 t. vanilla
1/2 t. cream of tartar
2/3 c. sugar

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Place sliced ice cream halves on top of cake. Trim excess cake to a 1 inch border around the ice cream. Freeze until solid. Beat 5 egg whites with vanilla and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Spread meringue around cake and ice cream, making sure to form a seal around the cake. Bake in 500 degree oven until golden brown, approximately 3 minutes. Serve immediately.

Serves 8.

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