I’ve made a lot of desserts in my life. I mean, A LOT. There have been countless batches of cupcakes, cookies, brownies, layer cakes, and all manner of other treats in and out of the oven– some great, some mediocre, and yes, some were disastrous! At this point, it’s not that often that I’m tasked with making a type of dessert that I’ve never attempted before, though of course there’s a first time for everything. Sometimes I’m excited for these first-time recipes, sometimes downright scared. This week for Baked Sunday Mornings we made Individual Baked Alaskas with Vanilla & Coffee Ice Cream from Baked Occasions, which sounded intimidating at first, what with the umpteen steps of baking, layering, freezing, waiting, more layering and freezing and waiting, meringuing, and finally blowtorching. I had never made a Baked Alaska, and didn’t know much about it at the outset, but as is generally the case, BAKED makes everything pretty damn mouthwatering, so I was willing to give it a whirl. Apparently, the usual form of a Baked Alaska is a giant fluffy, swirly, meringue-slathered mountain of cake and ice cream– and lemme tell you, I have no problem getting behind that! The name of this blog, Stellina, means ‘sweet little one’ in Italian, and that’s just how I feel about my desserts, so I just love this mini version.
Like a number of other classic American desserts, the origins of the Baked Alaska are a bit hazy, but it seems that its modern form is attributed to one Charles Ranhofer, who allegedly invented a cake-and-ice-cream concoction at Delmonico’s Restaurant in New York in 1876 to celebrate the United States’ purchase of the Alaskan territory from Russia, which of course became the 49th state and is commemorated with the holiday Alaska Day on October 18th. It can’t be proven, as the name didn’t kick in until a couple of decades later, but we’ll go with that story. (Apparently he initially called it an “Alaska Florida” to describe the extremes of hot and cold.) There are many similar desserts out there with names such as omelette à la norvégienne and glace au four (‘Norwegian omelette’ and ‘baked ice cream’ in French, respectively), omelette surprise, and flame on the iceberg (a similar flambéed dessert in Hong Kong). In doing a little research, there doesn’t seem to be a standard flavor for the cake and ice cream; I was dismayed to see that many iterations seem to contain unfortunate ingredients like maraschino cherries and canned fruit and bright green ice cream (pistachio? mint? jello slime??) that hearken back to the days of terrible old-timey American desserts. Some are sloppy heaps piled into a pie dish, and fortunately others are dreamy, swirly mounds of artistry. This version resembles elegant, toasted snowballs and calls for chocolate cupcakes and both vanilla and coffee ice cream.
Although it appears daunting at first, once you actually break down the recipe, the steps are not difficult. You do, however, need a lot of time from start to finish; I made mine over the course of a 3-day weekend to allow enough time for baking the cupcakes before embarking on the dessert assembly process. On Day 1, I made the cupcakes; Day 2 consisted of the layering and freezing; and on Day 3, I made the meringue, covered the ice cream cakes, and toasted the exteriors.
The recipe specifically suggests making these Red Wine Chocolate Cupcakes, but I wasn’t feeling that with the ice cream flavors, so I made the chocolate cake from BAKED’s amazing Sweet & Salty Cake in Baked Frontiers. The recipe actually didn’t come out great as cupcakes, but I was able to hide the flaws because they get dismantled and smushed for the Baked Alaskas! It would be interesting to experiment with various cupcake recipes for flavor and texture.
To start the layering process, you’ll soften the coffee ice cream and divide it among the wells of a cupcake pan, pressing into the bottoms. I am not a huge fan of coffee-flavored things, but I found that Straus’ coffee ice cream is very milky– just the way I like my coffee every morning! Thus commences your first freezing internal… *cue pleasant elevator music*
After an hour, cut the cupcakes in half horizontally and smush the bottoms onto the coffee ice cream, then freeze again. Soften the vanilla ice cream (I used BLVD Tasty Vanilla Custard Ice Cream) and divide it among the cups again, smushing it right on top of the cupcakes. Immediately press the cupcake tops onto the vanilla ice cream, and let the pan freeze for several hours until the “ice cream cakes” are VERY hard. Don’t worry if the alternating layers look very messy at this point– it will all come together when you add the meringue.
This recipe makes 12 desserts, and you are now supposed to invert them onto 2 separate pans for the rest of the process to prevent melting while you work. Freeze them while you make the easy Swiss meringue, which is simply an egg white/sugar mixture that gets heated and whipped to glossy, stiff peaks.
Once the topping is ready, you’ll pull one tray of the Baked Alaska bases from the freezer, and this is where time is of the essence. Work quickly to spread the meringue all over each one (it’s fun to make different swirly patterns), as it will start to break down and get grainy fairly soon, at least in warm weather. If you make these in a very warm kitchen like mine was, I would recommend taking the bases out of the freezer 3 at a time, rather than 6, because they will start to get melty very quickly! You’ll freeze them one more time for a couple of hours or even overnight.
For the final step, you either need to put the Baked Alaskas under the broiler for a few minutes or use a kitchen torch. I did a little experimenting here, starting with the uglier ones as guinea pigs! (The last ones that I had covered did not look as creamy and smooth because the texture of the meringue had become more difficult to work with.) I toasted just a few at a time while the rest waited in the freezer; the first ones went under the broiler. However, the broiler heat softened the interiors too much. For the next few, I used my beloved torch, which worked like a charm! Because you are localizing the heat, the ice cream inside stays perfectly frozen. Also, the first batch was frozen for about 3 hours, while the second batch was in the freezer for 24 hours, and the latter fared much better. By the way, transferring the desserts from the tray to a work surface and then to plates was messy business– I recommend using a large greased offset spatula.
I could not wait to dip my fork into one of these after all the anticipation– and I was NOT disappointed. All the interior flavors and textures were positively lovely, especially with the velvety, toasted meringue in the same mouthful. GAH. This is a graceful, sophisticated, and dare I say sexy dessert– you should reserve this for people you *really* like. 😉 My one qualm is… when the hell do I need 12 of these in my house?? Since they cannot be transported (unless you have awesome and deserving next-door neighbors), this recipe would be best for a dinner party-type situation, which does work well since they can be made ahead. The Alaskas will keep decently for a few days (untoasted) in the freezer, but the inside texture does get icy. I mean, I can house desserts with the best of ’em, but even I found several nights of Baked Alaskas to be a bit much! I’ll try to halve the recipe next time…
As I ate them that week, my imagination wandered to all sorts of possibilities for variations, and they are truly endless– you can mix and match any cake and ice cream flavors that you like. I’m thinking about tiramisu, s’mores, cookies and cream, and lemon meringue pie to start off… but this could get out of control. 😉
Since you need these in your life for upcoming holiday dinners, you should definitely head over to Baked Sunday Mornings for the recipe for Individual Baked Alaskas with Vanilla & Coffee Ice Cream. I had no idea that this amazing dessert was missing from my life, but I live in ignorance no more. *sigh*
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2015.