Waiter, there’s something in my… individual baked Alaska!

by Jeanne on May 4, 2009

in Dessert, Recipes - eggs, Waiter, there's something in my...

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You know how there are some things that you simply never cook because, truth be told, you are too terrified to try them? 

For some, it is any sort of baking with yeast that makes their terror rise.  For others, it's the dreaded soufflé that makes their face fall flat.  Or maybe things like Bearnaise or Hollandaise sauce that make you want to split and never come back.

Or maybe it's the frankly impossible-sounding feat of baking ice cream in a meringue cake.

When I was a little girl growing up in the 1970s, probably only seven or eight years old, my mom bought me my first cookbook.  It was the "My Learn to Cook Book" and it was a sheer delight.  The recipes were all presented by a cartoon cat who would give you useful hints (for example, with the grilled cheese sandwich recipe, he pipes up:  "Be careful – hot cheese is really HOT!"), and many of them could be made with minimal adult assistance.  I spent many afternoons making the mint creams, or the crispy crackolets (chocolate cornflake clusters).

But the recipe in the book that fascinated me the most, and which I never attempted, was baked Alaska.  I mean, how could it be possible to bake ice cream?  It seemed to me to be the height of sophistication finesse - some sort of culinary Holy Grail, unknowable and unattainable for the likes of me.  

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But sometime in 2001, I watched a friend of mine put one together, seemingly with no great effort but with a huge response from the dinner guests.  I was intrigued.  I made my first baked Alaska for Christmas in 2001 to great critical acclaim from my family (and Nick!).  I'd like to be able to say I've made it regularly since then but, alas, this would be a lie.  It's not the kind of dessert where you can keep the leftovers, so it's less than ideal for when it's only me and Nick at home.  And making it for guests would make me feel as if I had to serve it as some sort of ironic, post-modern statement (preferably preceded by avocado Ritz and steak Diane!). 

However… given that the theme for this month's Waiter, There's Something in My… event was retro classics, how could I resist??  And to get around the problem of leftovers, I made just two individual portions, rather than a party-size cake.  Retro perfection!

There is some debate as to the origins of the baked Alaska recipe.  One theory is that it was passed on to a Parisian chef by a visitng Chinese delegation in the mid-19th century, although this recipe consisted of ice cream baked inside a pastry crust.  The version that became popular in the 1960s and 1970s consists of a layer of sponge cake topped with a layer of fruit or jam and ice cream, all encased in meringue which is baked at a high temperature until the meringue is just set.   The name is attributed to the chef at Delmonico's Restaurant in New York City, who in 1876 named the dish in honour of the newly-acquired territory of Alaska.   It attained the height of its popularity in the 1970s, but even today it is a favourite for the final dinner on ocean cruise liners, when a liine of waiters will bring baked Alaskas bristling with sparklers into the dining room to gasps of delight from the passengers.

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INDIVIDUAL BAKED ALASKAS WITH COINTREAU & MARMALADE (serves 2)

Ingredients

2 pieces of plain sponge/Madeira cake
good vanilla ice cream
2 Tbsp Cointreau
2 large egg whites at room temperature
3 Tbsp caster sugar
pinch of salt
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
2 tsp marmalade
2 tsp flaked almonds

Method

At least 4 hours before you want to serve your Alaskas, remove the tub of vanilla ice cream from the freezer and allow to defrost until the ice cream is the consistency of thick whipped cream.  Fill two small ramekins with the melted ice cream, cover with clingfilm and freeze until the ice cream is hard again.

Pre-heat the oven to 220C.

Cut two circles of sponge cake of the same or slightly larger diameter than the ice cream ramekins. You can either use a round cookie cutter or another identical ramekin to get the size right.  The cake circles need to be about an inch thick.

Place the cake circles on oven-proof plates (or, in my case, in loose-bottomed mini quiche tins).  Drizzle each circle with a teaspoon of Cointreau and smear 1 tsp of marmalade on top of the cake.

Remove the frozen ramekins of ice cream from the freezer.  Dip the base of each into a bowl of hot water, then run a knife along the circumference to loosen the ice cream.  Invert above the cake circles – the ice cream should come loose with a gentle tap on the base of the ramekin (and possibly some more persuasion with a knife around the circumference!).  Repeat with the second ice cream, then return the ice cream and cake to the freezer while you prepare the meringue.

Whisk the egg whites (or use an electric mixer) until stiff, then add the salt, cream of tartar and the sugar (gradually!).  Continue to whisk until you have a thick, glossy mixture than will hold stiff peaks.  NB – this is very important, otherwise you will have your meringue sliding off the ice cream rather than insulating it!

Remove the ice cream and cake from the freezer and pile the meringue mix on the top and sides of the cake and ice cream.  Make sure that the cake and ice cream are completely sealed by the meringue and that there are no gaps anywhere, especially around the base. 

Sprinkle the flaked almonds on top of the meringue and place in the pre-heated oven for about 6 minutes.  NB – watch them carefully as all you really need is for the meringue to set and brown slightly.  If you leave them in for too long, the meringue will burn on top and the ice cream will melt!

Remove when done and serve immediately.

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Lynda May 5, 2009 at 12:14 am

This sounds delicious, especially with the addition of the marmalade and cointreau. I have always wanted to make a Baked Alaska and passed it by for other desserts – no longer!

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Elyse May 5, 2009 at 7:25 am

Ooo, cointreau marmalade. How fancy! Your baked Alaskas look so fabulous. So glad you decided to pull this recipe out for the retro throwback! I really need to try this recipe soon!

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Charlotte May 5, 2009 at 7:26 am

OMG, I had the exact same cookbook! And all I ever wanted was to try the baked Alaska, and I STILL haven’t. I am inspired to hear it is not too difficult.

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meeta May 5, 2009 at 7:29 am

i so wanted to take part in this – but in between packing boxes for the move and organizing our vow renewing ceremony i was overwhelmed. looks grand jeanne – love baked alaska and honestly i have never made it at home always enjoyed elsewhere! i think i should give this a go.

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Hardspear May 5, 2009 at 7:29 am

I have had so much fun doing this post on my blog! Your alaskas looks delicious and beautiful. I once made a version from Roald Dahl’s Revolting recipes called “Hot Ice-Cream for cold days. This recipe called for chopped bits of stem ginger in syrup to be mixed with the meringue. Gives a nice zing to the dessert.

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Kit May 5, 2009 at 8:29 am

I had that book too!! I made the peppermint creams and was also incredulous and fascinated by that baked alaska. I’ve never ever made it, but maybe one of these days I will, once I’ve got the hang of whisking meringue till it’s stiff enough!
I can’t believe we both grew up cooking from the same book! I wonder where my copy is now…

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nina May 5, 2009 at 9:39 am

Looks delicious and really a retro dish!!! It was a favorite in our house too!!! Sorry I missed the event…my life is just in a bit of a spin at the moment!!!

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johanna May 5, 2009 at 11:00 am

hey i remember that from my childhood too! and remember the one we had at club gascon with the wonderful armagnac prunes on the bottom for a rather adult version of it?
i believe that the problem is today’s ice cream – back when my mum used to make them, the logs of vanilla ice cream were stone hard, these days all you get is soft scoop that melts the minute you open the freezer! i have been too scared to make them for that very reason…

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Kerri May 5, 2009 at 11:30 am

That looks delicious, an unusual twist on a classic. I say classic but I’ve never actually eaten baked alaska before, let alone cooked it.

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Johanna May 5, 2009 at 12:16 pm

These look so cute – I love the idea of baked alaska but also am scared of it – maybe because I associate it with a fiendish plot in batman which I can’t remember in much detail – my mum made it recently and I think she used pannettone which was delicious – I like the idea of a scaled down recipe for two

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grace May 5, 2009 at 3:10 pm

what’s even more pathetic than my never having attempted to make baked alaska is the fact that i’ve never even tasted it! my stars, yours is beautiful, and the presence of that marmalade makes it even more appealing. bravo!

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Diane Schupbach May 5, 2009 at 3:43 pm

Oh, Jeanne–
Our semi-parallel lives are sometimes quite creepy! My Learn to Cook Book was MY first cookbook, too! The Twice-baked Potatoes were a hit at our house, while Ox-eyed Eggs, not so much. I still have the dinged-up treasure on my cook book bookshelf in my kitchen. Thanks for the flash back!
Diane
PS Your Baked Alaskas look gorgeous!

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Joan Nova May 5, 2009 at 3:44 pm

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to find your blog, especially since we’re BloggerAid sisters, but I’m here now and I’m really impressed.,,so you’ve got a new subscriber!

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Cookin' Canuck May 5, 2009 at 4:21 pm

Good for you, you brave woman! Baked Alaska also brings back memories of my childhood. It was one of those desserts made purely of legend. That is, until I had one at an upscale restaurant on my 18th birthday. Ice cream, meringue…I was hooked! Thanks for bringing back those memories.
http://www.cookincanuck.com

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Susan from Food Blogga May 5, 2009 at 4:56 pm

Woo-hoo! You conquered your baked Alaska fears beautifully, Jeanne. :)

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courtney May 5, 2009 at 5:29 pm

I so wanted to eneter this and had the perfect recipe, which I wont be posting until this week , so I missed your deadline. I plan to get it up ny tomorrow if it isnt to late. I have never made this, but need to give it a try.

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Happy Cook May 5, 2009 at 5:53 pm

I have heard so much about this dish, but never had them, and you are now tempting me to make this super delicious looking dessert.

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Paula Maack May 5, 2009 at 7:18 pm

Oh, yum!!! How perfect! I love the story, too.
I always think of the 70s as a big celebration of Hawaii being added as a state, with all of the Rumaki, pineapple and coconut dishes, Tiki cocktails, and Luau parties, but I never put the two and two together to come up with the reason for the Baked Alaska. What a cool dessert homage!
I love the individual portions, too – brilliant! And, the fact that you added orange elements. Mmmmm… Kinda like a 50/50 bar. You had me at Cointreau. :)
I can’t wait to try this!!
Cheers,
~ Paula

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Linda May 5, 2009 at 8:41 pm

I also had the same cookbook!! A child of the eighties, my mom bought it second hand at a fete. It is still sitting in the cupboard at my parents’ house, full of food splodges like a good cookbook should be. My favourite recipe was the apple snow, which I seem to remember consisted of apples, egg whites and sugar… This time around my vote goes to the baked alaska!

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Bron May 6, 2009 at 5:39 am

Oh it’s been so long since I made one of these… so so long. You have me craving one…NOW! and the additions of marmalade and Cointreau = genius!

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Marietjie May 7, 2009 at 10:51 am

Your baked Alaska looks fantastic Jeanne!
I had that book too – but sadly do not have it any longer. If you still have the book, could I ask you to look a recipe up and copy for me please? If I remember right, it was in that book – but I might be mistaken. There was a small childrens cookery book in SARIE magazine insert as well and it might have been in there. The recipe is called Sarina se koekies”. Does it sound familiar? I made it a few times when I was small and it brings back memories
Many thanks in advance

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Manggy May 8, 2009 at 8:46 am

I would have guessed that was created when one attempted a very courageous take on a classic vacherin :) I’ve never had one, though. I’m too afraid the ice cream will melt in this heat even without the oven! Supposedly it’s not that hard to get it right because air is a poor conductor of heat, and the meringue surrounding the ice cream provides enough insulation. Now you are tempting me to finally give it a shot! :)

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Angela@SpinachTiger May 9, 2009 at 6:31 am

I love retro dishes. DId someone say steak diane? I grew up going to really nice restaurants, with waiters that were lifers, and wore gold jackets. Retro food takes me back. We would start with me having a shirley temple and my grandmother having manhattans, then oysters rockefeller, beef wellington and yes baked alaska. I wish I would have seen this challenge. Great fun! I love your blog.

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Sophie May 22, 2009 at 8:14 pm

Sounds divine! It came out beautifully.

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