Baked Alaska is made by encasing layers of tender cake and smooth ice cream in a silky meringue, and then toasting it in the oven. Baked Alaska is a fun and whimsical dessert that is as easy to make as it is impressive to serve. This post is sponsored by Milk Means More. All opinions are my own.
Today is National Baked Alaska Day! Of all of the national food themed holidays in all of the year, this is one that I’ve been looking forward to celebrating for quite some time. My whole life, in fact. Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but I’ve been looking for a reason to make Baked Alaska for most of my adult life. Although, truth be told, I had no idea what exactly a Baked Alaska was for most of that time.
A true Baked Alaska is comprised of a layer of sponge cake, topped with a layer of ice cream, and then covered in meringue. The assembled ice cream cake is then briefly baked in the oven at a high heat to toast the outer meringue. The toasted meringue insulates the ice cream layer so that it remains frozen. When served, Baked Alaska is a dichotomy of textures with soft cake, frozen ice cream, and warm meringue.
Contrary to the name, Baked Alaska has been served in the traditional form for far longer than the US had a state of the same name. Baked Alaska is also known as Norwegian Omelette Surprise, Omelette Surprise, Omelette Norvegienne, and Glace au Four. The original dessert is attributed to a physicist by the name of Benjamin Rumford, (whom later became Count Rumford,) in 1804. Count Rumford is the same man whom invented the oil lamp, fire grate, double boiler, a coffee percolator, and the kitchen range.
Suffice it to say that the Count was a busy guy with an interest in food science. The American Heritage Cookbook quotes Rumford as saying:
“Omelette surprise was the by-product of investigations in 1804 into the resistance of stiffly beaten egg whites to the induction of heat.”
In short, Rumford invented what we know as meringue, and then took it a step further by experimenting with temperatures and textures in what became known as Omelette Surprise or later, Baked Alaska.
The current name is credited to Chef Charles Ranhofer. Ranhofer was a famous chef from Delmonico’s restaurant in New York City. He had a penchant for naming dishes after current events in popular culture, such as the US purchase of the Alaska territory from Russia in 1867. The dessert more commonly known as Omelette Surprise became known as simply Baked Alaska under his preparation–aptly named due to the striking similarity to snow covered mountains found in Alaska.
“Baked Alaska” has been a long-standing metaphor for going to extremes in my family. The moniker goes back to one fateful shopping trip when I was a kid. My mom was quick to insist that we must never grocery shop without eating first. She said that shopping while hungry was a surefire way to buy more food than we needed on sheer impulse. We’d likely end up with little that could be pieced together for a proper meal.
As luck would have it, my mom and I found ourselves shopping while ravenously hungry one day. If the amount of grocery bags was any indication, we’d bought enough food to feed a small town for the week. That is if everyone was cool with making a meal of oddities like pimento cheese spread and jalapeño stuffed olives. Everything sounds delicious when shopping on an empty stomach! So as we were unpacking ridiculously random food stuffs, my mom looked at me and laughed. She said, “Geez Louise, Kirsten! Are we trying to make Baked Alaska here?!”
Heretofore, any time someone in my family starts getting carried away with a project, task or ambitious to-do list, we call it making Baked Alaska as a surefire sign that it’s time to simplify. As in, “We don’t need to make Baked Alaska here. Let’s shorten the list.” Other times, it’s worth reveling in an ambitious project for the sense of accomplishment that comes from mastering it.
While Baked Alaska is often considered an elaborate dessert to be reserved for the finest of dining or special occasions, I’m here to assure you that it isn’t too complicated to make at home. It’s simply a layer of cake topped with a dome of ice cream, and then covered in meringue. Each component is easy to make, but the finished product does take time.
Start by letting 1.5 quarts of ice cream stand on the counter for a few minutes to soften. I like to use a colorful ice cream to contrast with the fluffy meringue. I used Cherry Vanilla in developing this recipe. Use whatever ice cream suits your fancy, but I will caution that smooth ice creams work better than chunky varieties.
Lightly grease a medium sized bowl before lining it with a double thickness of plastic wrap, leaving a 2 to 3-inch overhang. Spoon the softened ice cream into the prepared bowl, leveling the top with the back of a spoon. Freeze the ice cream for 2 hours or until very firm.
While the ice cream is firming up a bit, bake your favorite chocolate cake in two 9-inch round cake pans. I prefer to bake the cake from scratch, but if a boxed mix is more your thing, then go ahead and run with it. In fact, I was planning to use a box myself until Son #1 guilted me into baking the real deal. I believe he said something like, “Mom! You can’t use a box mix! If you’re going to make Baked Alaska, then you might as well go all the way and make Baked Alaska.“
Easy there, Killer. I’ve got this handled.
Once cool, level and wrap one of the cake layers in plastic wrap and freeze it flat for an hour. Save the other layer for another time. Or snack on it while you’re waiting. I’m won’t judge you. When it comes time to assemble the layers, float the ice cream bowl in a larger bowl filled with very warm tap water for 2 to 3 minutes to loosen the sides.
Place one frozen layer of cake onto an oven safe serving plate. Lift the ice cream out of the bowl by the overhanging plastic wrap. Unwrap the ice cream and center it on the cake. Work quickly using a serrated bread knife to trim the edges of cake to be flush with the ice cream.
Wrap the layers in plastic wrap and pop them into the freezer for another 1-2 hours or until very firm. While the layers are firming up, whip the meringue into stiff peaks. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.
Once the cake and ice cream layer is set, spread the meringue to a 1/4-inch thickness over the entire area. Pop the whole affair into the oven for 3 to 4 minutes or until the meringue is nicely browned. The baking portion of Baked Alaska will go very quickly. Whatever you do, don’t walk away from the ice cream cake while it is in the oven!
Isn’t that pretty? I think it looks just like a snow capped mountain!
Confession: I toasted the meringue on this particular Baked Alaska with a kitchen torch. I wanted to better control the browning of the meringue for the photographs. I assure you that the oven baked version is every bit as pretty as this one. Although depending on the oven, the browning may not be as symmetrical as shown in the photographs. The instructions in the printable recipe outline how to toast the meringue with both methods.
Let the finished Baked Alaska rest for a few more minutes before slicing to serve.
Baked Alaska is a fun and whimsical dessert that is as easy to make as it is impressive to serve. Every bite of that tender cake topped with smooth ice cream encased in a silky, toasted meringue is worth the time required to make the elegant dessert. Because sometimes the best part of creating an elaborate dessert is the satisfaction that comes from making it.
Impress yourself and your friends by making Baked Alaska!
You can do it. I know that you can!