The extent of my baking knowledge up until now has been to follow the instructions on the back of the ready mix boxes. Come along with Shae and myself as we embark on a six week baking challenge where we push our comfort zones and try baking recipes we have never done before!
Week 2 – Baked Alaska
Think of an ice cream dessert. Now set it on fire. That is the magic of baked alaska! Baked Alaska consists of three main parts, a cake base, an ice cream core, and a meringue shell. The meringue shell helps to insulate the cold ice cream inside so you can do dramatic baking acts such as taking a blow torch to it, pouring flaming alcohol on top of it, or even pulling an ice cream dessert out of the oven!
The recipe that we followed was here, but I wouldn’t recommend it because the cake base was way too sweet. It was basically fudge, so if that is what you like then go for it, but next time we make baked Alaska I will opt for a less sugary base.
So let’s get baking shall we! We spread it out over two days. The ice cream needs time to freeze hard if it has any hope of surviving the heating process.
Shae started by mixing up the cake batter. Frugal Boy was content getting the chocolate mixing bowl leftovers.
I had the really hard job. I lined a metal mixing bowl with plastic wrap and then dumped a half gallon of store bought strawberry ice cream into it. By pressing the ice cream down into the bowl it made a nice dome shape. Once the cake was finished baking and had cooled, we simply flipped the ice cream on top of it and stuck the whole thing back in the freezer to keep cold.
That night we set about making the meringue. There are different meringues, French, Swiss, Italian, and so forth. Meringues are to my knowledge all made with egg whites and sugar. The difference is how and when you combine those ingredients. We opted to use a Swiss meringue. Swiss meringue is pasteurized, so it is completely safe from salmonella. To make up the meringue, you combine your egg whites and sugar in a mixing bowl over a pot of steaming water. The steam will pasteurize the egg whites, and the sugar in the mixture will keep the eggs from turning into scrambled whites. The next step tricked us up a couple of times. You need to beat the mixture a lot. Beating the mixture adds air and that air gives it a billowy, fluffy, white appearance. The egg whites puff up, and the sugar gives it stability so it doesn’t immediately collapse down. The trick with Swiss meringue is that since the sugar is added from the get go, it is very difficult to beat in air. Our first attempt used a hand mixer and after 10 minutes or so it was still a runny mess. Our second attempt we got out the stand mixer and just let it run on high speed with a whisk attachment. Eventually the meringue will firm up and hold stiff peaks.
Using a ziplock bag with the corner cut off, I piped on meringue to cover and insulate the ice cream.
Unfortunately, I ran out of meringue before I finished, so I had to stick the cake back in the freezer while I made up a 3rd batch. You can see how the ice cream had already started to melt a bit just from the short time of being out!
The next day we were ready to finish up our baked Alaska. Here it was before the dramatic finale.
Armed with a propane torch, I caramelized the meringue.
Here is the finished product. The ice cream survived the blow torch!
This dessert is very good, but also very rich. I kind of wish that we had made it when company was around so they could help eat it. Having a flaming alcohol presentation would be very grandiose and perfect for a birthday or other special occasion.
All in all, baked Alaska is a fairly simple dessert to whip up because you can cheat quite a bit with store bought ice cream and even a store bought cake mix. I would like to experiment with a key lime pie styled baked Alaska. Perhaps a graham cracker type crust/base with a lime flavored ice cream.
Next week, some sort of savory quick bread.