To say that I have a bit of a sweet tooth is like saying Mary Berry does a bit of baking! And one thing that I’m a huge fan of is that logic defying dessert – Baked Alaska. I love the layered combination of cake, ice-cream and (occasionally) fruit all topped with meringue of the soft, fluffy, marshmallowy variety.
Baked Alaska is a retro classic and was a big hit when I was growing up in the 1980s – though I believe it first became popular a decade earlier. Cooking shows I used to watch with Mum would show viewers how to create a Baked Alaska; women’s magazines my aunts used to buy would always contain recipes for the dessert and I loved seeing the different variations. I may have only been a kid but even I knew that no dinner party was complete without this sweet finale.
From a child’s point of view, there was something extremely magical about this dessert. Whoever heard of an ice-cream that could be baked in the oven and come out intact and not as ice-cream soup? It was only when I was at secondary school and began home economics classes that I understood why the ice-cream didn’t melt (OK – here comes the science bit!): the meringue acted as an effective insulator, and the short cooking time (just long enough to bake the meringue) prevents the heat from getting through to the ice cream.
But from being everywhere, it’s now seldom heard of. It’s very rarely served up at dinner parties; I don’t hear about anyone tucking into a Baked Alaska anymore and it doesn’t appear on restaurant menus. In fact, the last time I heard of anyone serving up a Baked Alaska was at the wedding of a family friend – and she got married back in 1990!
However that doesn’t mean that it’s suddenly ceased to be delicious so it’s about time that this unique and long forgotten dessert made a comeback.
Here’s a very delightful sounding recipe that I found from Mark Sargeant for a modern take on an old favourite. Baked Alaska has never sounded so good and I for one cannot wait to try it!
For the sponge
5 free-range eggs
150 g caster sugar
110 g plain flour
40 g cocoa powder
25 g butter, melted, plus extra for greasing
For the ice cream
250 g plain chocolate
100 g unsalted butter
150 g caster sugar
150 ml water
4 large eggs, yolks only
500 ml double cream
For the meringue
100 ml water
400 g sugar
2 tbsp liquid glucose, (optional)
6 egg whites
1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped out
For the cherry sauce
300 g cherries, stones removed, halved, plus 12 extra whole with stalks for decoration
2 tbsp caster sugar
A cordial of cherries
A splash of kirsch
kirsch, for drizzling and flambéing
½ shell of eggs, washed and dried
1. Preheat the oven to 220C/200C fan/gas 7. Grease and line a 24x20cm/9.5x8in lipped baking tray.
2. For the sponge: cream the eggs and sugar together in a large bowl for 4-5 minutes until pale and fluffy.
3. Sift the flour and cocoa powder into the egg and sugar mixture and fold until combined, then stir in the melted butter. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking tray and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until the cake is risen and is springy to the touch.
4. Remove from the oven and allow to cool briefly in the tray before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
5. For the ice cream: place the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of just-simmering water (make sure the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl). Stir continuously, until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth and glossy. Set aside.
6. Place the sugar and water into a small saucepan set over a low heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat and bring to the boil, cooking for a few minutes until the mixture thickens to a syrup consistency. Set aside to cool for one minute.
7. Place the egg yolks in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of just-simmering water (make sure the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl). While whisking continuously, slowly trickle in the hot sugar syrup. When all of the sugar syrup has been incorporated and the mixture has thickened, whisk in the double cream and the melted chocolate mixture until smooth.
8. Pour the mixture into the bowl of an ice cream machine and churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Scoop the churned ice cream into a rectangular container, smoothing the top, and place into the freezer. Remove from the freezer 5-10 minutes before serving.
9. For the meringue: place the water, sugar and glucose (if using) into a heavy-based saucepan. Place over a medium heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture comes to the boil. Increase the heat to high and boil until the mixture reaches 121C (check using a sugar thermometer), then quickly remove from the heat.
10. Beat the egg whites and vanilla seeds in a stand mixer, then carefully pour the sugar syrup onto the beaten egg whites in a thin stream, taking care not to let the syrup run onto the whisks or the edge of the bowl. Continue to beat at a low speed until the mixture is almost completely cold – this will take about 10 minutes. Spoon the meringue into a piping bag and set aside.
11. For the cherry sauce: place all of the cherry sauce ingredients into a pan and cook over a medium heat until the cherries are tender (add a splash of water if the mixture looks too dry). Transfer the mixture to a food processor and blend to a smooth puree. Pass the sauce through a fine sieve.
12. To assemble the baked Alaska, cut two equal-sized rectangles from the sponge. Cut the ice cream into a brick shape the same length and width as the sponge.
13. Place one sponge rectangle onto a serving plate and drizzle with kirsch, then smooth over some of the cherry sauce. Top with the ice cream, then the other sponge to make a ‘sandwich’. Pipe the meringue all over the ‘sandwich’ to cover, making sure it is completely covered.
14. Using a mini blowtorch, brown the meringue all over. Place the whole cherries around the base of the meringue to decorate. Pour some kirsch into the egg shell and press into the top of the meringue. Carefully ignite the kirsch just before serving.