by Stephanie Zonis
Makes 10-12 servings
Question: What is better than cake with ice cream?
Answer: Cake with ice cream and meringue!
I cannot for the life of me imagine why this dessert ever went out of fashion, as it's just plain fun. For those of you who don't know, a Baked Alaska is a cake layer surmounted by a layer of ice cream. The whole is then covered thickly with meringue, lightly browned in a very hot oven for a few minutes, then served immediately. Great for a birthday party or any celebration, this looks especially festive with candles placed in the meringue (actually, through the meringue into the ice cream layer), and then lit, but you must work fast, as the dessert starts to melt soon after it's baked. As you might expect, this is not petite or dainty, and you cannot keep this dessert for any length of time once it's made. Note that the meringue on the dessert is not fully baked, so I'd think twice before making this for anyone whose immune system isn't up to scratch.
The cake layer here is, of course, chocolate. I can personally recommend Starbucks Java Chip Ice Cream, Ben & Jerry's World's Best Vanilla Ice Cream, or Sharon's Coconut Sorbet; I've tried all three and they were wonderful. Note that using sorbet or an ice cream without food gums (such as Ben & Jerry's) will result in a middle layer that's a bit harder to slice, but it's no big deal. Use your imagination and a favorite flavor of ice cream or sorbet, but I wouldn't suggest using anything with a swirl in it; the effect will be lost when you make the middle layer of the dessert.
Other Notes: You can make the optional sauce up to five days ahead of time; store it, tightly covered, at room temperature. Make the cake and the ice cream layer a day ahead. Don't worry if you'll be assembling the dessert on a humid day; that's usually a concern when making a meringue, but it doesn't seem to be a problem for this recipe. Promise me you'll give this a try!
9 ozs. good-quality bittersweet chocolate (semisweet chocolate can
be substituted, or use a combination)
2 Tbsp. Dutch process unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup water
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. light corn syrup
1 cup buttermilk
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into thin pats
1-1/4 cup flour
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. sugar
1/3 cup Dutch process unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 egg, graded "large", beaten to mix
1 tsp. vanilla
3 pints good-quality ice cream or sorbet (use a flavor that goes with chocolate)
(if your ice cream/sorbet choice goes with raspberry) 1/4 cup good-quality seedless raspberry jam, stirred to mix
4 egg whites, from eggs graded "large", at room temperature
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
For the Sauce:
Makes 2-1/4 cups
Place chopped chocolate into medium heatproof bowl. Set bowl over simmering water on low heat (water should not touch bottom of bowl). Stir often until melted and smooth. Remove bowl from heat and hot water. Sift cocoa powder into melted chocolate, and briskly whisk in until most lumps are dissolved. Set aside near stove.
In small, heavy bottomed saucepan, combine water, sugar, light corn syrup, and salt. Place over medium-high heat and stir constantly to dissolve sugar. When sugar is completely dissolved, stir occasionally until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from heat.
Add about one-quarter of the boiling-hot syrup to the melted chocolate. Whisk in thoroughly (the chocolate will seize, clump, and generally look awful initially--just keep working at it). When syrup is completely incorporated, scrape bowl bottom and sides, and add another quarter of the syrup; whisk in thoroughly. Gradually add remaining syrup. This sauce will be very thin when done, but will thicken considerably upon standing. Cool to room temperature; store, tightly covered, at room temperature. Note: If you cannot get the sauce perfectly smooth, you may have added too much syrup initially. Turn the completed sauce into a food processor fitted with a steel blade, and process briefly only until the sauce is smooth.
For the Cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Adjust rack to center of oven. Grease a 9" by 2" deep round layer pan (the pan MUST be at least 1-3/4" deep), line the bottom with wax paper cut to fit, grease the paper, and dust the pan lightly with flour, knocking out any excess. Set pan aside.
In small, heavy-bottomed, nonreactive pot, combine buttermilk and butter pats. Place over medium heat; stir often just until butter melts. Remove from heat and set aside to cool for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, into medium bowl, sift together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
When buttermilk mixture has cooled 15 minutes, add beaten egg and vanilla. with fork, beat to mix well. Add all at once to dry ingredients. With whisk, stir until dry ingredients are moistened, then beat briskly till almost smooth (a few small lumps are OK). Pour into prepared pan (batter will be thin).
Run batter up sides slightly by tilting the pan. Drop pan onto flat surface three times from a height of about three inches (this will help to distribute the air bubbles more evenly). Bake in preheated oven 30-35 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center emerges with a few moist crumbs still clinging to it. Do not overbake. Remove to cooling rack.
Cool 10-15 minutes. Invert onto cooling rack; remove pan and gently pull off wax paper. Re-invert and cool completely right side up. When cooled completely, level top if necessary (I've never had to do this, but different ovens give different results). Wrap airtight; store overnight at room temperature.
For the Ice Cream Layer:
Line an 8" by 2" deep round layer pan with two crisscrossed sheets of plastic wrap, leaving substantial overhang on all sides and smoothing the plastic wrap in the pan as much as possible. Have space ready in your freezer to accommodate the pan.
Soften ice cream one container at a time. Remove carton lid and any liner. Microwave at 50% (medium) power for 10-20 seconds, just until softened. You do NOT want the ice cream to melt, though a little melting around the edges of the carton is OK. Working quickly, place large spoonfuls of the softened ice cream into the prepared pan. Repeat with other carton(s). Use the back of a clean large spoon to compact the softened ice cream into as even a layer as possible (you can start to do this while softening the remaining ice cream). Again, work quickly! When ice cream layer is as even as possible (pan will be very full), place pan in freezer. After about two hours, cover ice cream with plastic overhang, then cover with another piece of plastic wrap. Freeze at least overnight. Note: Don't worry if you can't get your ice cream layer perfectly level on top; just do the best you can. You won't notice in the finished dessert.
About 1-1/4 hours before you want to serve the Baked Alaska, get your egg whites out of the refrigerator and let stand, covered, at room temperature in a medium, non-plastic bowl. Make sure your beater(s) is spotlessly clean and dry. Measure out both sugars for the meringue; stir together well in a small bowl, pressing out as many lumps as possible. Cover and set aside. Adjust oven rack to one-third up from bottom of oven. Have ready two large baking sheets, one lined with aluminum foil and one empty. Place the foil-lined sheet on top of the empty one (you'll bake this on the doubled cookie sheet). Place the cake layer, still in wrappings, in the freezer. If you're going to use the raspberry jam, have it measured out and stirred, and store it, covered, in the refrigerator. If you'll be using candles, have them (and matches) ready. Have ready large plates for serving, as well as serving utensils (I use a large, sturdy, plastic spatula to cut and serve this--use something that won't scratch your cookie sheet) and forks. If you've made the optional sauce, check the consistency. If it's very thick, stir well, adding hot water a little at a time, until sauce is a little thicker than unwhipped heavy cream. Pour sauce into a small pitcher; cover and set aside at room temperature. All of this is done so you can assemble and serve this dessert with a minimum of last-minute fuss.
Fifteen to twenty minutes before you want to bake the dessert, preheat the oven to 475 degrees F. About 10 minutes before you want to bake the dessert, remove the cake layer (NOT the ice cream layer) from the freezer. Remove the wrappings from the cake, and place the cold (but not frozen) cake layer right side up on the foil-lined baking sheet. If you're using the raspberry jam, place it on top of the cake, leaving about a 1" margin of cake all around.
Sift the cream of tartar into the egg whites. Beat whites at low speed to incorporate cream of tartar, then increase speed to high and beat until very foamy and white. Begin adding combined sugars, about two tablespoons at a time, beating after each addition until incorporated. After last addition, beat until meringue stands in stiff peaks; this will be a thick meringue. If there are a few small lumps of brown sugar in the finished meringue, that's OK. Do not remove beater(s) from mixer yet!
Remove ice cream layer from freezer. Remove top wrapping, and peel back other plastic wrap from top surface. Working quickly and a few inches over cake layer, turn pan with ice cream upside down and allow ice cream to come out of pan onto top of cake layer. Center if necessary. Set pan aside, and quickly remove remaining plastic wrap from ice cream.
Return to meringue; beat at high speed for a few more seconds. Now, WORK FAST!!! By large spoonfuls, transfer about half the meringue to the top of the ice cream. with a flat knife or offset spatula, work the meringue down the sides of the cake and ice cream, going right down to the foil on the baking sheet. Repeat with remaining meringue; the ice cream and cake should be entirely and thickly covered with the meringue. I spread the top of the meringue flat and have the sides straight so that it looks like a large meringue-covered layer-type cake, but you don't have to do so. Now, quickly place the dessert in the hot oven for 3-5 minutes, or just until the meringue is lightly browned. Remove from oven. If desired, place candles on top of the cake, sticking through meringue layer into ice cream layer. Light candles. Carry dessert to wherever you'll serve it (it will be heavy and oven-hot), and slice and serve immediately! Pass optional sauce for everyone to pour on if they wish.
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This page created November 1998
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