Baked, the bakery co-founded by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, represents everything that’s right about American baking (in my book), especially the baking that appeared in my childhood! Their latest cookbook, Baked Occasions, is a new collection of classic American recipes (with a twist), presented according by month to commemorate their chosen special occasions throughout the year. In contrast with my usual credo of simple and seasonal, I chose one of the most labor intensive recipes from the book for today’s column, Baked Alaska Meringues. There really is no season for this (though it appears in the book for October 18, Alaska Day), but it sure will take time to do. If you’re all-in for a spectacular dessert, this is for you. I really would love for Baked to open a Rome bakery! –Kristina
About Matt and Renato: Matt and Renato, former producer and graphic designer, co-founded Baked bakery in Red Hook, Brooklyn in 2005 to escape their humdrum corporate lives and indulge in what they loved to do most: bake. Since 2005, they have produced four cookbooks, and will be opening a second bakery in Tribeca this season. You can hear Grace’s interview with Matt and Renato on After the Jump in which they talk about growing their business. You can see our feature, 9 Questions with Baked Bakery, and you can find them on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.
See what’s inside the Baked Alaska Meringue after the jump!
As with many desserts that originated long ago, the history of baked Alaska is convoluted. There seems to be solid evidence, however, that a gentleman named Charles Ranhofer popularized and named the dessert in 1876 at Delmonico’s in New York City to commemorate the United States’ acquisition of the Alaska Territory on October 18, 1867 (now known as Alaska Day). And though we are not Alaskans (but it is on our list to visit), if we were in charge of such things, we would institute a rule whereby every restaurant in America must replace one boring dessert item on their menu with some variation of baked Alaska. Baked Alaska is often visually exquisite (true showmen light the whole thing on fire tableside), and, more important, it is also insanely delicious. If you aren’t acquainted with this fine dessert, it is, at the very basic level, an ice cream cake encased in a torched meringue. As someone who used to live for Fudgie the Whale (a beloved Carvel ice cream cake with a cult following), I find that baked Alaska is the answer to many of life’s questions.
Our baked Alaska is special. We “individualized” the dessert, because we can’t think of anything more fun than receiving your very own swirly, torched-meringue-coffee-ice-cream-chocolate-cake at a dinner party. They are easy to make (though, yes, the process of freezing the components takes some time), and they keep well in the freezer if you want to prepare them a day or two ahead of time. And last, we should probably tell you that during the testing phase of our baked Alaskas, we almost never had leftovers, and we always wore stretchy pants.
Yields 12 Individual Baked Alaskas
For the Baked Alaska Bases
- 1 pint (473 ml) coffee ice cream, slightly softened
- 12 unglazed, unfrosted chocolate cupcakes (see Baked note)
- 1 pint (473 ml) vanilla ice cream
For the Baked Alaska Meringue
- 7 large egg whites
- 1 3/4 cups (350 g) granulated sugar
- ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Make the Baked Alaska Bases
1. Pull one or two very large pieces of plastic wrap across the top of a 12-cup muffin tin. The plastic wrap should cover the entire tin, plus there should be overhang (6 to 8 inches/15 to 20 cm) on either side. Press the plastic wrap into the bottoms and sides of the cups. Don’t worry if it doesn’t adhere to the sides of the tin; you just want to make sure it conforms to the general shape of the cups.
2. Equally divide the coffee ice cream among the prepared muffin cups. Use your fingers to press it into a compact, even layer. Cover the pan loosely with more plastic wrap and freeze for 1 hour.
3. Slice the cupcakes horizontally through the exact middle. Remove the pan from the freezer, and fold back the plastic wrap on top. Take the bottom piece of each cupcake (right side up is fine) and place it directly over the coffee ice cream, smushing the cake a little to create an even layer. Cover again and freeze for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, remove the vanilla ice cream from the freezer to soften.
4. Remove the pan from the freezer, and fold back the plastic wrap on top. Equally divide the softened vanilla ice cream among the 12 frozen cupcake layers. Use your fingers to press it into a compact, even layer. Immediately cover each with the top piece of cupcake (dome facing up) and press gently to adhere to the ice cream. Cover again loosely and freeze for at least 5 hours or overnight.
5. Invert the cupcake pan, pulling gently on the plastic wrap to help release the Alaskas. Remove all of the plastic wrap and divide the Alaskas onto two separate, parchment-lined baking sheets or 9-by-13-inch (23-by-33 cm) pans (this will make it easier to brown the meringue on just 6 at a time, which is ideal) and freeze for another 30 minutes.
Make the Baked Alaska Meringue
1. After the Alaskas have been frozen for 30 minutes, whisk the egg whites and sugar together in a nonreactive metal bowl (ideally from your standing mixer) until combined. Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Cook, whisking constantly, until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture registers 140°F (60°C) on an instant-read thermometer, 6 to 8 minutes.
2. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the mixture on high speed until stiff peaks form, adding the cream of tartar when the mixture begins to thicken, after about 3 minutes. When it holds stiff peaks, after about 6 minutes, add the vanilla and beat to incorporate.
3. Working quickly, remove 6 of the baked Alaska bases from the freezer. Cover each base in a thick coating of meringue—from top to bottom—taking care that no part of the base is showing, swirling and spiking the meringue as you like. Return to the freezer and repeat with the remaining bases.
4. Freeze for 2 hours or up to 24 hours.
Finish the Baked Alaskas
1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 500°F (260°C).
2. Bake just 6 meringue-covered bases at a time (do not bake one tray on the top shelf and one below), until the meringue starts to brown, 1 to 3 minutes. Keep the remaining bases in the freezer until the oven is free, then bake them at once. Alternatively, you can brown the meringue with a kitchen torch; just a few passes of the flame should do the trick. Plate individually and serve immediately
Use your favorite chocolate cupcake recipe for the baked Alaska bases. We tested this recipe several times using batches of our Red Wine Chocolate Cupcakes (unglazed, of course; page 117), and they were perfect—great crumb for the ice cream.
Photography by Brian Kennedy
Why Matt and Renato love this recipe: Baked Alaska is, in and of itself, genius because it combines all of our favorite things: cake, ice cream, and meringue in one giant and beautiful dessert. These are our food groups. And the dessert transcends nostalgia. (At least, our nostalgia – our grandmothers never made this). In fact, it feels almost alien and supreme – something Marie Antoinette would serve or something that might show up on the pages of a Dickens novel. If anyone ever asks us, “What is the next dessert trend?”, we always answer: We hope it is Baked Alaska.