When it comes to ice cream, I generally feel it’s hard to improve on a simple scoop right out of the carton. But this time my mind has turned to baked Alaska. I know… How retro!
Baked Alaska once was the star dessert of cruise ship dining rooms and upscale restaurants. The classic recipe called for vanilla ice cream enrobed in sponge cake, lavishly frosted with meringue, then lightly browned in a high-heat oven. At the last moment, it was doused in alcohol and set on fire. The waiter would emerge from the kitchen and parade around the room holding the star of the evening aloft. Now that’s showbiz!
Baked Alaska’s enduring appeal — and mystery — is easy to understand. How can you bake ice cream in an oven and not have it melt into a bubbly puddle? The answer? It’s doubly insulated by the cake and the meringue. This may seem daunting, but it’s not beyond the skills of a home cook.
My version results in mini baked Alaskas: one person, one Alaska. Accordingly, a small brownie stands in for a full cake. Any store-bought brownie (roughly 2 inches square) will do. You cut it in half horizontally (to create two thin halves), then sandwich in the frozen filling. Won’t the brownie crumble when you cut it? Not if you freeze it for 30 minutes ahead of time.
The “ice cream” in this recipe is raspberry sorbet. It’s a slimmer option than full-fat ice cream, a refreshing flavor that nods to the season, and a time-tested and deeply satisfying complement to the dark chocolate.
I wasn’t sure that the brownie and the meringue would match up as well, but it turns out that the meringue — basically just a lighter-than-air mixture of beaten egg whites and sugar — somehow transforms our tiny stuffed ice cream sandwich into something quite substantial. Before you bake it, just be sure to slather every part of this concoction with the meringue. That’ll protect the ice cream during its short blast with heat.
Once you pull your baked Alaska out of the oven, top it off with assorted berries. They add color and flavor and — Mom has to say it — they’re good for you, too.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television’s “Sara’s Weeknight Meals” and has written three cookbooks, including “Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners.”