The Story of Baked Alaska (Recipe Too!)

Baked Alaska

CakeSpy Note: I thought it was about time to share this excerpt from my awesome book, The Secret Lives of Baked Goods. If you find the witty repartee engaging and the dessert tantalizing, well then, maybe you should buy the book.

The Story of Baked Alaska

It wouldn’t be so crazy to assume that this dramatic dessert, characterized by a chilly core of ice cream with a thick coating of snowdrift-like meringue, hails from Alaska. But, alas, you’d be wrong. Baked Alaska may take its name from the Last Frontier, but it was born many miles away and many years prior to the state’s annexation.

The idea of cooking a cold dessert encased with pastry is documented as early as the 1700s in China. At that time, the desserts would have borne little resemblance to what we call Baked Alaska today—they would have been more like frozen ices or creams coated in breadcrumbs. However, when Chinese delegates introduced such treats to the French, the concept excited pastry chefs, who adapted it in a most delightful sugar-, cream-, and egg-filled way. America’s first famous Francophile, Thomas Jefferson, may have served something along these lines as early as 1802.

But it’s an eccentric genius named Count Rumford (born Benjamin Thompson) to whom we owe a big, sweet thanks when it comes to further developing this showy dessert—he’s the one credited with introducing the meringue coating in the 1800s. Rumford was an interesting fellow—he was an American physicist living in Europe (and a former spy, to boot). Apparently in his free time he tinkered with food science—and while experimenting with dessert techniques, he realized that while pastry would conduct a lot of the heat and protect a cold core, a layer of meringue would do so to an even greater degree. He created a dessert that he called “omelette surprise,” which was also dubbed omelette à la norvégienne or “Norwegian omelette,” in reference to its snowy appearance.

The dessert’s popularity caught on during the Victorian era, and these elaborate confections, often called bombes, were made in various fancy shapes.

In 1876, the dessert made a stateside splash at Delmonico’s Restaurant in New York City, where Charles Ranhofer prepared it to celebrate the newly acquired Alaska Territory. Originally dubbed the “Alaska-Florida” (inspired by the cold-hot duality of the dessert), the name was eventually shortened to Baked Alaska. It became known as a dessert for
the privileged, and was popularized in well-heeled destinations as far away as Monte Carlo.

After the blown-out bluster of the Victorian era and the dull austerity of the Depression and war years, the dessert enjoyed a renaissance in the 1950s, when Alaska was granted statehood. It was quite the popular hostess dessert and piece de resistance throughout the ’60s. One flamboyant variation called Bombe Alaska calls for dark rum to be splashed over the Baked Alaska. Lights are then turned down and the whole dessert is flambéed while being served! Exercise caution if you decide to try this at home.

Baked Alaska

Makes one 9-inch dome (12 servings)

  • 10 cups (5 pint-size contain- ers) ice cream, slightly softened (all one flavor, or several flavors)
  • Brownie Base (recipe follows)
  • 6 cups Meringue Coating (recipe follows) 

Procedure
To make the ice cream dome, place a 3-quart mixing bowl (with a diameter of about 9 inches) in the freezer to chill. Line it with plastic wrap. Fill the bowl with ice cream; smooth and level the top surface. Cover the surface with plastic wrap and freeze until the ice cream is very hard, at least 4 hours, or up to 24 hours. Note: To make miniature Baked Alaskas, you can split the ice cream between multiple small domed bowls (with diameters of about 3 inches).

Set the brownie layer out on a large, flat, ovenproof plate. Unmold the ice cream dome on top of the brownie layer, but leave the plastic wrap on top. Trim any bottom edges of the brownie layer to make it flush with the ice cream. Place this big, cold blob into the freezer.

Make the meringue cover, then take the ice cream dome from the freezer and remove the plastic wrap. Spread the meringue onto the ice cream dome, covering it completely. Use the back of a spoon to flick and pull little peaks up from the surface (for a nubbly texture when it bakes). Freeze for at least 3 hours, or overnight.

Near the time you’d like to serve your Baked Alaska, heat the oven to 500 degrees F, making sure there’s enough clearance to fit the dessert. When the oven is at temperature, remove the assembled bombe from the freezer, set it on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and put it into the oven. Bake for 3 to 5 minutes, rotating the dome once or twice, until the peaks turn a golden brown color. Let the cake stand at room temperature for about 15 minutes before serving (this will ensure that you’ll be able to slice through it without the crust getting all gooey and oozey). Slice and serve; freeze any leftovers for up to 5 days.

Brownie base

(note: you can use whatever brownie recipe you like, baked in a 9-inch cake pan)

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour the bottom and sides of a 9-inch round cake pan; line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.
     
  2. Heat the butter and chocolate over low heat, using either a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan or a double boiler. Stir occasionally until melted. Set aside to cool.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt until combined. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar, and vanilla until well combined. Add the slightly warm chocolate mixture to the eggs and whisk to combine. Add the flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until just combined. Spoon the batter into the prepared cake pan; use an offset or rubber spatula to smooth and level the batter.
  5. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out mostly clean. Set the pan on a wire rack until the brownie layer is completely cool. 

Meringue coating

  • 8 egg whites, at room temperature

  • 1⁄4 teaspoon cream of tartar 1⁄8 teaspoon salt

  • 3⁄4 cup sugar 

Using a stand mixer with a clean, dry bowl and fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt on medium-high speed until the whites form soft peaks. Increase the speed to high and add the sugar in a slow stream, continuing to whip until stiff, shiny peaks form.

Have you ever tried Baked Alaska?

Yogacorns Present: The Drishtis

Even if you don't know or care what a drishti is, you might have fun with this helpful yoga guide as presented by Yogacorns. 



A drishti is the direction of the gaze in a yoga pose, intended to help boost concentration. Of course, if you don't care much for yoga, you can enjoy the cute unicorns and then fix your own drishti on the next delicious dessert! 

Website remodel, and a coloring book page for you.

Oh, hi, you guys. I am in the process of re-modeling my website a bit, so excuse the growing pains as I make it "mobile friendly".

Meantime, I read an article recently about how coloring book pages designed for adults are the new thing--apparently they can act as a powerful mindfulness exercise. If I uploaded it correctly, you should be able to print this out in an appropriate size for coloring. If not, you can click here and download it in a variety of sizes. Enjoy!

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links

Double chocolate stout bread pudding with balt marley caramel. Sounds awesome! (Lost Recipes Found)

Rum chocolate pineapple brownies. Interesting. (Recipe for Perfection)

Common cooking mistakes...and how to combat them. (Craftsy)

Raspberry curd tart. I want it. (Tutti Dolci)

A guide to the iconic desserts of Kansas City. (KCUR.org)

Lemon cookie gelato. Please, can I marry this recipe? (How Sweet Eats)

No bake cookie butter bars. Be still my beating heart. (Wallflour Girl)

Bakerella's roundup of the Ben & Jerry's ice cream adventure! (Bakerella)

VERY early morning breakfast bars. I want one, or five. (Salt & Serenity)

Mango cookies. INTO IT. (Whipperberry)

Adventures in Bakebook-ing: a roundup of the totally sweet Sweetapolita blog book tour. (Sweetapolita)

Easy things to draw if you're just getting started. (Craftsy)

Westhaven cake. I'd try it. (Cooks.com)

5 foods to try in Canada. I could go for a beaver tail. (Eturbonews)

How about a Brooklyn egg cream crawl? (Airship Daily)

Ever tried a hedgehog slice? Don't worry, no actual hedgehogs were harmed in the making of. (Giramuk's Kitchen)

Caramelized white mocha meringue. Pinkies out! (Moonblush Baker)

Is rejection worse than death? (CakeSpy)

One response: is rejection worsee than death? (Slow Bloom)

Another response: is rejection worse than death? (Thick Dumpling Skin)

Check me out on the Food Psych Podcast! (Food Psych Podcast)

Book of the week: Betty Crocker's "Frankly Fancy" Foods Recipe Book. This retro recipe pamphlet is one of the more awesome ones that I have come across. It's readily available (and cheap!) on Amazon or ebay - check it out!

Turtles Without Nuts: Fruit Cup Turtles Recipe

Turtle Tuffle bark

A turtle without nuts? Believe it. This controversial confection is a key player in the new book Turtle, Truffle, Bark: Simple and Indulgent Chocolates to Make at Home.

Is it ok to make turtles with fruit instead of nuts? I say as long as the caramel is present, proceed. What do you think? Here's the recipe. 

Turtle Tuffle bark

Fruit Cup Turtles

Eek! A turtle without nuts? Well, why the hell not?
These days, we’ve got such an assortment of dried fruits to choose from, it boggles the mind. I can’t get

enough of those dried tart cherries, so let’s throw those in, along with chopped papaya and a bit of chopped, candied lemon peel. Let’s pretend these turtles are health food, and top them with toasted pumpkin seeds.

Chocolate color? Choose your poison. There is absolutely no way to do these wrong. Take two of these and call me in the morning!

 

  • 2 cups dried tart cherries
  • 2 cups chopped papaya
  • 1 cup chopped lemon peel
  • 3/4 pound caramel
  • 1 pound tempered chocolate
  • 1/2 cup roasted, salted pumpkin seeds

 

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Spread cherries in an even layer on the parchment. Layer papaya on top of the cherries. Sprinkle lemon peel on top of cherries and papaya. Set aside.

Place prepared caramel into a bowl. Put bowl in microwave, and heat on high for 45 seconds to 1 minute. Take out of microwave, stir well with medium­sized spatula, and put back in for 30 seconds. At this point, your caramel should be in liquid form.

Scoop a dollop of caramel from the bowl with your small silicone spatula, and using your other spatula, ease the caramel off the spatula and onto the fruit. Try to make them anywhere from 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter, depending on the size of the turtles you’d like to make. You’ll end up with 20 to 24 caramel turtle middles.

When caramel is completely cooled, you can start assembling your turtles.

Line one or two 18x13 sheet pans with parchment paper. Using a candy funnel, deposit dollops of chocolate on the parchment paper. Each one should be approximately 1 1⁄2 inches in diameter and there should be about an inch between each dollop. Make about six dollops, then place a caramel middle on each one. Continue making bottoms, topping with caramel, every six or so. When you have all your bottoms and middles done, go back to where you started and top the caramel with chocolate. You want to use enough chocolate to mostly cover the caramel. Sprinkle pumpkin seeds on top.

When turtles are completely hardened, they will last in an airtight container for three weeks. 

Excerpted with permission from Turtle, Truffle, Bark: Simple and Indulgent Chocolates to Make at Home

Chocolate Milk Poke Cake

Seven minute frosting

I don't like the term "poke cake" because quite frankly, it sounds kind of dirty. Like, I feel like I should be blushing when I talk about them. But I love, love, love eating them. Because poke cakes aren't anything dirty at all: they're simply cakes which have been poked with a skewer of some sort so that they can be more receptive to delicious soaking liquids (tres leches cake would be a famous poke cake, btw. So would Better than Sex Cake).

Seven minute frosting

And I have to say: this poke cake is spectacular. It starts with a cake mix, but it's fancied up right quick by using melted butter and milk instead of the water and oil called for on the package, and then once baked, it's poked and soaked (see? dirty-sounding!) with an absolutely dazzling chocolate and sweetened condensed milk mixture. Even served just like that, this cake could make you cry with joy.

But save the tears, because there's still frosting! I used seven minute frosting, but you can use whatever type of buttercream or topping you'd prefer.

Seven minute frosting

It's a joy to dig into this cake, because it has all the joy of a yellow cake but the moisture and decadence of a gooey chocolate dessert. 

I'll leave it at this: it's a great cake. And anyone you make it for should consider themselves very lucky! 

Chocolate milk poke cake

Printable version here

Makes one, two-layer, 8-inch cake

For the cake

  • 1 box cake mix (I used Pillsbury yellow cake)
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 3 eggs 
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • pinch salt

For the topping

  • 4 ounces dark chocolate
  • 1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk 
  • Pinch salt 

To top it all off

  • 1 batch seven minute frosting (recipe here) or buttercream of your choice

Procedure

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease two 8-inch cake pans. I greased mine with some Bertolli spray because it had recently been sent to me and I thought it would be nice to say thanks. They didn't pay me to say that. 
  2. Poke cake
  3. Combine all of the cake ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer. Blend on medium speed until smooth and lump-free.
  4. Poke cake
  5. Divide into the two cake pans, and bake for 30 minutes or until golden and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out mostly clean.
  6. Poke cake
  7. Remove from the oven, and after a few minutes, invert on to a wire rack set above a baking pan (to catch drips in the next step). 
  8. Poke cake
  9. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the sweetened condensed milk and chocolate, stirring frequently, until the chocolate has melted. Remove from heat and stir in the salt. You can also do this while the cake bakes (that's what I did). 
  10. Poke cakePoke cake
  11. Poke the cake all over at 1 inch intervals using a chopstick--but don't go all the way to the bottom.
  12. Pour the chocolate mixture gently on top. If you're careful you shouldn't have too much loss of chocolate goo. Because it is tasty, and you want it in your mouth, not on the bottom of a pan. 
  13. Poke cake
    See how interesting they look?
Poke cake
    Let the cakes set for a while. Meantime, make some frosting. I used seven minute frosting but you can use whatever kind you like.
    Frost the top of one of the layers, stack the second, and frost the sides and top. Enjoy! 
Seven minute frosting

Have you ever tried a poke cake?

Grandma's Killer Chocolate Cake from Author James Patterson

Mystery Writers of America cookbook excerpt

Here's a riddle: what kind of cakes do mystery writers like?

Happily, the new book The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook: Wickedly Good Meals and Desserts to Die For is ready and willing to answer this question in the most delicious way. It is a collection of recipes culled from famous mystery writers, and it makes for mighty sweet eating. 

When choosing an excerpt recipe to feature here, my eye was drawn right away to "Grandma’s Killer Chocolate Cake: via mystery writer James Patterson. I hope you'll enjoy!

Grandma's Killer Chocolate Cake

Recipe headnote:

Here’s one “killer” Alex Cross always loves to catch—Grandma’s Killer Cake! A special family recipe dating from the 1940s, this decadent cake seems to get better with age; it is tastier on day two. And you need to be a good detective around the house after it has been made, sitting there in its glass­domed cake stand, staring back at you with deadly temptation, because a piece seems to mysteriously disappear every time I go into the kitchen. Not to be caught red­handed, so looms the “Killer Cake Killer”!

YIELD: 1 SINGLE­ LAYER 9x12 INCH CAKE OR 1 DOUBLE LAYER 9­ INCH CAKE

CAKE

  • 2∕3 cup butter
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups flour
  • 11∕3 cups buttermilk
  • 11∕3 teaspoons baking soda dissolved in 2 ∕ 5 cup hot water 31∕2 squares bitter chocolate, melted gently
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

FROSTING

  • 1∕2 cup butter
  • 3 squares bitter chocolate
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2∕3 cup milk 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract

 


1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Cream butter and sugar together. Add eggs.

2. Blend in flour and buttermilk in alternating additions, starting and ending with the flour. Add baking soda mixture, followed by chocolate and vanilla extract.

3. Pour batter into one 9­by­12­inch pan or two round 9­inch springform pans. Bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool.

4. Combine all frosting ingredients in a saucepan, bring to a full boil, and boil for 2 minutes. Let cool. You can put saucepan on ice if necessary to cool quickly.

5. Remove the cake from the pan, frost, and serve.

About the author: James Patterson has sold 300 million books worldwide, including the Alex Cross, Michael Bennett, Women’s Murder Club, Maximum Ride, and Middle School series. He supports getting kids reading through scholarship, Book Bucks programs, book donations, and his website, readkiddoread.com. He lives in Palm Beach with his wife, Sue, and his son, Jack.

Excerpted from The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook: Wickedly Good Meals and Desserts to Die For edited by Kate White. Reprinted with permission from Quirk Books. 

A Sweet Visit to Florence, Colorado

Florence, CO

Last week, I went to Florence, Colorado. In case you are unfamiliar, this is a weird but wonderful little pioneer town in Southern Colorado. It's home to a bevy of antique shops, plenty of unique architecture, and...the penitentiary. Not kidding.

It makes for an interesting town. And happily, I had some time to explore it. Let me tell you what I found there:

Before I go into food, let me tell you that there is an enterprising artist in Florence who carves tree stumps into elaborate works of art. Here I am next to one of them.

Florence, CO

The first culinary stop was Two Sisters, which is an establishment which seems like it's of a bygone era, or at least a David Lynch movie. We got some very hearty beef strogranoff, which was the special of the day. To our amazement, when dessert came (included with dinner)...it was cinnamon rolls. Cinnamon rolls at night? Don't mind if I do.

Florence, CO

I was surprised to see that Two Sisters had mixed reviews on Yelp. It's certainly not the place to go if you're into organic food, or even vegetarian food. But as a special occasion trip to the Colorado frontier, I thought it was full of charm and homestyle goodness.

The next morning, we went to a place called the Rose Bud Cafe. Everything you ordered arrived covered in gravy. It was that type of place. They did have cinnamon rolls, but we didn't partake. But it did get me thinking: perhaps gravy and cinnamon rolls were the official foods of the town. 

Photo: Rose Bud Cafe Yelp page

After breakfast we went to the local bakery, Aspen Leaf, and picked up a variety of treats, including pecan brownies, bread pudding, and bear claws. Oh, and yes: they had cinnamon rolls.

Florence, CO Florence, CO

We went to the local coffee shop, The Pour House, and got coffee. And a doughnut, made in nearby Cañon City. Why not? 

Florence, CO

We walked by this place and were intrigued, but it was not open. Florence, CO

That day, we went to the Pikes Peak cog railway. Florence, CO

Here we are from very high altitude!

Florence, CO Florence, CO

For dinner, we went to my cousin Jason's house. Seriously, dudes, he built a house. They have chicks. Baby chicks. So cute! 

I made the three ingredient chocolate cake from this very blog for dessert and we ate it before it even cooled. Classy!

3 Ingredient Chocolate Cake

The next morning, we went back to Two Sisters for breakfast, since it was Easter and it was the only thing open. Cinnamon roll? Oh, too full. 

Luckily, a couple of the antique stores were open on Easter, so we toured them and I got THIS treasure:

Florence, CO

I probably should have bought this, but I didn't. If you are going to Florence anytime soon, it's all yours.

Florence, CO

We got home feeling tired and full. Overalll, it was a great and sweet trip!

Places Mentioned: 

Two Sisters

Rose Bud Cafe

Aspen Leaf

The Pour House

Pikes Peak

Yoberri, Santa Fe: Where I Ate Frozen Yogurt and Didn't Hate It

News flash: I ate frozen yogurt and I didn't hate it.

If you read this site, you know that I have strong feelings about frozen yogurt. It's not ice cream. It never will be. Keep it off my dessert plate, please. 

But as part of an ice cream and frozen treat expedition for an article I was writing for New Mexico magazine, I found myself duty-bound to sample the frozen yogurt at local Santa Fe mini-chain Yoberri. And I didn't hate it.

What is so special about this particular variety of fro-yo?

Yoberri, Santa Fe

Perhaps it's the fact that it's made in-house, with quality ingredients. Perhaps it's because they make it with care and precision, and it has a smooth, non-grainy texture.

Or maybe it's the toppings, which include homemade maple fudge sauce, chocolate chili sauce, and more. And fruit, if you're into that (I AM NOT). 

Yoberri, Santa Fe

 

Whatever it was, I found this frozen yogurt downright enjoyable. I got the "classic tart" vanilla, and topped it with aforementioned maple fudge sauce and (natch) rainbow sprinkles. And I ate every bite. 

Yoberri, Santa Fe

Don't get me wrong, my personal preference is still for ice cream; I'm of the "gimme the cream!" sort of mentality that I'm sure other ice cream aficionados will appreciate. But as frozen yogurt goes, this is some of the best I have tasted, and I would eat it again. 

There, I said it. I enjoyed eating frozen yogurt. 

Yoberri, two locations in Santa Fe; online here

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links

Homemade battenberg cake

Battenberg cake! Make it now. (CakeSpy for Serious Eats)

Marble halvah recipe. I'm gonna try it! (Joy of Kosher)

I've been nominated to go back to Bali to teach. Vote for me? (Vote here)

My best friends, Ben and Jerry, have a sweet new product. Worth your time (Brr-rito)

Speaking of my bffs Ben and Jerry, did you see the cute cartoon I made to document my visit? (CakeSpy)

Easy pancake rolls, three ways. Don't you love the post already? (Crazy for Crust)

How to maintain a healthy relationship with sugar. By my friend Pam! (Peaceful Dumpling)

What was Abraham Lincoln's last meal? (History.com)

That led me to wonder: what about other famous people's last meals? (Mental Floss)

My kind of museum show: an exhibit on New Jersey diners. (GMnews.com)

Good eggs: the many purposes of eggs in baking (Craftsy)

Muscovado chocolate chip cookies. Get a little fancy, why don't you. (Love and Olive Oil)

In praise of doodling. (CakeSpy for Craftsy)

Carrot cake pop-tarts. (The Emotional Baker)

Matcha chantilly cakes. SO elegant. (Sprinkle Bakes)

Shortbread cookie truffles. Awesome. (CakeSpy)

Book of the week: 

Will It Waffle?: 53 Irresistible and Unexpected Recipes to Make in a Waffle Iron. Seriously. A dude puts every type of food in a waffle maker with one question above all others as motivation: will it waffle? You'd be surprised how often the answer is yes. 

Big note:

be sure to listen to me live on Sunday! Here are the deets: