Baked Alaska

The August 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Elissa of 17 and Baking. For the first time, The Daring Bakers partnered with Sugar High Fridays for a co-event and Elissa was the gracious hostess of both. Using the theme of beurre noisette, or browned butter, Elissa chose to challenge Daring Bakers to make a pound cake to be used in either a Baked Alaska or in Ice Cream Petit Fours. The sources for Elissa’s challenge were Gourmet magazine and David Lebovitz’s “The Perfect Scoop”.

I was slow to get started on this challenge because I had cannolis to make for a potluck, and we were still rolling in ice cream from last month’s Swiss roll ice cream bombe. Once there was a tiny bit of space in the freezer again for a fresh batch of ice cream, I selected David Lebovitz’s salted butter caramel ice cream, which I have been dying to make for ages and which I thought would pair nicely with the brown butter pound cake. Unfortunately, the tiny bit of space in the freezer was not sufficient to fit my ice cream maker’s bowl, so I ended up doing without it this time, just stirring the ice cream base in its container every hour or so until it thickened up to ice cream consistency. This took substantially longer than I had allotted in my day for the challenge, so I made a snap decision to use up the last of the apricot frozen yogurt first, in order to give the caramel ice cream more time to ripen.

The brown butter pound cake was straightforward enough. I used a home substitution for cake flour (2 T cornstarch topped with enough all-purpose flour to make a cup), but otherwise followed the recipe to the letter. Although a toothpick came out squeaky clean after 25 minutes, I was suspicious that the cake might not be done yet, so I baked it for an extra five to be safe. As it turns out, I should have baked it for at least five more, because when I cut into it, I discovered a rather soggy center. It tasted delicious nevertheless, so I just cut around the gooey portion and snacked on the scraps while finishing off the challenge.

As for the choice between baked Alaska and ice cream petit fours, I knew immediately that I would be making the former. Actually, my husband and I had just discussed the notion that baked Alaska would make a good Daring Bakers challenge, although in reference to the variety that calls for ladling flaming booze over the meringue to brown it. This version takes a less flamboyant (and equally less hazardous) approach and calls for browning the meringue under the broiler or via brulee torch. As much as I would have loved to use this challenge as an excuse to buy a torch, it just wasn’t in the budget this month, so I made do with the broiler. Just a few minutes was enough to brown the top of my meringue peaks and swirls, and although it was not as pretty or uniform as a torch job, I was mostly just relieved that the frozen yogurt didn’t melt in a big orange puddle first.

My baked Alaska is now in the freezer again, firming up before we cut into it. I may even attempt to brown it a tiny bit more first. In any case, I’ll post an update soon with photos of the cross-section. I also plan to use the majority of the pound cake and that salted butter caramel ice cream to try my hand at the petit fours, once the baked Alaska is no longer occupying the top shelf of my freezer. I’ve been sampling the ice cream as I stir it up, and the flavor is stupendous but very sweet; I think that a dark chocolate glaze and a pinch of fleur de sel on top will be just the ticket to balance it out. So stay tuned!

Update 8/28/10: Tonight after dinner, I made some little flower garnishes for our baked Alaska from homemade fruit leather (I’ll give you one guess what I made the fruit leather from), and then cracked it open with a sharp knife. The meringue stayed very soft in the freezer, and the cake gave less resistance than I expected. The pound cake had a delicious, slightly nutty flavor and moist texture, and I would certainly consider making it again for other desserts, but paying more particular attention to doneness.

As for the baked Alaska itself, it was a fun way to serve ice cream, but was otherwise largely unremarkable. I imagine it being invented when a baker had made a batch of custard-based ice cream and was looking for ways to use up the leftover egg whites—I frequently have that dilemma myself! Since I made just made one baked Alaska in a large mug to share with my husband, I only made a two-egg meringue, and still had about half of it leftover. So as not to waste the remainder, I folded some hazelnut praline powder into it and baked off dollops into crisp little cookies for my son to nibble on (300F for 10 minutes, 200F for 1 hour, and left overnight in the oven after turning it off). He’s not a big fan of ice cream, so this was an ideal solution.

I also made a deconstructed version of the baked alaska with my salted butter caramel ice cream, squares of pound cake and a meringue cookie. Less flashy, but probably more to our tastes. 🙂 The caramel ice cream, incidentally, was delicious, if rather soft, even after two days in the freezer.

I am a member of the Theta Class of the Daring Bakers, induced in July of 2007. For more information and a list of my previous challenges, click here.

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