|via serious eats //ph: stacy newgent|
Today is National Baked Alaska Day! Why not celebrate with a little food history and a pie version of the original classic dessert.
There's a lot of debate about the real origin of Baked Alaska, traditionally composed of sponge cake and ice cream filling with a baked meringue shell. The predecessor to this dessert dates back to the turn of the 18th century when scientist Sir Benjamin Thompson discovered that the air bubbles inside whipped egg whites made meringue a great insulator. It's the meringue on the Baked Alaska that insulates the ice cream from heat. This culinary revelation inspired French chefs to create a dessert called the "Omelette Norwegge," which consisted of cake and ice cream covered in meringue, then broiled. The name was inspired by France's frigid territory to the north - Norway.
In 1867, the Unites States purchased Alaska from Russia, an acquisition that drew lots of criticism and ridicule. It's believed that Charles Ranhofer, the expat Parisian pastry chef at legendary Delmonico's restaurant in New York City, renowned for dishes doubling as cultural commentary, jumped on the bandwagon with the treat he dubbed "Alaska, Florida" - a reference to the temperature contrast between ice cream and toasted meringue. The original recipe consisted of banana ice cream, walnut spice cake and meringue torched to a golden brown. Although fairly easy to make now with modern appliances, back then it required a full kitchen staff, a significant amount of time and expensive bananas from Central America, all of which contributed to the dessert's fat price tag - equivalent to about $40 today.
The following pie recipe is a spin on the classic Baked Alaska. It's excerpted from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home by Jeni Britton Bauer. (Artisan Books). This particular pie is versatile in that the flavor changes with the ice cream. Use any flavor combination that appeals to you - chocolate, coconut, banana, and lemon ice cream, or strawberry and buttermilk ice cream. You can even add a thin layer of sauce between the ice cream and merengue -- chocolate, butterscotch, raspberry -- you name it you can add it -- for a new twist. It's yours to create. Make it a party-worthy performance by putting on the finishing touches with a blow torch in front of friends.
Jeni Britton Bauer's Baked Alaska Pie
for Pie Crust:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch and chilled
1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons half and half
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 batch ice cream or sorbet of your choice, slightly softened if necessary
for Italian Meringue:
4 large egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
pinch of fine sea salt
pinch of cream of tartar
1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped out and reserved (optional)
- For the Pie Crust: Combine the all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, and oats in a food processor and process until the oats are in bits. Add the sugar and salt and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse just until the dough begins to come together and looks crumbly.
- Whisk the egg yolk and half-and-half together in a small bowl. Add the vanilla and whisk to combine. Add to the flour mixture and pulse until the mixture forms a dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, gather it into a ball, and press into a disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.
- Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let warm for a few minutes to relax the dough. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a circle just under 14 inch thick. Gently fold the circle over the rolling pin and lift into a 9-inch pie pan. Press the dough into the pan and trim the edges to a 12-inch overhang. Roll the edge of the dough under itself and tuck and pinch to create a fluted edge; you can also use a fork to create a decorative finish. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 350º F. Prick the bottom of the dough all over with a fork. Line with a square of parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 12 minutes.
- Lift out the liner and weights and bake for another 12 to 15 minutes, or until the shell is lightly browned and cooked through on the bottom. Let cool, then wrap well in plastic wrap and freeze. Fill the shell with the ice cream, cover with plastic wrap, and freeze or at least 4 hours.
- For the Meringue: Put the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Combine the sugar, water, corn syrup, and salt in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring once or twice to dissolve the sugar; once the sugar is dissolved, do not stir the syrup again. Insert a candy thermometer in the pan. When the syrup reaches 215º F, turn the mixer on to medium speed and start whipping the egg whites. (You want to time the whipping of the egg whites so that they reach soft peaks by the time the syrup is ready.) When the egg whites begin to foam, add the cream of tartar.
- When the syrup reaches 238º F, remove it from the heat. With the mixer on medium speed, carefully pour the syrup out in a slow, steady stream down the side of the mixer bowl - be careful not to let the stream of syrup come into contact with the whisk. Once all the syrup has been added, add the vanilla seeds, if using, turn the speed up to high, and whip until the meringue forms billowy peaks and is cool.
- Remove the ice cream pie from the freezer and mound dollops of the meringue on top. Place in the freezer, uncovered, until ready to serve. (The assembled pie can be store in your freezer for up to a month. Once the meringue has frozen, wrap the entire pie in plastic wrap.)
- Preheat the oven to 475º F. Remove the pie from the freezer and bake for about 5 minutes, just enough to brown the meringue on top and slightly melt the edges of the ice cream. Slice and serve.