Test Kitchen Tricks to Making the Perfect Baked Alaska
We broke down each layer and discovered some fun facts about your meringue, ice cream and pound cake.
Baked Alaska is all about opposites: it’s hot and cold, light and rich, creamy and fluffy. With little to no oven time needed and just a small amount of hands-on work, it truly is the perfect party-friendly treat. After my first taste of Baked Alaska, I became an instant fan. The combination of slightly chewy meringue, cold ice cream and soft pound cake was all my favorite dessert sensations in one. So, whenever I'm tasked with developing Baked Alaska recipes (like the ones for the September 2019 issue of Food Network Magazine), I'm thrilled to showcase the beauty and versatility of the dessert.
In order to turn out a successful Baked Alaska, you need three things: a layer of fluffy meringue, beautifully dense ice cream and a spongey pound cake. What I've learned is that makings small tweaks to one, or more of the layers, and changing up the shapes and sizes of each, can actually lead to an even tastier frozen treat! Here are my tips for acheiving the most delicious Baked Alaska every time.
Store-Bought Sorbet Goes A Long Way
While homemade ice cream is always amazing, the abundance of choices in the ice cream aisle are just too good to ignore — and that includes the pints of sorbet. Using fruity sorbets and sherbets within your ice cream mixture will give the Baked Alaska a pop of bright flavor that enhances the dessert rather than being distracting or overtly sweet.
Softened Ice Cream Makes All the Difference
The most important part of assembling a Baked Alaska is making sure the ice cream (or ice cream alternative) is softened just enough so you can spread and pack it into a single layer without any air pockets. This is especially true if you want to layer a few different flavors as we did with the Chocolate Lovers Baked Alaska, which contains 5 different types of chocolate ice creams. Keep in mind if you are working with a product like sherbet for the Mini Creamsicle Baked Alaska’s or sorbet for the Berry Pie Baked Alaska, they may soften at a different pace than regular ice cream, so watch your timing!
If Cake Isn’t Your Thing, Puff Pastry Will Do
The cake layer is key to the structure and flavor of a classic Baked Alaska. Not only does it provide a solid bottom layer, it also catches all those stray ice cream drippings. I set out to find out what else could provide the sturdiness of pound cake while also offering something new and found some interesting wins and passes. A soft ladyfinger seemed like a nice choice for the Mini Creamsicle Baked Alaska’s because they're cakey, but they also became hard and stale in the freezer. Giving them a light brush of orange syrup gave them just enough moisture to solve that problem, while also enhancing the citrusy flavor of the orange sherbet we used in that recipe. When it came to the Mixed Berry Pie Baked Alaska recipe, we found that adding a layer of jam had a similar effect on the puff pastry we used for the pie's interior. The jam soaked into the pastry just a little, so the end result was crisp, but not hard or dry.
Adding Ingredients to Your Meringue Doesn’t Change Its Structure
Full disclosure, though, I've always been that person that ate all the topping off my lemon meringue pie first and then went back for the crust and lemon curd. Meringue is essentially whipped egg whites that have been stabilized and thickened with sugar. The key to good meringue is to gradually add the sugar as you whip, making sure that one addition is fully incorporated before continuing. The same goes for additional add-ins.
Rather than relying on extracts alone to flavor my meringues, I took it one step further and made a cocoa meringue for the Chocolate Lovers Baked Alaska and a strawberry meringue for the Mixed Berry one. Incorporating cocoa or very finely crushed freeze-dried strawberries into the meringue didn’t impact the structure at all, although the cocoa did require a bit more time to whip smooth. Those hints of chocolate and strawberry kept the meringue from tasting one-dimensional and were in sync with the other berry and chocolatey fillings.
Try Baking Your Meringue Layer
One you have your three elements the finishing touch is up to you! Swoop that meringue with a spoon to make Instagram-worthy peaks or pipe it decoratively. (It looks beautiful either way.) Then after another long chill to fully freeze that meringue it’s finally time to brown it and enjoy. I love the ease and controlled beauty of toasting the meringue with a small torch, but baking it creates more of a complete brown shell around the frozen ice cream that is hugely satisfying.
Now that you are hungry for dessert, give one or all of these recipes a try!