February 1st is National Baked Alaska Day. This dazzling dessert is a masterpiece of chemistry: an ice cream cake topped with meringue and baked in the oven until the meringue browns.
Yes, frozen ice cream is baked in an oven!
The concept (and execution) is simple. Ice cream, mounded on a pie plate, is covered on all sides with slices of sponge cake or pound cake, which is then covered with meringue.
The entire dessert is then placed in a 500°F oven just long enough to firm the meringue—three or four minutes.
The meringue (photo #3) is an effective insulator, and in the short cooking time needed to finish the dessert, it prevents the ice cream from melting.
The concept of baked ice cream was developed by the Chinese, who used pastry as the insulator. A Chinese delegation introduced it to Paris in the 19th century.
In 1804, the British physicist Sir Benjamin Thompson (Count Rumford) then investigated the heat resistance of beaten egg whites and demonstrated that beaten egg whites were a better insulator.
His dish was named Omelette Surprise or Omelette à la Norvégienne, the Norwegian attribution owing to the “arctic” appearance and cold center.
The recipe crossed the pond to Delmonico’s Restaurant in New York City, which renamed the dessert Baked Alaska in honor of the newly acquired Alaska territory (in 1867).
The name stuck.
It’s easy when you use store-bought ice cream and pound cake instead of making/baking your own from scratch.
> The history of Baked Alaska.
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