A Baked Alaska is a dessert with a long – and delicious – history. It is made by topping a piece of sponge cake with a generous scoop or slab of ice cream, then covering the whole thing in a thick layer of meringue and baking it. The meringue insulates the ice cream while the dessert is browning and you end up with a delicious mixture of flavors and textures, the most surprising of which is the ice cream center that doesn’t melt while it is in the oven! Many chefs are credited with the invention of the dessert, and there were many hot-and-cold dessert pairings served as ice cream became widely available, but the name “Baked Alaska” was coined at Delmonico’s Restaurant in New York City in 1876 to honor the recently acquired American territory of Alaska.
Baked Alaska is not a difficult dessert to make at home, since it has only three components: cake, ice cream and meringue. You can easily put your own spin on the original recipe by using brownies or pound cake, instead of a plain sponge cake, and you can even use store-bought cake instead of homemade. The ice cream flavors can be mixed and matched to suit your tastes, too. The only element of this dessert that you can’t change is the meringue. You need to make a classic meringue with eggs and sugar to finish the dessert off properly, since the air pockets created by whipping the egg whites are what insulate the ice cream while the dessert is browning. It’s a fantastic dessert to impress a crowd with, and since the base can be prepared well in advance and frozen, it is a great make-ahead dessert when you want to serve something special without being pressed for time.