Confectionery, Dessert, eggs, Fruit, Random Thoughts

It’s so cold in Alaska.

There’s a certain WTF quality of pre-1980s color photography that automatically makes the food of that era look gruesome. We’ve all seen the evidence. A certain percentage of the internet is devoted to the horrors of post-WWII cuisine, whether it’s the recipe cards of the 70s, cookbooks, or the horrors of gelatin. Many of these websites even mock retro food by actually preparing and eating it.

The famed Betty Crocker Recipe Card collection.

The famed Betty Crocker Recipe Card Library.

It was only a matter of time, given the attention-whoring properties of the internet and the perpetual ironic stance a certain sector of the population has adopted, before people would express their ironic detachment by engaging directly with the object of their detachment and posting accounts of these amusing encounters on the internet. This is an interesting phenomenon, as it places the practitioner in proximate, intentional contact with the subject of derision and scorn, for the specific purpose of reinforcing and publicly expressing those feelings. It isn’t just interesting, it’s perverse – and ironic as well. I hate goat cheese, for example. To me it tastes like teabagging an unwashed goatherd. But you don’t see me ordering roasted beet and chèvre salads or digging into great oozing wedges of crottin to prove that point. I stay away from things I don’t like.

My husband is fond of relating a story from his boarding school days of a number of guys who, rallying around a shared disdain for heavy metal, would spend hours on end hanging out in each others’ rooms, listening to heavy metal, playing air guitar and throwing devil horns. I once heard a piece on NPR about a group of friends who took up bowling as a form of amusement based on a shared belief that bowling is a particularly gross relic of the Happy Days era. They would regularly visit bowling alleys, wear the shoes, roll the ball, drink the PBR, the whole thing. “That’s great and all,” the raconteur observed, “but when all is said and done, you’re actually bowling.” Point, game, match. Is it really worth walking into an elevator in a public building carrying a single bicycle wheel, wearing knickerbockers, a newsboy cap, and a curling, waxed handlebar mustache (this is a true story), just to make the point that anachronistic clothing looks kind of insane today?

When it comes to actually cooking and eating retro foods as part of an exercise in mockery, one of two possibilities exists. Either the cook cannot be trusted to make and serve something he or she truly believes is delicious, calling his or her judgment into question, or the cook secretly craves the food in question but is afraid to admit it for fear of losing valuable sophistication credentials. It’s got to be hard for the urbane foodie who aspires to know the origins and living conditions of every heirloom pig that ends up as chops in the market, and makes a point to know the difference between the foodways of Tuscany and Umbria, to admit to a fondness for hotdish, or the old-fashioned meat lasagne made with those ruffle-edged Creamettes noodles, or crock pot meatballs in barbecue sauce. Here’s the thing, though. Put those items on a table at your next party alongside some expensive locally sourced baby vegetables and see which one goes first. The answer may surprise you.

Baked Alaska “Egg”

Baked Alaska is one of those desserts you almost never see on menus, although it has made the rare appearance during the last few years on the menus of a certain type of restaurant, usually the kind that serves expensive versions of meatloaf and fried chicken. By the time I learned about it, when I was a kid riffling through my mother’s Betty Crocker Recipe Card Library in the mid 70s, it was already well on its way out of fashion, discarded as a midcentury relic in favor of pineapple upside-down cakes and crêpes Suzette. But the prospect of a baked dessert that somehow maintained a cold ice cream center was irresistible. To my six year-old conception of the world, it sounded like magic. “American Classics” card 15, “Individual Brownie Alaskas,” displayed a fetching mound of candy-pink peppermint ice cream atop a brownie layer, frosted with pillowy meringue tipped golden from the oven, a slight wedge removed as proof the inside remained frozen. “Seasonal Favorites” card 2, “Orange Baked Alaskas,” was even more glamorous, a hollowed-out orange capped in swirling meringue, encasing orange sherbet. “The first Baked Alaska was created at famous Delmonico’s restaurant in 1867 to honor the purchase of the new territory,” the card recites. How did they do it? Was it both hot and cold?

The beauty of the Baked Alaska.

The beauty of the Baked Alaska.

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The easy way to make Baked Alaska is to buy a pint of ice cream, put it inside or atop something insulating (like a layer of cake), freeze it rock solid, frost it thickly with meringue and pop it in a ragingly hot oven. But then you’re left with all the egg yolks, and have to make pudding or something to use them up. Rather than doing that, why not use the egg yolks to make the ice cream for the Baked Alaska? And then make the entire thing look like an egg?

Assemble the Baked Alaskas by freezing a small sphere of passionfruit sorbet (the yolk) inside vanilla ice cream (the white) in spherical molds. Once frozen hard, place the spheres inside a baked meringue shell and top with piped-on meringue. Be absolutely sure there is no gap in the margin between the meringue shell and the meringue topping; you want to insulate the ice cream completely from the hot oven air. Bake at 500F/260C for about 2 minutes or just long enough to brown the meringue somewhat. This sounds an insanely hot oven temperature, but the goal is to blast the outside meringue so quickly the interior ice cream does not have time to heat up.

Ready to come out of the oven.

Ready to come out of the oven.

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Recipes for each component are below.

Rich vanilla ice cream

Usually, I prefer ice creams without egg; to me, the egg yolk lends its own flavor and competes unfavorably with the taste of the cream. But egg-enriched vanilla ice cream is a pretty good thing; it’s really more like a frozen crème anglaise. If using for Baked Alaska rather than just eating on its own, you must make this at least one day in advance and probably two.

1 1/4 c superfine sugar
2 tbsp bourbon smoked sugar
2 c heavy cream
1 1/4 c whole milk
1 vanilla bean, scraped
4 egg yolks, reserving whites for meringues below
scant 1/4 tsp smoked salt

Combine milk and cream. Separately, whisk together yolks, sugar, and salt until thick and lemony ribbons form.

Heat milk and cream with vanilla seeds and pod; bring to 180F and steep 10 mins. Strain.

Temper about 1 c milk/ with yolk/sugar mixture and whisk slowly back into the milk. Return to simmer. Cook custard to 180F until mixture coats back of spoon.

Cool in bain marie. Strain through fine chinois into ice cream maker. Process and then freeze hard.

Passionfruit sorbet

This is stupidly easy to make if you have access to a supermarket with a Latin foods section. Get yourself a bag of fruit pulp (Goya is the most commonly available brand) and spin it into sorbet.

Because fruit lacks the fat necessary to a good mouthfeel, I typically add gelatin to my sorbets. You don’t need much – this isn’t going to be a gelled pudding, after all – but the gelatin adds a little body and a slightly creamy consistency to the finished product.

1 14-ounce bag of Goya passionfruit pulp
3/4 c sugar
2/3 c water
2 leaves gelatin, silver strength

Bring the passionfruit pulp, sugar, and water to a simmer. Stir frequently to ensure the sugar has dissolved.

Soften the gelatin leaves in cool water and squeeze out. Whisk into the fruit base.

Cool in bain marie. Strain through fine chinois into ice cream maker. Process and then freeze hard.

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Vanilla ice cream encasing passionfruit sorbet spheres in a plastic mold.

Vanilla ice cream encasing passionfruit sorbet spheres in a plastic mold.

Meringues

This dish uses meringues in two ways: as an insulating base for the ice cream center, and as a pillowy topping. Obviously, since meringue is not stiff enough in its uncooked form to support the weight of the frozen ice cream center, you must bake some meringues first and let them dry out. If you don’t want meringues for your base, you can bake génoise or something similar instead.

Prepare the meringue in two stages. Half the egg whites go into making meringue bases; the other half should be reserved in the refrigerator and beaten just before baking the Alaskas. While you can beat egg whites and hold them for a short time, they tend to weep liquid (syneresis) if held too long under refrigeration.

Baked meringue shells

2 egg whites (75g)
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
75g each superfine (caster) sugar and powdered (confectioner’s) sugar

Oven 250F/120C.

Allow the whites to reach room temperature or warm slightly by whisking in a warm (not hot) water bath. Add the cream of tartar. Combine the sugars in a bowl.

Whisk the egg whites using a balloon whisk or a stand mixer until soft peaks form; slowly add the sugar in increments, whipping the whites until they are firm and glossy but not dry. Transfer with a silicone spatula to a pastry bag fitted with a round tip.

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Pipe onto a silpat-lined baking sheet in rounds approximately the size of the ice cream balls, with a lip at the top to hold in the ice cream. Bake for one hour; then turn off the heat and allow them to rest in the oven with the door closed to dry. Remove from the oven and cool completely. Hold in a tightly sealed container with silica gel packs for up to a week. Do not refrigerate.

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Meringue topping

2 egg whites (75g)
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
35g superfine sugar

Allow the whites to reach room temperature or warm slightly by whisking in a warm (not hot) water bath. Add the cream of tartar. Whisk the egg whites using a balloon whisk or a stand mixer until soft peaks form; slowly add the sugar in increments, whipping the whites until they are firm and glossy but not dry. If you like, transfer with a silicone spatula to a pastry bag fitted with the tip of your choice. (this is optional; you may simply use a flat or offset spatula to apply the meringue instead).

Note that this meringue is fluffier and less sticky than the meringue for the cookie base.

Note that this meringue is fluffier and less sticky than the meringue for the cookie base as it contains far less sugar.

Note that the meringue topping will not be completely cooked because it will not reach a high enough overall temperature during the final baking. If salmonella or other pathogens are a problem for eggs in your area, consider using pasteurized egg whites instead.

Note: This post was brought to you by the Creative Cooking Crew:

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4 thoughts on “It’s so cold in Alaska.

  1. You’re like a mad scientist in the kitchen! And all your experiments are mind-blowing. Love the addition of bourbon sugar and smoked salt — were they evident in the taste or did they balance each other out?

  2. Kathryn McGowan says:

    Good for you for doing this. I love the egg idea. A few years ago some friends and I went to see the new opera _Doctor Atomic_ about the development of the atomic bomb. It turns out that during some of the later tests in the 50s people would gather in Las Vegas Hotel ballrooms to watch for the mushroom cloud whole drinking atomically named cocktails. So before the opera we made one of those cocktails, Steak Diane for dinner and Baked Alaska for dessert. We just used store bought ice cream, but it worked, no melting. I’m don’t remember what I did with the yolks….

  3. I love looking through old cookbooks and always loved the idea of baked Alaska. When I was a kid, I thought it was magical dessert that could include ice cream AND baking! I remember I actually ordered it in a restaurant when I unbelievingly saw it on the menu. I like the egg idea too and thank you for the recipes! Is that an ice cream mold for to make perfectly round ice creams? I agree with Joan, your creations are complicated and well thought out, you definitely have much more patience than I do.

  4. I love those scary pics in facebook groups! I have always liked Baked Alaska though and your egg version is adorable. Yours is finished in the oven but who does not love a dessert you can set fire too 😀 !

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