Although we suspect that nowadays many people probably think that “baked Alaska” is some sort of global warming watch-phrase, those two words used to immediately bring to mind a dessert thought to be the height of sophistication. A baked Alaska is a sort of cake in which a good deal of really cold ice cream is placed on a layer of sponge cake and topped with uncooked meringue. The dish is popped into the oven for just long enough that the meringue hardens, creating a dessert that is, miraculously, hot on the outside and cold in the middle. Take that molecular gastronomists! Although it has been remarked that Thomas Jefferson was rather fond of a remarkably similar dish, the dessert didn’t truly catch on until the late nineteenth century when it appeared in a cookbook as “Alaska, Florida.” It remained a popular dinner party dish for some time, but has fallen out of fashion in the past thirty or so years, which is a pity, since it’s really quite good. Much like Indian pudding, it takes a little bit of detective work to track it down, but believe us, it’s worth it. Below, baked Alaska four ways.
•Anthony’s Pier 4 makes the Boston area’s most traditional version of the dessert: nothing but sponge cake, ice cream, meringue, and a little bit of strawberry sauce. For maximum atmosphere, go on a slightly misty day and watch the water.
•Many speculate that an early version of baked Alaska (where the ice cream was covered by pastry rather than meringue) was invented in China, so it’s only fitting that the dish gets a Chinese spin at Peking Tom’s. The cake is flavored with cardamom and the ice cream features ginger and five spices. Mmm. Five spices.
•The Federalist, located in the future workplace of Buddy Cianci ups the baked Alaska ante by including not one, not two, but three kinds of ice cream (vanilla, chocolate and pistachio) and salted caramel sauce. If you’ve never tried salted caramel, we must encourage you to do so right this second. Yeah, we know it’s 9:00 in the morning. Just do it. It’s a revelation, right?
•At Oleana, the baked Alaska gets a tropical makeover with coconut ice cream and passion fruit caramel. Passion fruit caramel: even better than salted caramel? Discuss.