I first came across Baked Alaska during a dinner at Delhi Gymkhana Club. I have this habit of ordering the most interesting desert on the menu before asking for the main course. So that particular evening I discovered the delightful Norwegian Omelet, better known as Baked Alaska.
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I’m a surprise seeker and this particular dish got me intrigued. Once you make your way through the warm & moist cake on top your taste buds get a glacial hit when they touch the biting cold ice-cream within the cake. Imagine the thrill of eating ice-cream after ransacking the meringue and sponge cake exterior.
After this experience I tried the flambéed Gulab jamuns but wasn’t as impressed with their taste/texture. Even the sizzler ice cream was a dud. It lacked the sizzle and ice cream reached its melting point by the time it was served at the table.
So what makes Baked Alaska different from these deserts? It’s the baking technique in which the cake housing the ice cream is placed in an oven for a short time, so only the exterior gets hot & the ice cream remains cold. In flambéed Gulab jamun like many other flambéed deserts alcohol is used for flaming the dish directly. It altogether changes the essential flavor of a desert. But here, only the meringue on top gets flamed while the ice-cream remains insulated. In case of sizzler ice-cream, a hot sizzling wooden tray is used that melts the ice cream quickly.
No one clearly knows who created it first but in 1866, a New York restaurant claimed to have created a hot sponge cake layered with meringue with an ice cream core and named it Baked Alaska in the honor of Alaska, a newly acquired state by U.S during the time.
In the early 1900’s this dish became the pride of every respectable dinner party in the West. Even today, it is a great conversation starter. There’s a science behind the unique baking technique involved in this dish. The meringue and sponge cake layer absorb the heat and trap the air molecules within their layers, thus acting as an insulator. Meringue which is made out of beaten eggs undergoes a molecular change and can withstand heat. So it forms a kind of insulation around the ice cream and doesn’t allow heat to be transferred as quickly.
What you have is an amalgamation of science and food that tastes surprisingly amazing. You have to taste it, to believe it!
I’m no Martha Stewart & lack the basic skills to make this technique sensitive dish. So I never tried to make this one at home. When I don’t get the invitation to the elusive club I’m happy visiting the United Coffee House in Connaught Place for this icy wonder.
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