Friday, August 27, 2010

Daring Baker's Challenge: Baked Alaska

Baked Alaska

The August 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Elissa of 17 and Baking. For the first time, The Daring Bakers partnered with Sugar High Fridays for a co-event and Elissa was the gracious hostess of both. Using the theme of beurre noisette, or browned butter, Elissa chose to challenge Daring Bakers to make a pound cake to be used in either a Baked Alaska or in Ice Cream Petit Fours. The sources for Elissa’s challenge were Gourmet magazine and David Lebovitz’s “The Perfect Scoop”.

When I read this month's challenge, I immediately decided I wanted to try the Baked Alaska. I didn't want to go with the individual options though. I wanted "an Alaskan sized" Baked Alaska. Well, not quite but close. After reading the requirements of using the browned butter cake and having to make homemade ice cream and meringue, I thought, no problem, I've done all those things before. The pound cake was a bit different from my grandma's recipe but I figured it was cake, so no pressure. I planned to incorporate the Baked Alaska into an upcoming Cooking Night. Then the matter was how to incorporate it. I learned that Baked Alaska has been around quite a bit longer than the state of Alaska. In fact, it was renamed Baked Alaska by an American restaurant to honor the newly acquired territory in 1846. Prior to that point, the French called it a Norwegian omelette. Why an omelet? I've no idea. Why Norwegian? Maybe because the dessert's "icy" look made them think of Norway. Either way, I had options, Alaskan Night or Norwegian? Stop by next week or later this weekend to find out the decision there!

I had decisions to make for the Baked Alaska too! Mainly, 1-what kind of ice cream to make , 2-what containers was I going to make this in, 3- how to fit this giant thing in my freezer. I decided that the nutty flavor of the brown butter pound cake would probably go well with caramel ice cream. From there, I had a plan. The next step was containers. I decided to prepare the pound cake in a 9 inch spring form pan to allow it to be as flat across the top as possible. Then I used my second largest stainless steel mixing bowl for freezing the ice cream. I thought if I filled it with about 2 quarts of ice cream, it would be about 9 inches around and fit just right on top of the cake. My friend Rebecca was less sure but reassured me we could always trim down the cake or the ice cream to make it fit. Fair enough, on with the show.

Step 1: Make Caramel Ice Cream (Be sure to start this at least the night before you plan to serve the Baked Alaska so there's enough time.)

There are a lot of ice cream recipes out there. Many homemade ice creams have a crystalline nature. To have a smooth, creamy ice cream, the first step is to make a custard. I started with a vanilla ice cream recipe from Pippa Cuthbert's "Ice Cream!". Then modified it with my favorite caramel recipe. This brings you the following recipe which will results in about 1.75 quarts of caramel ice cream. (Note: I didn't overdo the caramel b/c I knew the cake would be sweet and so would the meringue. If you make this just as caramel ice cream, make double the caramel sauce for an enhanced flavor.) Oh, don't forget to separate your whites! You'll need them later for the meringue! There's no waste in this recipe!

2 1/2 c. (600 mL) whole milk
2 Tbsp. vanilla extract
8 large egg yolks
1 c. (200 g.) sugar
2 1/2 c. (600 mL) heavy cream

(for the "caramel" sauce)
1/4 c. dark brown sugar (You can substitute light brown..if you have to but the flavor with dark brown will be better.)
4 Tbsp butter
1/3 c. heavy whipping cream

(a little something extra)
1/2 c. Heath toffee bits

How to:

Start with the caramel sauce. Place the brown sugar and 4 Tbsp of butter in a medium sauce pan. Melt them over medium heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves and continue whisking for about 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat. Whisk in 1/3 c. cream and blend well. Pour into a bowl that can handle the heat of hot caramel. Allow to cool at room temperature. (If you refrigerate this, it will be much harder on you in a few minutes.) To make life easier, go ahead and wash your saucepan. If you're going to begin the custard right away, you could skip the cleaning and go straight into the custard.

Then, begin the custard for the ice cream. Put 2 1/2 c. milk and 2 Tbsp of vanilla into your medium sauce pan. Heat until near boiling and remove from heat. In a separate (heatproof) bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar with a whisk until thick and pale. Then, gradually beat the milk mixture into the egg mixture. Fill your saucepan halfway with water and bring the water to a simmer. Place the egg/sugar/milk mixture over the simmer sauce pan (or use a double boiler). Stir continuously until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Remove the bowl/double boiler top from heat. Whisk in your caramel sauce.

Cover the surface of the mixture with plastic wrap or wax paper to prevent skin formation. Place custard in the refrigerator and allow to cool completely. Yes, completely. Now's a good time to go to bed, unless you got an early start. The custard cooling process takes about 4 hours.

Once your custard is cool, pour into your ice cream. Arrange the device as directed. For mine, (an ice and rock salt electric churn) the ice cream maker is assembled, plugged in and then ice and salt are alternately added to each side. My ice cream maker makes up to 6 quarts. Since this was about a 2 quart recipe, I went ahead and filled the ice and salt levels to over halfway up the can to speed the process and prevent needing to add more.

After 40 minutes to 1 hour, the ice cream should be done and be very smooth and creamy.

I lined my large bowl with plastic wrap extending over the edges (for ease of removal later). Then I scooped/spooned the ice cream mixture into the bowl until it looked full enough to be a 9 inch circle. This was totally eyeballing for me. If you would feel more comfortable, grab a ruler or tape measure. Then I made a cone to taste the ice know, to make sure it was safe for people to eat later that night. It was important. ....Mmmmm. Since my cone was made from the dregs of the ice cream container, the ice cream was starting to melt a little down there. Especially since I'd been playing with the plastic wrap and smoothing everything out, etc. It still was pretty firm but nowhere near as firm as what was in the bowl.

Caramel Ice Cream with Toffee Bits

I placed the bowl in the freezer. It needed to freeze for about 8 hours. (Note: I got up at 7:30 AM Saturday morning to get this rolling. If that's not your thing, plan to make the ice cream the night before and start early.)

Step 2: Brown Butter Pound Cake

This was a required recipe. I didn't change it other than the container I used. Warning! Getting the browned butter to congeal takes time. This is a good step to do while your ice cream is churning (if you don't make a random trip to the farmer's market or something like that).

Brown Butter Pound Cake

19 tablespoons (9.5 oz) (275g) unsalted (sweet) butter
2 cups (200g) sifted cake flour (not self-rising; sift before measuring) (See “Note” section for cake flour substitution)
1 teaspoon (5g) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (3g) salt
1/2 cup (110g) packed light brown sugar
1/3 (75g) cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 325°F/160°C and put a rack in the center. Butter and flour a 9”x9” (23cmx23cm) square pan.

2. Place the butter in a 10” (25cm) skillet over medium heat. Brown the butter until the milk solids are a dark chocolate brown and the butter smells nutty. (Don’t take your eyes off the butter in case it burns.) Pour into a shallow bowl and chill in the freezer until just congealed, 15-30 minutes. [This took longer for me. In fact, it was close to an hour before it was congealed. Granted my freezer was pretty full and it was close to the door but still, a word of caution to plan ahead.]

3. Whisk together cake flour, baking powder, and salt.

4. Beat the brown butter, light brown sugar, and granulated sugar in an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well, and then the vanilla extract.

5. Stir in the flour mixture at low speed until just combined.

6. Scrape the batter into the greased and floured 9”x9” (23cmx23cm) square pan [Ahem, I used a 9" round baking pan here]. Smooth the top with a rubber spatula and rap the pan on the counter. Bake until golden brown on top and when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes.

7. Cool in the pan 10 minutes. Run a knife along the edge and invert right-side-up onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

Inverted Pound Cake

At this point, I had to head to a baby was a hectic day. My plan for the cake was to finish the meringue and all once my friends arrived for cooking night. When they arrived, the first thing we did was start the meringue.

Step 3: Meringue

She said we could use any meringue we wanted but provided the following recipe. I am often not a meringue fan and figured I'd be having this one for looks and scrape it off before eating the cake and ice cream but this was delicious. Really. I'm not sure what was so different but I'm planning to modify the ratios to match this one the next time I make lime meringue pie. Mmm. To think, I had thought lime meringue pie could have little improvement!

How to:

8 large egg whites
½ teaspoon (3g) cream of tartar
½ teaspoon (3g) salt
1 cup (220g) sugar

Beat the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt on high speed in an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Beat in the sugar gradually in a slow stream until stiff peaks form.

Carolyn beating the meringue while Sookie supervised!

Step 4: Assembly

Before assembly, I had concerns about a platter to place the cake on that would allow everything to still fit in the freezer and the door to close. I would encourage you to test a few plates and whatnot to minimize the height, should you choose to make a very tall Baked Alaska.While the meringue was being beaten, Becky and I ran downstairs, checked a few plates and got the ice cream out of the freezer. I pulled the cake out of the microwave (where it had safely cooled out of the way of my kitties' interest). I inverted the ice cream bowl, pulled at the plastic wrap and hoped for the best. It popped right out! Pretty as you please...well take a look!

Ice Cream on Top of Cake

Then we started the process of piping the meringue. The instructions said to be sure to fill in all the gaps. I did mention this was a large cake right?!?! The cake was about a foot tall. It took a while to pipe. We took turns!

Carolyn Piping Meringue

Becky Piping Meringue

Then Rebecca got it in her head that it needed color. Fair enough, what color, I asked. What colors do you have? ....Blue, yellow and green. Blue! I mixed a little blue into meringue in a separate bowl. This was a good thing. It can be easy to get gung ho and make a mess and ruin all your lovely meringue. I made an attempt at blue caramel flavored meringue that didn't work out. Blue meringue in hand, we weren't sure what to do with it. A heart, about a star? It could be a starfish in the ocean! Both Norway and Alaska are by the ocean! Ok, so I made a star on top. Then we quickly ran the cake downstairs, hoping it would fit. It did. Barely. There was nothing scraping but there wasn't more than 1/4" to spare. Whew! The door closed. Now it was time to wait.

After we'd cooked everything else and eaten, it was time for dessert! We pulled out the cake (which had been freezing for close to 2 hours only required 1 hour) and carried it back upstairs. Rebecca got a new cooking blow torch recently. It took a few minutes to figure out how to load it with butane. (It helped to turn the butane bottle upside down.) Then we flamed it and sliced it up! Whew! Everyone enjoyed it! Success!

Top View of Completed Cake

Inside the Cake

A Slice of Baked Alaska! Yum!!!


  1. Did you like the brown butter pound cake? Would you make the cake again?

  2. I did like the brown butter pound cake. I didn't like it nearly as much frozen though. Something about frozen cake doesn't really appeal to me. It makes it taste dry when before freezing it was moist and tasty. I might make the cake again. I think it would be good as cupcakes with caramel frosting...or caramel cream cheese frosting...Mmmm!


    It was 33 uncommon cupcakes, not 10 unique cupcakes. You might like #23