Baked Alaska, that classic and confounding dessert of ice cream and cake topped with browned meringue. How does the ice cream stay so cold in the oven?
The magic and intrigue of Baked Alaska, which dates to the 19th century, stems from the combination of cold ice cream surrounded by a pound cake and flambéed meringue. The unusual combination of browned exterior concealing a cold suprise has impressed diners for well over a century.
The origins of the dessert are not entirely clear. There are reports of Count von Rumford, an 18th-century physicist and inventor, discovering that the air bubbles inside whipped egg whites made meringue an effective insulator and allowed for exterior browning without melting the ice cream within.
The name is believed to have been coined by New Orleans chef Antoine Alciatore, who in 1867 reportedly perfected and named the dish in honor of the United States’ agreement to purchase Alaska from Russia. Chef Charles Ranhofer of the New York City eatery Delmonico’s popularized the dish in 1894, calling it “Alaska, Florida,” in an apparent homage to its combination of hot and cold elements. The restaurant still serves the dish today.
Whatever its origins, Baked Alaska has deep roots in New Orleans thanks to Antoine’s, which keeps the tradition alive today at its French Quarter location, some 150 years after Alciatore first offered it to diners. The French-Creole fine-dining locale serves the dish in an elaborate tableside show in which a server flambés the egg-white meringue on the outside to perfection.
Although its popularity has waned over the years, Baked Alaska remains an iconic New Orleans dish worthy of a celebration. February 1 is officially National Baked Alaska Day, making it the perfect occasion to honor this classic American bit of culinary ingenuity, preferably paired with a high-quality cup of coffee.
We suggest Community® Cafe Special® Blend, which was created for the finest restaurants and is commonly found on some of the best menus in New Orleans. This welcoming, medium-dark-roasted coffee, made from only 100 percent select Arabica coffee beans, has a full-bodied flavor with a smooth and balanced finish.
Feeling ambitious and want to make Baked Alaska yourself? The Food Network’s classic recipe will take plenty of time, but not any special baking skills.