Photo: Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Baked Alaska Is the Decadent Dessert With the Intriguing History

by Matador Creators Jan 10, 2023

This decadent dessert is layer after layer of sumptuous ingredients, but its name is the only Alaskan thing about it.

The story of the Baked Alaska can be traced all the way back to the 18th century, when a scientist who went by the name Count Rumford and also happened to invent the doubler boiler cooking method, discovered that egg whites, when whipped into a fluffy creation we now know as meringue, can act as insulator, according to a history of the dessert from NPR.

@foodwtf This #dessert is called #BakedAlaska 🤩 It's filled with layers of sponge cake and icecream, then topped with a meringue layer. The meringue is then lit on fire 🔥 🎥 IG: @1siarea #desserttok #sweettooth #flamingdessert #foodie #foodtiktok ♬ original sound – Sickickmusic

The Baked Alaska, layers of ice cream sitting on top of sponge cake are encased in a mound of meringue, which is then toasted either in the broiler or with a blow torch. In some even more extravagant versions, rum that has been lit on fire is poured over the baked Alaska, to give it that burnt exterior – more on that soon.

You could also trace the history of the baked Alaska back to the year 1867, when the United States purchased Alaska (the state) from Russia. Around then, Charles Ranhofer, a French pastry chef, was working at the now-legendary Delmonico’s restaurant in New York City.

Inspired by the Omelette Norwegge, cake and ice cream covered in meringue and then broiled, Ranhofer combined banana ice cream and walnut spice cake, topped it with meringue, and then torched it to give the dessert its signature browned appearance. Ranhofer originally called his creation the “Alaska, Florida” (a reference to the cold inner layer and the hot outer layer of the dessert), and the name wasn’t changed until the 1880s.

The history of the baked Alaska gets even more complicated, however: According to NPR, however, some historians dispute this version of events – saying Ranhofer debited his dessert too late to have actually been its inventor.

Adding another wrench to the works is that a chef named Antoine Alciatore, in New Orleans, came up with a strikingly similar dessert, which today is better known as the Bombe Alaska. This is where the rum comes in. Alciatore’s version is flambeed – meaning that it is drenched in rum and then lit on fire. Some histories of the dessert actually attribute Alciatore with coming with the name Baked Alaska – after all, it’s still called Alaska, Florida in Ranhofer’s 1893 cookbook The Epicurean.

Baked Alaska is considered old-fashioned these days, as its preparation and construction is complicated and elaborate. In the traditional recipe, layers of neapolitan ice cream flavors – strawberry or raspberry, chocolate, and vanilla – are layered on top of chocolate and vanilla sponge cake, before being encased in a dome of meringue. Pistachio ice cream is sometimes also used.

No matter what flavors of ice cream your Baked Alaska incorporates, this lavish dessert isn’t easy to make – but the payoff is worth it.

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