Baked Alaska

You probably think of Baked Alaska as an impossibly tricky fancy dessert - unless, of course, you've already tried to make it, in which case you've discovered that it's one of the easiest desserts in the cookbook. Saveur published a recipe a while back that I had clipped but not dared to take on. It couldn't be as easy as they made it sound! Lately feeling more courageous in the kitchen, however, I decided to risk it last Friday, when our guests would all be forgiving types - an important trait in guinea pigs.

There are three steps to Baked Alaska, one for each of its components. First, you bake a sponge cake. If you're not comfortable baking, and you can find a decent substitute in the shops, by all means buy the damned thing, because while the cake ought to be tasty, it's the background ingredient. Having baked the cake, you then fill the roundest-bottomed dish that you own with softened ice cream, lining the bowl first with plastic. The flavor is entirely up to you, but bear in mind the taste and consistency of the third element, meringue. You will make the meringue at the last minute, while heating up the oven from whatever temperature the main course required to 450. The other steps will have been taken care of the day before.

Baking a cake is never a snap, but baking a cake a day in advance is always a lot easier than baking it on the day of a party. The other two steps are too easy to be called 'easy.'

I hit one snag: the ice cream was so frozen that I had to bring a chef's knife to the table. So much for the effect of 450 on a quart of ice cream, if it's protected by cake and meringue! I recommend experimenting long before dessert time: if the ice cream is too solid to scoop, stash the bowl in the refrigerator during dinner.

Baked Alaska

Saveur, No. 55, p. 38

I: Bake the cake

1 teaspoon softened butter

cup cake flour

pinch salt

3 eggs, separated

cup sugar

teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 tablespoon lemon juice

II: Prepare the ice cream

Two pints ice cream, softened

III: Whip the Meringue, Assemble the Cake, and Bake

4 egg whites

2 pinches cream of tartar

cup sugar

Read Part III carefully, with calm, regular breaths. You will see that there is not a lot to this showpiece. You can tell your guests how easy it was to make, but they won't believe you.

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