Monday 18 May 2015

Baked Alaska, two times

"It's his favourite dessert." Said Lara, of Stephen, her husband and Saturday's birthday celebrant. I said no at first, thinking how on earth do I plate up that, but then scolded myself for being so defeatist and texted her back, agreeing to it: New River Restaurant's first baked Alaska.

It was only when I was recipe sourcing that I realised there's no such thing as baked Alaska; certainly nothing as defined as, say, a lemon tart or a chocolate cake. The BA is an umbrella term for ice cream (or sorbet) coated in meringue (French or Italian), usually on a base of cake (not always) with fruit (rarely), and baked (or not) briefly to caramelise.

There are literally thousands of combinations covering confections of coffee, caramel and chocolate to (what I grew up thinking was a real Alaska) vanilla sponge, jam and ice cream. I decided to create my own.

After some weekday trials I realised that BA suffered the fate of most desserts of US origin: being far too sweet. The American desserts seem to have no upper sugar or fat limit - other than the diabetic death of the eater. More is more. Think of banoffee pie, a Brown Betty or key lime. The Iowa State Fair once served a whole stick of butter, dipped in a cinnamon honey batter and deep-fried... and THEN coated in a sugary glaze. I kid you not.

Test number one: no chocolate chips and too-sweet jam.
I wanted to introduce some tartness as a foil to the ice cream and marshmallowy meringue. I wanted a dessert I could finish without an accompanying insulin shot. I also decided to go with a showstopper rather than individual BAs. The ratios are wrong with the small versions; it's a surface area thing: too much meringue

I decided on a Genoise because of its structure, melting ice cream would not turn it into a mass of sog. Valrhona dark chocolate chips would add textural interest and bursts of bitterness. It's the same recipe I used for my espresso sponge but baked in a 23cm round tin. This one suffered a slight accident on the way out of the tin.

On top of this: a tart raspberry compote. One punnet of raspberries boiled down with some caster sugar and then roughly blended with another two punnets of fruit. Apart from the tartness this introduced some much needed vibrancy and colour. A problem with vanilla is is can look a little, well, vanilla.

Ice Cream
On this would go crème fraîche ice cream, less sweet than traditional custard base and slightly tart. On this occasion, I added vanilla seeds instead of lemon juice as I normally would when I serve it with my little apple sponges. I churned the ice cream and then set it in a dome shamed bowl. A quick sit in hot water and it's ready to be slid on top of the rest. That's not a spider on the cake by the way, it's dark chocolate dust.


The whole would be topped in Italian meringue. This is different to French that you may be more familiar with. Italian meringue has a creamier texture than French, needs no further cooking and is stable for hours. French will dissolve back to egg and sugar after ten minutes or so. Italian meringue is made by adding a 120°C sugar syrup to whisked egg whites and continuing to whisk. Here I took six egg whites and added a syrup made from: 6 tablespoons of water, 360g caster sugar and three teaspoons of glucose syrup which helps prevent sugar crystallisation. Bring the egg white mix to soft peaks and then dribble in the hot syrup. And yes, this means knowing how long the whites will take and the syrup to heat. Experience is all here. You then continue to whisk until the meringue cools to room temperature. Without a mixer you'll need biceps of Thor (or perhaps Ganesh - ha). I used a tip from the always brilliant website and rubbed a slice of lemon around the bowl first. The acidity helps stabilise the egg whites while you whisk.

I piped on the meringue and used a blow torch to colour. Hold the flame at right angles to the BA to just catch the ridges. I'm very pleased with the presentation. I was worried that this wouldn't feed ten people. Boy, was I wrong. This does twelve - easy.

Friday night - Mitch and Mahan

I think Mahan is praying: no more baked Alaska please!

Saturday night: Lara and Stephen

Stephen and Lara's second time with us. They asked for the smoked haddock gratin to kick off. I served it with a small salad of lambs lettuce and some confit tomatoes rather than poached egg - too much for a starter.

Lara's saying: sorry, can you hear me? Am I speaking too quietly?


  1. Stephen Phillips18 May 2015 at 17:49

    Hi Jason, firstly a huge thank you for Saturday night.

    I had a great time for my birthday (my second time at new River) and my friends hugely enjoyed themselves, the ambiance but most of all, the amazing food. You def did an incredible job on the baked alaska - it was fantastic. Look forward to booking again and enjoying your culinary skills #foodlegend