Baked Alaska, or: the bakers Devil’s Thumb
A chervil and gooseberry ice cream on a brown butter pound cake, covered in merengue. But I’m a baker, not a freezer. This will be followed by a rant against food waste.
For this month’s Daring Bakers’ challenge I went with the Baked Alaska; mostly because I really looked forward to the opportunity for using my new blowtorch. But having made it, I must say I am sorry I did. Of course my tiny freezer compartment didn’t help much. I had to turn the thermostat to maximum capacity to properly freeze the ice cream, but it still melted too quickly to keep the shape from the mold I had so carefully prepared for it… And then the cake, ice-cream and meringue end-result: yes, the separate parts sound good. But served together, frozen solid, it was a let-down to find it all just too cold and hard to be edible. It’s a lovely brown butter cake recipe, will definitely make that part of this challenge again – but frozen? Not much is left of its delicate nutty flavour. This is just a show piece, not meant to be eaten. What a waste!
Here’s what I made: a chervil and gooseberry ice cream in a custom-made mold, with a core of frozen gooseberry jam, placed on a layer of gooseberry jam on top of the brown butter pound cake base:
assembled cake and ice cream core
This, after re-freezing, covered in merengue (and frozen again; then torched to caramelize the peaks):
finished and starting to sag already
The bakers Devil’s Thumb
As happy coincidences go, I was reading Jon Krakauer’s “Into the Wild” this month. There’s a breathtaking little side-story in it of Krakauers attempt to climb the unscaled north side of Alaska’s highest peak, the Devil’s Thumb. He doesn’t succeed and nearly gets killed; blames the thing on youthful overconfidence and a desire to get the respect of others. The story greatly impressed me with the vastness and raw beauty of the Northern wilderness.
Alaska’s Devil’s Thumb
But going online to find out more, what stuck with me most was how that wilderness there seems full of 4×4 tracks, guns, “first skiiers” and helicopters. How that rare unspoiled treasure is just being used for personal entertainment of the most egoistical and wasteful kind, like there’s no tomorrow. Somehow, it seemed related to the Baked Alaska I was making, which was using up energy and resources as well – all just for my entertainment and a cool looking picture… I realized something. Baked Alaska – it’s my Devil’s Thumb.
Love food, hate waste
After this episode, my suggestion to anyone interested in making Baked Alaska, is: don’t. Forget about this vain 70ties showpiece, this frozen bonfire of vanities from the land of the gas guzzler and Sarah Palin; to return it to the dusty shelves of has-been cooking, where it belongs with the other forgotten cookbooks in the second hand bookshop.
I’d rather prepare *real* food; I’d rather have something that doesn’t look “stunning” but has great taste instead; I’d rather make something that doesn’t need both the fridge *and* the oven at max power, and has lots of leftover parts to boot. It must be my Calvinist roots. Or the Ramadan vibes or something. But I hate the waste that’s involved in this airhead gimmick.
Stop Wasting Food & Save the Worlds Energy on NewScientist.com
I’ll just re-post the recipe for the brown butter pound cake, which is wonderful enough to make on its own, with a slightly nutty flavour to it.
recipe: Brown Butter Pound Cake
For a 23cm x 23cm square pan:
- 275g unsalted butter
- 200g sifted cake flour
- 1 teasp baking powder
- 1/2 teasp salt
- 110g light brown sugar
- 75g granulated sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 1/2 teasp pure vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 160°C and put a rack in the center. Butter and flour a 23cm x 23cm square pan.
Place the butter in a 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 leave to cool until just congealed, 15-30 minutes.
Whisk together cake flour, baking powder, and salt.
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.
Stir in the flour mixture at low speed until just combined.
Scrape the batter into the greased and floured square pan. 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.
Cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. Run a knife along the edge and invert right-side-up onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
The original Daring Bakers recipe mentioned 8 eggs for the merengue. I used 2, and had enough left over to make some glorious Nutella Breadcrumb Merengues (see top picture). Super easy, and super awesome. Mix a tablespoon of Nutella with the same amount of breadcrumbs to make it easier to fold into the merengue (use 1 egg white). Put heaps of this onto baking parchment. Bake at 90°C for about 2,5 hours to give them a good crust; they will still be wonderfully sticky/crunchy inside.
The cake’s crust needs to be removed / discarded. Actually, in my opinion fresh cake crust is the best part :-) Put some in dessert glasses on top of a bit of yoghurt. Add some fruit, top with ice cream – you can leave this to go a bit softer. In this way you get all the good bits at maximum freshness and optimal tastyness. Agreed, it doesn’t look as good as blowtorched merengue on dry ice – or was the good Daring Bakers’ challenge meant as a photo competition?
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 Alasa or in Ice Cream Petit Fours. The sources for Elissa’s challenge were Gourmet magazine and David Lebovitz’s “The Perfect Scoop”.