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Individual Baked Alaska
You've probably heard the old saying that "first impressions always count." That's certainly true when it comes to cooking, where an appetizer can set a tone that gets everyone ready to enjoy the rest of the meal.
But last impressions count, too. Serve your guests a great dessert and, no matter how straightforward the rest of the food was, they'll leave convinced that they've had a truly memorable meal.
That doesn't mean, however, that dessert has to be particularly elaborate.
Take just a few ingredients, prepare them mostly in advance (or even buy them in the supermarket), and then combine them creatively, and you can have a dessert that is nonetheless undeniably spectacular.
Baked Alaska -- so named in 1876 by Delmonico's restaurant in New York to mark America's purchase that year of Alaska, a land of icy expanses and fiery volcanoes -- is a perfect example of that idea. It consists of a few basic ingredients: pound cake, ice cream, meringue quickly whipped-up from egg whites, cream of tartar (which helps stabilize the egg whites during beating, for airier results) and sugar. Bring these three elements together, brown the meringue under a hot broiler (or with a hand-held propane kitchen torch, sold in quality cookware stores) and you have a classic dessert most people expect to come only from a fine restaurant kitchen.
As elaborate it may sound to some people, baked Alaska is really easy to make. That starts with the pound cake. I share with you here my simple recipe for a classic version of the loaf cake, but you can also use a readymade pound cake from your favorite supermarket or bakery.
Then, there's the ice cream. A restaurant might choose to make its own. But there's so much good ice cream in the supermarket freezer case today that it makes perfect sense to pick up a carton. You do need to make the meringue, of course; but a stand mixer or hand-held electric beater simplifies that process. Piping on the meringue with a pastry bag and then browning it (keeping close watch so the meringue doesn't burn) are quick final tasks.
Sounds simpler by the minute, doesn't it? I've simplified the process even more here by eliminating the task of cutting the traditional large cake-sized baked Alaska. Instead, my recipe calls for constructing the dessert in individual portions that require simply sliding them onto individual serving plates from the cookie sheet on which they're formed and browned.
The results are so pleasing that you'll want to add this to your repertoire for dinner parties and family meals alike. And every time you serve it, your guests will leave the table with the impression that they have dined spectacularly.
Individual Baked Alaska
1 loaf Classic Pound Cake (recipe follows), or good store-bought pound cake
1/2 gallon vanilla ice cream, softened slightly at room temperature to scooping consistency
6 large cage-free egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
6 ounces sugar
With a sharp serrated bread knife, cut 6 crosswise slices from the pound cake, each 1/2 inch thick. Use a 3-inch round cookie cutter to cut a circular piece from each slice. Place the circles of pound cake about 2 inches apart on a cookie sheet. (Enjoy the scraps and remaining pound cake with tea or coffee.)
Mound a large scoop of vanilla ice cream on top of each of the 6 slices of pound cake. Immediately put the cookie sheet in the freezer and freeze the ice cream-topped pound cake until very hard, at least 1 hour.
Before serving time, preheat the broiler, positioning the broiler rack 8 inches away from the heat source.
In the bowl of an electric mixture with the whip attachment, or in a mixing bowl using a hand-held electric beater, beat together the egg whites and cream of tartar at medium speed until they hold soft peaks that droop slightly when you lift out the beaters. Continue beating while, 1 tablespoon at a time, you add the sugar. Beat until the meringue reaches stiff peaks that stand up straight when you lift out the beaters. Spoon the meringue into a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip.
Remove the cookie sheet from the freezer. Quickly pipe a generous coating of meringue over the ice cream and pound cake, covering each one completely, starting at the bottom of each and piping in a spiral up to the top.
Immediately place the cookie sheet under the broiler and broil just until the tops of the meringue are browned, about 2 minutes, watching carefully to prevent burning. Remove from the oven and serve immediately.
Classic Pound Cake Recipe
Makes 1 loaf
2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter, for brushing loaf pan
1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 pound granulated sugar
4 large cage-free eggs
1/2 pound cake flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Brush the inside of a 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan with half of the melted butter. Cut parchment paper to fit the bottom and sides of the pan and line the pan with it, brushing again with the remaining butter. Set aside.
Put the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer or in a mixing bowl. Using the whip attachment or a hand-held electric beater, beat at medium speed until creamy, about 5 minutes. While continuing to beat, add the vanilla extract, and the sugar, 1/4 cup at a time, until the mixture is light and fluffy, 10 to 12 minutes. Beat in the eggs 1 at a time, waiting until each is fully incorporated before adding the next. Reduce the speed and add the flour and salt, continuing to mix until well blended.
Pour the batter into the loaf pan. Bake until the top is golden brown and a bamboo skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Transfer to a rack and cool for 10 minutes. Invert onto the rack, remove the pan, and cool completely before storing in an airtight container.
Baked Alaska, Classic Pound Cake, Baking, Dessert, Wolfgang Puck
Individual Baked Alaska
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