Baked Alaska.
Baked Alaska. Photo: Andrew Sullivan

Claire Low

In the movie Philadelphia, Tom Hanks's character's lawyer, played by Denzel Washington, calls baked Alaska part of a delightful meal (the other components being caviar, champagne and roast duck).

Since I watched that 1993 movie, I have wanted to try baked Alaska. I've had my share of caviar, I've quaffed more than a few glasses of champagne.

My mother's Chinese roast duck is the finest and crispiest in the world. But I never had a baked Alaska.

It does seem like a real party trick of a dish - a clever combination of fire and ice, it can be literally set alight if you wish.

The ice-cream dessert is placed in a pie dish lined with sponge cake or Christmas pudding and topped with meringue, then placed in a hot oven long enough to firm the meringue.

It's the meringue that insulates the ice-cream against the heat. Its name was coined in 1876 in honour of the recently acquired American territory.

This rather splendid recipe comes from the Honest Cooking online food magazine.

This chocolate, golden syrup and raspberry variation is by chef Tania Cusack, schooled in culinary arts in Sydney.

I start with the ice-cream as it has to be frozen overnight.

This delightfully simple ice-cream requires no special machine to churn it. It's just a question of whipping cream, pouring in golden syrup and freezing the thing.

Surprisingly enough, even without churning the ice-cream is fluffy, sweet and ready for use the next day.

I also make the coulis component in advance. It's a matter of simmering raspberries and sugar, then straining out the seeds. I use frozen raspberries and it doesn't seem to matter.

Frozen raspberries are an incredibly addictive snack - like a tart little guilt-free icy pole.

The next day it's time for the sponge cake. I don't have a cookie sheet as required by the recipe so I improvise using a roasting pan and tin foil.

The cake component is also easy, although sadly it and the tin foil do not wish to part with one another.

Now to assemble. The slightly softened ice-cream is packed firmly into the bottom of dome-shaped Chinese tea cups. Extra frozen raspberries are prodded into the ice-cream which is topped with rounds of the chocolate cake. The whole thing goes into the freezer to await serving the next day.

Finally, it's meringue time. Two eggs, a cup full of sugar and several minutes of whisking later I've got all the meringue I need.

I have mild concerns about unmoulding the Alaskas. I seem to be unable to unmould anything with success.

In this case, I am hoping that because the ice-cream is heavy and wet, the use of hot water on the outside of the mould will force the Alaska out.

It takes a few goes and a surprisingly long time in hot water plus a very good whack with the palm of my hand to get the Alaska out, but it's out and what a relief.

This has melted the ice-cream, but only a little bit. Working quickly I slather the meringue on to the Alaska somewhat inelegantly compared with the carefully piped version demonstrated on Wikipedia.

Now the fun part. As Homer Simpson says, fire makes it good.

A kitchen torch full of fresh lighter fluid helps nicely brown the meringue. I am relieved to not have to use a grill to brown the Alaska after Ian Parmenter told me his bombe Alaska turned into ''a great lake'' in his oven.

The taste is fabulous: light and frothy meringue with a slightly crisp outer shell plays nicely with the sweet, delicate richness of the golden syrup ice-cream which contrasts with the chocolate sponge and the tartness of the raspberry coulis.

I also feel quite proud to have made from scratch all the individual components, but the understanding chef behind this recipe does say if pressed for time you can use premade ice-cream and cake. This would be perfect on a hot Christmas day, given its luscious taste, fabulous look and the fact that it is, all around, quite the impressive dish.

>> Claire Low is a staff features writer on a mission to master dessert and pastry making.

 

Baked Alaska

Serves 6-8

Sponge cake

3 large eggs

125g sugar

50g flour

25g unsweetened cocoa

1 tsp baking soda

No-churn ice-cream

1½ cups thickened cream

½ cup golden syrup

Coulis

½ cup sugar

1 cup raspberries

2-3 frozen raspberries per Alaska

Meringue 

4 egg whites 2 cups caster sugar

For the sponge, beat the eggs until light and creamy, then gradually add the sugar a bit at a time, until completely incorporated and light and fluffy.

Meanwhile sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda. Fold gently into the eggs until just combined with a spatula.

Spread on to a lined baking tray and bake for about 20 minutes at 180C. Cool and cut into circles the size of the top rim of your mould, which can be a Chinese tea cup.

For the ice-cream, beat the cream until just starting to hold shape. Pour in the golden syrup with the motor running until all is incorporated and the cream is whipped and fluffy. Do not over beat. Freeze this mixture in a container with a lid overnight.

For the coulis, put the sugar and raspberries into a pot and simmer until melted. Put through a sieve and chill.

To assemble, take the ice-cream out of the freezer to soften for 10 to 20 minutes. Have moulds and space in the freezer ready, along with the frozen raspberries. Working quickly, spoon the ice-cream into the moulds pushing down to eliminate air pockets to a bit over halfway. Press two or three frozen raspberries into the ice-cream and top with a piece of cake and freeze until needed.

For the meringue, beat the egg whites in a clean grease-free bowl until frothy and then gradually add the sugar until the meringue is glossy and thick. Transfer to a piping bag or ziplock bag with the corner snipped off.

De-mould the cake bombs by dipping briefly into hot water and turning out. Pipe each one with meringue. Brown the completed Alaskas under a hot grill or with a brulee torch until golden. Serve with raspberry coulis.

>> Recipe from honestcooking.com