Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Brownie Baked Alaska

It’s got all the flavor of ice cream cake with a showy meringue coating.
First off: You can do this.  Despite the theatrical presentation, this is a very simple dessert to create, especially if you make in stages. It should be made a day or more ahead and kept in the freezer until the last step. In fact, it can be made a week ahead.  I even testing making the meringue a full day ahead and the results were just fine. 

Baked Alaska uses meringue to insulate frozen ice cream.   The “Alaska” is quickly baked in a very hot oven.  The outer layer of meringue becomes a beautifully browned and warm crust that protects the cool ice cream and a dark luscious brownie base inside. The last act of browning the meringue takes less than 10 minutes so let your guests relax at the table and enjoy the anticipation.

You will need an 8- or 9-inch cake pan, a glass or metal bowl 5-6 inches deep with a rim that is about equal in size or a touch smaller than the cake pan, plastic wrap, a large mixing bowl and electric beater. 

Here are the stages:
Brownie bottom
Bake your favorite brownie recipe (or mix) in a circular cake pan.  (Bake any leftover batter in a small pan or muffin tins.)  Line the pan’s bottom with parchment or a wax paper round and spray with cooking oil so the large brownie round will release easily and unbroken.  When baked, cool for 10 minutes then turn onto a cake rack to cool completely.  If making this over several days, wrap well and set aside. (Hide it if you think you have brownie marauders in the house.)
Ice Cream layer
Make or purchase 2 pints of your favorite flavor or flavors. Purists will like one flavor but a combination of flavors looks great when cut into and is right for a celebration or group with many tastes.   (Some flavor suggestions are below.) Let the ice cream soften while you line the glass or metal bowl with a large sheet of plastic wrap.  When the ice cream is soft enough to spread, line the bowl with a layer of the outer ice cream flavor about 1 inch thick.  Fill in the center of the bowl with the second, inner flavor.  Be sure to smooth off the top so it is even.  Cover bowl with more plastic wrap and place in the freezer. 

Raspberry sorbet/Vanilla
Cherry chunk varieties /Chocolate
Chunky fudge swirl varieties/Coffee
Rainbow sherbets: Strawberry/Lime (mix chocolate chips into strawberry flavor for a watermelon look)
Chocolate chip/Caramel
Orange sorbet/Mint chocolate chip

Assembly (Several days ahead or early on day you are serving.)
When the ice cream is solid, turn it out onto the brownie base.  Trim excess brownie so that there is no more than a 1/2 inch border.  Wrap well in plastic wrap then aluminum foil.  Place in freezer until you are ready for the last step. 

Italian Meringue Coating
Italian meringue uses a hot sugar syrup incorporated into whipped egg whites.  This effectively cooks the eggs and is very stable so can be done before dinner is served.

Sugar Syrup
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water

Egg White mixture
4 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tarter (helps structure)
pinch salt

Beat the egg whites at low speed until they foam.  Slowly add the cream of tartar and salt and increase the mixer speed to high. Beat until soft peaks form. 

Bring the sugar and water to the simmer.  Let mixture simmer to the soft-ball stage (234°F to 240°F; 112°C to 116°C on a candy thermometer).

Beat the egg whites at the mixer’s medium setting and slowly dribble in the sugar syrup.  Increase speed to high and beat until cool.  The egg whites will form stiff, shining, upstanding peaks.  You may now set the meringue aside until ready to coat and brown the dessert.

The Finish
As dinner winds down,  leave your guests briefly to preheat your oven to 450˚F.  It will take about 15 minutes to reach this temperature.  Prepare your Italian Meringue if you have not made it in advance (set out the tools and ingredients before dinner.  Place the brownie ice cream dome on an oven-proof platter or cookie sheet.  Coat it with a thick layer of meringue being sure to cover the brownie right down to the base and onto the pan.  Dollop any extra on top and use the back of a fork to pull away meringue and form peaks and valleys.  This creates extra surface area for browning.  Place the dessert in the oven and set the time for 5 minutes. Do not wander.  Remove from oven when meringue is lightly browned and deliver to your guests.  If you have used a cookie sheet, ask for a hand moving the Baked Alaska onto a serving platter.  You will need at several hands holding wide spatulas.

The Baked Alaska Song
When I was sixteen I took my first ski trip to Colorado.  Vail’s village had been around not quite 20 years and my friend’s cousins owned the oldest restaurant in town, a turn of the (19th) century themed eatery complete with Ragtime singing waiters.  Their Baked Alaska came in several sizes and shapes and was of the more traditional type made with cake rather than a giant brownie.  It was quite formal looking with exquisitely piped meringue in wedding cake patterns.  The presentation was half the fun of ordering one.  The wait staff gathered and escorted a still flaming Alaska to the table singing:

Baked Alaska! Baked Alaska!
Enjoy this fine dessert!

If you try this at home, sing once through then repeat as necessary until dessert arrives at the table for service.

Individual Brownie Baked Alaskas (makes 6)
Give everyone their favorite flavor with individual desserts.  To make individual Brownie Baked Alaskas, scoop ice cream into large, plastic wrap-lined muffin cups.  Cover and freeze.  Bake brownies in a regular pan and cut out circles of brownie slightly larger than muffin diameters.  Assemble mini Alaskas and wrap as above.  When ready to coat with meringue, use an extra egg white to be sure you have enough to cover all surfaces. 

Extras store pretty well in the freezer (and don’t last long).  The meringue doesn’t freeze solidly and though you cannot re-heat it, this cool version is like the meringue on a lemon cream pie, think marshmallows.