This 150-Year-Old Dessert Is Making A Delicious Comeback
In the high-end food world, "seasonal" is a concept as ubiquitous as the worn-out phrase "farm-to-table" - unless, of course, you want to be on trend.
Take cauliflower, traditionally one of the world’s more distinctly cold-weather vegetables. In 2016, it dominated restaurant menus year round, whether it was deep-fried, sliced thick and grilled like a steak, or roasted whole. The only vegetable more popular is kale, another classically winter ingredient.
For a parallel in the dessert world, we now have Baked Alaska. In the midst of winter, the extravagant, classic dessert of ice cream layered with cake and slathered with toasted meringue is showing up on dessert menus across the country. If you eat cold-weather vegetables in summer, why not ice cream in the depths of winter?
Although it’s often difficult to pinpoint and rationalise a trend, turns out this one is simple: it’s yet another comfort food that lends itself to innovation (type of cake and filling) and dresses up well (that meringue gets flamed, sometimes dramatically tableside, making it even more Instagram friendly). It's a playful way to serve ice cream, and essentially, it’s fun. These days, that’s more than enough reason to indulge.
Here’s where to enjoy Baked Alaska's time in the spotlight:
Fowler & Wells, New York - At Tom Colicchio’s historically minded restaurant in the Beekman Hotel, pastry chef Abby Swain serves desserts that celebrate old-school New York (in fact, the Beekman originally opened soon after nearby Delmonico’s began serving the dessert in 1867 to commemorate America's purchase of Alaska). “Normally I don't believe in ice cream for winter, but the toasty meringue makes it ok,” says Swain. Her outstanding version is made of German chocolate cake layered with rich brown-sugar ice cream, pecan pralines, and bourbon caramel. It’s her bestselling dessert, and she’s already considering the summer incarnation. “Toasted meringue makes me think s’mores."
Tapestry, New York - At this Indian-accented restaurant, chef Suvir Saran calls his Baked Alaska Fire and Ice and fills it with sweet-tart guava and passionfruit ice creams. It's garnished with a coconut-and-lime sauce and spiked with Cointreau that's ignited at the table to create a column of flame. For Saran, the dessert resembles snow-topped mountains, making it right for winter.
Junoon, New York - Another Indian restauran that believes in Baked Alaska is Junoon, the Michelin-starred Gramercy Park restaurant. Chef Chintan Pandy’s dessert has a filling of mango sorbet, chocolate ice, and rose petal ice cream. The meringue is flavored with berries, so it's tinted pink. Pandy appreciates the visual appeal; “it's the dish that gets the oohs and aahs,” he says.
Liholiho Yacht Club, San Francisco - “File it under Bananas Foster, Cherries Jubilee,” says Liholiho chef Ravi Kapur about Baked Alaska's über-classic status. At his playful restaurant, which celebrates the culture and cuisine of the Aloha state, he calls his version Baked Hawaii. Shaped like a mini beehive, it’s filled with caramelised pineapple ice cream and the crumbly bite of shortbread cookies and finished with coconut milk caramel, roasted pineapple, and toasted coconut. It's also one of Liholiho's most popular dishes. Across the Bay in Oakland, Ramen Shop also has fun with the name of its Baked Alaska. The shop calls it Baked Hokkaido ("Hokkaido is often called the Alaska of Japan," says the store's co-owner, Sam White.)
Maybeck’s, San Francisco - Pastry chef Aaron Toensing maintains that Baked Alaska is one of the great all-purpose desserts. “On our menu, it checks the box for chocolate, for easy to make, for crowd-pleaser, for celebration: it’s essentially a deluxe birthday cake.” His comprises chocolate cake that contains a fair amount of oil, so it stays soft when it’s frozen, plus French vanilla ice cream and a "super-duper" meringue, fortified with Champagne vinegar. It’s served in a glass and covered with meringue that’s been torched in the kitchen.
Faith & Flower, Los Angeles - At this cavernous downtown restaurant near the Staples Center, pastry chef Josh Graves makes his dessert family style. His spumoni Baked Alaska features vanilla, pistachio, and cherry ice cream, chocolate macarons, toasted meringue, and a Pernod absinthe flambé. It goes for $30, serving up to six people (by comparison, Delmonico's original Baked Alaska was even more expensive: it's cost today would be about $40).
News by Bloomberg, edited by Hospitality Ireland