The 2 Best Ways To Toast Meringue For Baked Alaska

It is easy to get confounded by the idea of serving a warm dessert filled with ice cream, but that's exactly what a baked Alaska is. The dessert has several origin stories, one of which is linked to America's acquisition of the state of Alaska in 1867 for just $7.2 million. This decadent dessert features a layer of sponge cake, followed by ice cream, and an improbable layer of toasted meringue which has been browned — either with the use of a blowtorch, or by putting the dessert into a super-hot oven for a quick blast.

Baked Alaska wasn't actually invented by a chef, but by an 18th-century scientist named Sir Benjamin Thompson, who discovered that when egg whites are beaten, its air pockets protect whatever lies beneath it from exposure to heat. His theory was put to the test — and proven — by an early iteration of baked Alaska, known as omelette surprise or omelette norvégienne. As historian and author Libby O'Connell put it: "The meringue insulates the ice cream from the heat," per NPR.

Baked Alaska can be browned in the oven or with a blowtorch

In order to serve a baked Alaska in all its glory, the ice cream needs to be frozen until it is rock solid — Tasting Table recommends that the sponge and ice cream cake spends a minimum of 2 hours in the freezer, though an overnight stay is preferred. Once the cake is hard, it is topped with meringue, and while some recipes recommend that the baked Alaska be returned to the freezer after that and for a further hour or two, others say the baked Alaska should be ready to go.

If you decide to use an oven, you'll want to heat it to 500 degrees, and when the oven is ready, slide in the meringue-covered cake for four minutes, or until the peaks of the meringue are golden. You can also fire up a blowtorch to caramelize the meringue — to do this, hold the device no closer than six inches away from the meringue and brown the surface lightly using brisk circles. There is even the option of setting the meringue ablaze: to do this, brown the sides of the baked Alaska with a blowtorch, pour two tablespoons of alcohol such as rum on top then set it alight.