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TT Culinary Institute: Baked Alaska

Meet the retro dessert that's making a big, fiery comeback
Baked Alaska

It's Baking Month: Switch your oven on and get warm, cozy and festive with us this December.

Flash back to 1959: Eisenhower is in charge, the first Barbie doll hits shelves and Alaska has recently become the newest (and largest) state.

And with the 49th state came a resurgent of a dessert craze that lit the fine dining world on fire: the Baked Alaska (see the recipe), an igloo of glossy meringue that reveals an ice cream dome, layer of jam and sponge cake base when sliced. Delmonico's in New York City claims to be the first to have sold it back in 1867, when the frozen frontier was first signed as a territory. The dessert made a second coming in the 1950s once our flag gained its 49th star and was widely recognized for being paraded around (literally) on cruise ships.

Fifty years later, the Baked Alaska is popping back up on dessert menus from coast to coast. Why are we partying like it's 1959? Sarah Cravedi, the pastry chef at TRADE in Boston (where Baked Alaska is a top dessert menu hit) explains, "Food trends can be cyclical, and as everyone strives to be different from the next guy, one strategy is to look back and retool old items for today's diner."

This is an ice cream dessert that you'll want to eat in December. Plus, the frozen nature and simple steps lend themselves perfectly as a make-ahead option, so set your old dessert habits on fire and learn how to master the Baked Alaska.

The Cake
We turned to the original in deciding to go with an airy banana-walnut sponge cake. Delmonico's uses banana gelato with its walnut cake, so we incorporated that flavor right into the fluffy sponge. We also kept it authentic by using apricot jam as the glue between cake and ice cream. Not all Baked Alaskas need to be traditional though. Cravedi uses a crisp meringue cookie as the base for hers, and Faith & Flower in Los Angeles serves a version with a chocolate macaron.

The Ice Cream
You're making the cake and meringue by hand, so save a step and use store-bought ice cream for the dessert's core. The flavor is where you can get even more creative: At DBGB in New York, the popular dessert follows a pistachio and raspberry spumoni theme, whereas Cravedi keeps the whole thing dairy free by sticking to coconut sorbet. Hawaii is the new Alaska at Liholiho Yacht Club, where the wildly popular (and often-Instagrammed) dessert uses caramelized pineapple ice cream. Pastry chef Maura Kilpatrick at Oleana in Cambridge also follows a tropical theme, with coconut ice cream and passion fruit caramel.

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The Dome
The secret to the bowl-shaped exterior is exactly that: a bowl. Line an 8-inch-diameter bowl with a double layer of plastic wrap (for easy removal) and start packing in the ice cream. Use different flavors to create layers (we used raspberry sorbet and vanilla ice cream) or a mosaic pattern.

The Meringue
The last layer acts like an insulated blanket, encasing the ice cream and protecting it from heat. We cooked the meringue and whipped it to stiff, glossy peaks before coating the inverted ice cream dome with it, like a pillowy igloo of egg whites and sugar. Cravedi says to make sure you coat the whole dome in meringue ("It would be so sad to bring a leaky treat to the table") to help make it last.

The Finish
We used a kitchen torch instead of the broiler to crisp the meringue, which gives you more control over the flame and makes sure the ice cream doesn't get too soft. The sugar in the meringue caramelizes, making the dessert look like a giant toasted marshmallow. And because fire makes everything more impressive, we also added alcohol for a quick flambé. Use a high-proof spirit (like Bacardi 151) for maximum flames and street cred.

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