Layers of cake and ice cream are topped with peaks of torched meringue in this classy and classic dessert.
There are ice cream cakes and then there are ice cream cakes. While I do have a special place in my heart for those chocolate crunchies sandwiched between layers of vanilla and chocolate in a Fudgie the Whale or Cookie Puss from Carvel, today we mare making the queen of all ice cream cakes, Baked Alaska.
What is Baked Alaska?
For those of you, like me, that shied away from attempting a Baked Alaska in the past, deeming it too fussy or laborious, I have news….it’s actually pretty simple and completely customizable. It’s basically ice cream and cake that is layered, frozen, and topped with meringue and torched. Seriously, the most challenging part of making this special dessert is waiting for it to freeze and muscling your knife through the finished dome.
The history of Baked Alaska dates back to the late 1700’s and has gone through various incarnations over the years. New York City restaurant Delmonico’s really put it on the map and has been serving it up since the mid-1800’s. Their recipe has remained the same for years, a combination of a walnut sponge cake, banana gelato, apricot compote, and meringue. Now if that isn’t your ideal flavor combo, never fear, you can customize it to suit your preferences. My boys and primary taste-testers are pretty simple in their tastes, so I stuck to the classic vanilla/chocolate combo with a little cookie dough thrown in the mix for fun.
Baked Alaska Tips for Success
- Don’t be in a hurry. While not a complicated dessert, Baked Alaska does require an investment of time because each layer is frozen before the next is added. This also makes it a great make-ahead dessert for entertaining. The cake can be layered and frozen well in advance (think days and even weeks) and the meringue is all you have to worry about before your guests arrive.
- Choose a simple, sturdy cake as your base. The vanilla sponge cake in my recipe stands up to the weight of the ice cream layers and bakes up firm. The cake flavor is also pretty neutral which means the ice cream is the star in my version.
- Make sure the cake pan you select fits at the bottom of the bowl you’re using to assemble your Baked Alaska. If it’s not a perfect fit, you can trim the cake rounds as needed.
- Be sure your cake is very firm and frozen before adding the meringue. I used a kitchen blow torch to brown the meringue, but you can also brown it in your oven. A solidly frozen cake will stand up to the heat and ensure that it doesn’t melt before it hits the table.
- You’re going to need a sharp knife and a little muscle for that first slice or two. The cake layers become rock solid when they’re frozen and you’ll probably need to really push down on the knife, especially with the first slice. It will be even easier to slice if you let it sit a bit before serving…if you can wait that long!
- Think out of the box. If you’re a chocolate fiend you may want to experiment with a brownie or chocolate sponge cake base. A mocha nut? Maybe coffee ice cream, mocha chip and fudgey chocolate is your winning combo.
Now this dessert is best served right after the meringue is toasty and browned and the layers just soft enough to slice through. That said, don’t think you have to scrap the leftovers if they’re not gobbled up in one sitting. We only managed to scarf down half the cake with the help of my boys and their buddies and we stuck the rest back in the freezer to save for dessert later in the week. Well, we pulled it out a couple days later and the cake held up. Sure, the meringue wasn’t totally on point, but it wasn’t soggy or weepy either. I wouldn’t necessarily serve it to company, but it was pretty delicious for a regular old Monday night. And it did garner me “the best mom/baker ever” reviews from one very happy twelve year old boy. Not bad for a Monday.
- 5 eggs, at room temperature
- ¾ cup sugar
- ¼ tsp kosher salt
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1¼ cup cake flour
- 5 egg whites
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup whole milk
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 4 pints of your favorite ice cream (I used 2 vanilla bean, 1 chocolate, 1 chocolate chip cookie dough)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9 inch round pan (preferably springform) and line the bottom with a parchment round.
Combine the eggs and sugar in the bowl for a stand mixer and whip with the whisk attachment until pale yellow, thick and tripled in volume, about 10 mins. Add the salt and vanilla at the very end of the beating time. (If you don't have a stand mixer, you can use a handheld mixer.)
Sift the cake flour over the top of the batter in three batches and VERY LIGHTLY, fold the flour in with a spatula. Do not overmix.
Lightly spoon the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25-30 mins or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Cool for a couple mins on a wire rack, then remove from the pan to finish cooling.
Line a medium/large metal bowl with plastic wrap. Soften one pint of ice cream (vanilla) until spreadable. Spread the ice cream into a thin layer al over the entire lined bowl. Place in the freezer until frozen.
Soften another pint of ice cream (cookie dough) and spread in a single layer on the bottom of the bowl.
Use a serrated knife to divide the sponge cake in half. Combine the milk with the vanilla and use a pastry brush to brush one half of the milk over the surface of the cake.
Place the cake layer, milk soak side down on top of the ice cream. Place in freezer until frozen.
Soften another pint of ice cream (chocolate) and spread in a single layer over the cake layer and freeze.
Repeat with the final pint of ice cream (vanilla) and brush the remaining cake layer with the remaining milk soak and place the layer (soak side down) on top of the last layer of ice cream.
Cover tightly with plastic wrap and freeze several hours until completely frozen.
Make the swiss meringue (recipe instructions below) and remove the bowl from the freezer. Invert the bowl onto a cake plate or pedestal, remove the bowl and peel off the plastic wrap.
Spread the meringue over the entire surface of the ice cream cake and use an offset spatula or knife to create peaks or swirls. Use a kitchen torch to brown the meringue. Alternatively you can place the entire cake into a 475 degree oven to brown. Be brief and keep a close eye that the meringue doesn't burn and the ice cream doesn't melt. It should only take a few minutes.
Use a very sharp knife (and a little arm strength) to cut into slices and serve.
Combine sugar and eggs whites in the bowl of your stand mixer or a large metal bowl.
Place over a pan of simmering water and cook, whisking frequently, until sugar is completely dissolved and isn't grainy when you rub it between two fingers.
Remove from heat and using your electric mixer, beat on high with the whisk attachment until the meringue is thick and glossy and the bottom of the bowl no longer feels warm, about 7-8 minutes.
Add the vanilla extract and continue to beat until you reach stiff peaks.
Special Equipment: Kitchen blow torch