Happy February! Today is National Baked Alaska Day – one of a handful of holidays that gave us pause when initially looking over the food calendar. Because Baked Alaska isn’t a real common dessert, and can be difficult to find when dining out. Plus, it’s a pretty complicated recipe to make yourself. Which wouldn’t be a big deal – Tara and I can handle anything – but we just happen to have plans tonight involving a concert and an overnight stay in Portland. So, we were sweating it a little – until my mom came to the rescue.
“I’ll make a Baked Alaska for you,” she said.
“That’s okay, you don’t have to do that, it’s an awful lot of work and we’d hate to put you out, but…well…okay, if you insist!” we replied. “What time should we be there?”
Whew. Thank you, mom. Growing up, we used to dine often at the NCO Club on Hickam AFB in Hawaii, and I remember my mom was always fond of the Baked Alaska. The servers would light it on fire and carry it to the table, which was a pretty cool spectacle for a kid. Plus, it tasted phenomenal. Ice cream wrapped in sponge cake and topped with meringue – what’s not to love? I hadn’t had Baked Alaska in probably 30 years, before today.
The dish has been around for awhile, and was originally called omelette à la norvégienne (Norwegian omelette). My idea of an omelette differs from the Norwegians’, apparently (where’s the cheese and mushrooms and meat?). Actually, the name makes sense, since meringue is nothing more than whipped egg whites. In 1876, Secretary of State William Seward purchased the Alaska Territory from Russia for $7.2 million, which amounts to two cents per acre, from Czar Alexander II (the same dude who may or may not have been the inspiration for the Brandy Alexander). Despite what seems like a really good deal on paper, critics scorned the move, calling it “Seward’s folly.” One New York Tribune writer said Alaska “contained nothing of value” and “would not be worth taking as a gift.” And then gold was discovered in the 1890s and everybody started praising Seward for his magnificent foresight. Lot of good it did the poor guy, as he was dead by then. Anyhoo, chef Charles Ranhofer at Delmonico’s Restaurant in New York didn’t think Seward was off his rocker, and wanted to celebrate the purchase of Alaska with a dessert. He whipped up a Norwegian omelette and simply renamed it Baked Alaska. Not exactly original, I suppose, but kudos to the guy for not getting all up in Seward’s grill.
Since we have plans tonight, we met up at my parents’ house for lunch today. Nothing like a sandwich topped off with a slice of Baked Alaska! There hasn’t been a more interesting combination of hot and cold since Heat Miser and Snow Miser squared off in the Rankin-Bass Christmas classic The Year Without a Santa Claus. The result? Pretty freakin’ delicious! Good job, mom. Not only was it her first time making a Baked Alaska, but she had never even done a sponge cake, either. It turned out great, and saved us a lot of time and trouble.
I told her she was free to make us a carrot cake on Sunday, but she kind of rolled her eyes. I guess the buck has to stop somewhere.