When I was little I remember my father always citing Baked Alaska as his most favorite dessert. He brought it up semi-frequently, but I cannot remember us ever actually having it. It has been quite a few years since he has mentioned it, but for some reason that memory popped into my head this last year and I filed it away for my dad's birthday. In case you're unsure of what Baked Alaska is, it's a dessert with a cake base, topped with an ice cream dome, then covered in meringue and baked for a few minutes so that the ice cream is still frozen and the meringue is golden. It's unusual, delicious and not overly complicated - though a little time consuming. It's actually a perfect dessert to make ahead of time and then throw in the oven for a few minutes when you're ready to serve it.
I knew it would be a really nice surprise, though I had a bit of anxiety about the execution and lack of kitchen at my parents' house. My dad's birthday is two days after Christmas, so this was perfect because it's so different and non-repetitive from usual holiday fare. Plus, let's face it - it sucks to have a birthday within a couple days of Christmas and we always try hard to make my dad's birthday special. While making a complex dessert like this that requires a couple days' worth of time for preparation is difficult to secretively do while you're in the same house as the person you're surprising, my mother and I pulled it off.
A couple of days before I even asked what his favorite ice cream flavor is (maybe this is something I should have already known, but I didn't). His very definitive answer: Spumoni. For those of you who do not know, it's kind of like Neapolitan, but the flavors are chocolate, pistachio and cherry (typically). This made things slightly more complicated, because sponge cake is usually used for the cake layer and that just didn't seem like it would be the perfect pairing with the spumoni. But then a genius thought came to me: how about a brownie base - it would go well with the spumoni and the marshmallowy deliciousness of the meringue.
Putting ice cream into a 500 degree oven is most definitely a little nerve wracking - but my dad was so surprised and touched at the personal nature of his surprise birthday desert that I only regret not thinking of this sooner. I was talking to my grandmother and apparently she used to make Baked Alaska when my dad was a kid, so I'm especially excited that I've brought back something of a family tradition.
2 Cartons of Dreyer's Spumoni (or any other flavor)
1 standard size pkg. brownie mix - made according to package directions in 8 inch or 9 in round cake pan
For the Meringue:
8 egg whites at room temperature
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1 cup superfine sugar
1.5 tsps. vanilla extract
1. Before you begin, find a large bowl (around 3 quarts) that will work with your cake pan (the diameter needs to be about the same since the ice cream dome will be sitting on top of the brownie base.
2. Line said large bowl with plastic wrap and spritz very lightly with non-stick spray. After ice cream has sat out for ten minutes or more (it should be slightly melted) begin scooping it into the bowl. Alternate the different colors for a marbled effect. Pack the ice cream fairly densely and put back in the freezer. Freeze for at least four hours and up to 24 hours.
3. Bake the brownies according to package directions, then allow to cool.
4. When brownies are cool, remove them from their pan and put them onto a large plate that can go into the oven. It will need to be fairly large - remember that you still need to put on the meringue on!
4. Carefully remove the ice cream dome and place it on top of the brownie base. Put back into the freezer.
5. When eggs are at room temperature, crack them into a large bowl and add the cream of tartar. Use an electric mixer with a whisk attachment to beat the egg whites for two minutes on medium-high speed. Increase speed to high and then slowly pour in the sugar and beat until stiff, glossy peaks form. Peaks are stiff when they stick straight up and don't bend, like so:
6. Remove the brownie and ice cream from the freezer. Cover the ice cream with meringue, starting from the top down. Try to keep the meringue even and thick - it's important for insulating the ice cream from hot oven! Use the back of a spoon to make peaks with the meringue. Freeze for at least four hours and up to two days.
7. When you're ready to serve the cake, heat the oven to 500 degrees. Put the cake into the oven for a few minutes and watch it closely! Meringue should be golden, it shouldn't take more than five minutes. Let the cake sit for a few minutes so that it will be easy to cut. Enjoy!
The Baked Alaska, Pre-Oven