Baked Alaska: Daring Baker's Challenge August 2010

The August 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Elissa of 17 and Baking. For the first time, The Daring Bakers partnered with Sugar High Fridays for a co-event and Elissa was the gracious hostess of both. Using the theme of beurre noisette, or browned butter, Elissa chose to challenge Daring Bakers to make a pound cake to be used in either a Baked Alaska or in Ice Cream Petit Fours. The sources for Elissa’s challenge were Gourmet magazine and David Lebovitz’s “The Perfect Scoop”.

I really enjoyed Elissa's choice of challenge this month. Baked Alaska. I've never eaten it, or really even seen it. It fell into the category of "Floating Islands" or "Turkish Delight", impossibly romantic notions of desserts that I also have neither made or eaten. Their names alone could comfort you during the darkest hours, a nursery tale feast all too easy to conjure when such a beautifully named sweet is involved.

This baking experience was the inaugural event in which I did not use any granulated white sugar when called for. When I was visiting with my Parents a week ago, we shopped at an Amish "Bulk Store". They sell all sorts of nuts, seeds, soap making supplies, flours, any other homesteading staple you could imagine. It's refreshing to shop in a simple environment, the size of one's living room. It kind of reminded me of the little hole-in-the-wall co-ops that used to pop up here and there before the era of "food shopping as art" concept stores emerged. While I can (and like to) be seduced by the best in floor displays, I loved this Amish Bulk Store, and my Mom and I decided to split 50 pounds of raw sugar.

We divided it into 14 quart size canning jars each, and when I returned I weighed a cup to see the difference from granulated sugar. A regular cup of white sugar is about 8 ounces, and the raw sugar was about 6. When we asked various Amish women about the usage, some preferred to use more, and some less than the same amount of white sugar. I still have a lot of practice ahead of me, but I like the flavor so much better, that I'm sure it will be fun experimenting. (When I used the raw sugar recently for canning, I used a weight measure based on the 8 oz. per cup of granulated to keep with the result of the tested recipes.)

The brown butter pound cake recipe we were supposed to use did not work out for me. I made it according to the weight measures, and I don't think the conversion for the flour was proper. I had a rather flavorless, butter soaked cake that was on the leaden side. Since the cake is really just a thin layer on the bottom, I probably could have used it - but since these desserts were for Maeckel's birthday, I decided that I had to make it again. It was the correct choice!

The second time, I used a Cook's Illustrated recipe from my well worn copy of The Best Recipe. I altered it by first browning the butter, then weighing it and adding enough regular butter to bring it back up to 8 ounces. I also let the butter come fully to room temperature. I baked it up in a loaf pan, and it was delicious. I saved all the scraps from cutting out little circles for the bottom of my Alaskas, and on Lo's advice am going to make a peach ice cream (Alton Brown's Burnt Peach Ice Cream... or maybe I'll even give David Lebovitz's Peach Ice Cream a try), and add the bits of cake in.

Meanwhile, David L's salted caramel ice cream is probably the best ice cream I've ever made at home...

Instead of the recommended David Lebovitz vanilla ice cream, I made his salted butter caramel version. Other than a (by comparison) light recipe for vanilla ice cream, I have never made any Lebovitz ice creams in the past. I think by making this one recipe it is completely evident that he sure knows what he is talking about. This ice cream was so smooth and seductive, you could almost believe that it in no way could have a negative impact on your health. If an ice cream could be sexy, this would be the one.

If there could be a downside, it was that the ice cream was so soft that I knew that even a brief baking at 500 degrees was going to cause it to melt quickly into nothingness. I used this excuse to purchase a culinary torch. I got one from Superior Equipment and Supply, a restaurant supply that is actually walking distance from my house (lucky me...). I am now one of the people now getting perhaps a bit too excited that I can wield an 1100 degree flame in my hand! It worked really well, no messy ice cream, and even time to take pictures! I can't hardly wait to see what I can "torch" next...

Prior to torching.

The only thing more fun than taking out little plates of frozen desserts to torch, was eating them. They were delicious. The meringue pipings tasted like toasted marshmallows, the salted caramel ice cream was still firm and just a little melty, browned butter pound cake was a bit hard, but softened up nicely by the time we got to the end of the dessert. Just in time to taste all of the browned butter goodness and pretend that we didn't want to opt for seconds.

I will certainly be making this again! It's a great idea for dinner parties, since they are done up in advance and then only torched slightly before serving. If you use a hard set ice cream, I'd bet you may be able to get away with the namesake "Baked" part of the Alaska as well. A version I'd like to try on my next go would be in the s'mores realm - a base of homemade graham cracker, a bit of dark chocolate ice cream and this meringue toasted deeply: sounds completely addicting to me.

You can find the recipes for this month's challenge at the Daring Kitchen website... and be sure to pop over and take a look at 17 and Baking. Elissa has a beautiful site filled with great photography and delicious baked goods.

After I missed last month's challenge due to being so busy, it felt extra good to be obsessing again about a challenge for August. I'm so glad that I made the time to make this dessert. Thanks again to Elissa for a great challenge!

(Kinda makes you want to curl up and re-read the Chronicles of Narnia, doesn't it?)