14 August, 2014
What is a Baked Alaska?
This article was written by Phineas Upham
The Baked Alaska is not a fish dish, it’s one part pastry and one part ice cream. It’s usually served warm and can be encased in either dough or meringue. Early iterations of the dessert date back to the 19th century, when chefs began experimenting with things like fried ice cream.
The earliest name for a Baked Alaska is “Omelete en Surprise,” perhaps because of its egg casing. Americans will often credit the invention of the Baked Alaska to Thomas Jefferson. He and his wife were both respected cooks with good taste who imported and adapted recipes from foreign lands. Which is why his warmed ice cream served in a pastry shell was not the true origin of the Baked Alaska, more of an approximation.
Another, more likely story is that the dessert was created at a restaurant called Delmonico’s in New York City. Printed evidence of their menu puts a sponge cake served with a lightly baked scoop of ice cream. It was designed as a commemorative dish for the Alaska Purchase.
There is also a story circulating that the dish arose out of a physics experiment back in 1804. Thomas de Rumfort is said to have discovered that egg whites beaten vigorously were poor conductors for heat. He definitively noted this when testing a baked dessert involving ice cream.
There is also a Chinese dish that resembles the Baked Alaska, which dates back to 1888. While the concept is very similar, the dish is not Baked Alaska. It is pastry wrapped ice cream that the Chinese called “Celestial Omelettes.” They were not necessarily fried or baked, and when they were it was often for the novelty of serving it warm.