February 1 – Baked Alaska Day
Ah, Baked Alaska! A cold and hot dessert to start February seems very appropriate. And, much like the start of January, the first national food day in this month has some big links to New York City. The Baked Alaska, or the Norwegian Omelette, was given its name in New York in 1876, to commemorate the recent acquisition of the Alaskan territory. The dessert itself is a strange set of ingredients you would not think would mix together to make something delicious. A few scoops of ice cream are placed in a pie dish lined with cake, and then topped with meringue. Then everything is placed in an oven to firm the meringue (and get that lovely browned look on top), but not long enough to melt the ice cream. When it is served, the meringue is firm and perfectly browned, the cake is warm and moist, and the ice cream is creamy and, amazingly, still cold.
I had my first–and really my only–Baked Alaska on a cruise to the Cayman Islands while in college. The last night of the cruise was a “formal” night at the dining rooms, and they had a spectacular “parade” of Baked Alaskas: all the waiters came out to the hall with the lights off, each carrying one of the desserts surrounded by an entrancing blue flame. Baked Alaskas aren’t necessarily meant to be flambé, but adding a splash of dark rum (and we certainly picked some up on our way back from the Caribbean!) and setting it ablaze is a variation, and a damn nice showy one at that. The dessert itself is okay: I think in our day and age, of molecular gastronomy and liquid nitrogen cuisine, eating ice cream that has recently been set on fire just isn’t the most ingenious, awe-inspiring method anymore. But it is still incredibly pretty. 🙂
Like I said before, the origin of the Baked Alaska comes from New York City: Delmonico’s Restaurant, to be exact, in 1876. There are a ton of Delmonico’s restaurants in New York but sadly none are close to the original: after a booming business in the nineteenth century that saw over six in a chain in the city, the last restaurant closed in 1923, and because the name hadn’t been copyrighted, copy-cat restaurants popped up in its place. In keeping with the tradition, however, there is a Delmonico’s on the original property site, at Williams Street downtown, and they’ve kept the original atmosphere and the dining menu as close to authentic as you can get. And they, of course, serve the Baked Alaska, and still make one of the best you’ll ever have. Finish up a swanky steak dinner (or Chicken A La King, or Lobster Newburgh–two other dishes Delmonico’s claims they created) with this classic dessert and you’ll feel transported to the glamour of nineteenth century fine living.
56 Beaver St (between Broad St & William St)
“Imagine carrying the employment of ice to such an extent that it culminates in that gastronomical curiosity, a BAKED ICE! The “Alaska” is a BAKED ICE, of which the interior is an ice cream. This latter is surrounded by an exterior of whipped cream, made warm by means of a Salamander. The transition from the hot outside envelope to the frozen inside is painfully sudden, and not likely to be attended with beneficial effect. But the abuse of a good thing is no argument whatever against its use in a moderate and rational manner.”–George Augustus Henry Sala, 19th century cookbook author
“Baked Alaska, another Delmonico’s original, looks chilly but tastes lush: Snowy tufts of meringue, singed a toasty brown, hide banana ice cream and a gooey, apricot core.”–NY Magazine
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Baked Alaska – Like a naturally beautiful woman who rarely if ever needs makeup, this dessert was simple, delicate and hit all the right spots. 4 stars just for this beauty right here.”–Ed. T.
“The baked alaska was enough to make me want to move a few thousand miles to the great northern state, see Russia and shake hands with the Palins. Named in honor of the at the then time recent acquisition of the territory, baked alaska is the union of walnut cake, banana gelato and meringue with apricot jam on the side. The first three ingredients are baked just long enough to firm the meringue. The result is sheer decadence that is easy on the eyes and even easier on the taste buds.”–Tom K.