This takes me back… waaaaayy back to the late ’80s, when I was on my big OE. I was aboard a cruise ship touring the Greek islands, with nothing but calm azure seas, searing hot sun and a non-stop array of food. Dinners in the grand dining room were a spectacular event and, on the last night of our voyage, we were treated to a real culinary show-stopper.
The lights were dimmed and white aproned waiters filed into the room holding enormous trays – on each one a Bombe Alaska – a great dome of flambéed meringue all lit up with blue flames. Everyone gasped and then applause broke out. I’d never seen such a display, or such a dessert, for that matter. A Bombe Alaska was delivered to every table and then, with great aplomb, sliced open to reveal an enormous mound of ice cream sitting atop a sponge base. I’ll never forget my first introduction to that unique pairing of ice cream, cake and meringue.
Many years have passed and Bombe Alaskas have long since faded into the dark recesses of my mind, along with shoulder pads and leg warmers. I never once thought of attempting to make one, nor did I ever intend to. I didn’t even set out with the intention of making this one. Let me explain… I actually made some lemon curd ice cream but discovered, once made, that it was way too sour – silly me didn’t read my own recipe properly and put far too much lemon in. So, I had to come up with a plan to make the ice cream more palatable. The obvious solution was to pair it with something really sweet to offset the sourness. It occurred to me that meringue was probably the sweetest option and I started thinking through the possibilities. Then, memories of that dessert on the cruise ship came flooding back and I had my answer – a Bombe Alaska! Perfect.
So I set about researching how to make one and, along the way, came across a Baked Alaska – exactly the same process as a Bombe Alaska, just not flambéed at the end. And, while I would have loved to try the flambéeing (who doesn’t love the idea of setting their food alight?!), I reckoned that given I was making this in the height of summer with long, sunlit evenings, it wasn’t really a goer. So I stuck with the Baked Alaska, though technically speaking you can’t really call it that either as the meringue was simply browned with a kitchen torch instead of baked in the oven. Perhaps I need to rename it ‘Torched Alaska’.
While I was initially intimidated by making this dessert it actually ended up being very simple. Yes, it was a fairly lengthy process, but it can all be made ahead of time and frozen until you’re ready. Thanks to Nigella.com for the lemon curd ice cream recipe – it was an easy, no-churn version and the result was smooth, creamy and delicious (other than the fact that my lemon curd was too sour!). Using that as the starting point, I borrowed the genoise sponge recipe from Metro.co.uk and the meringue recipe from Serious Eats.com. I went with an Italian meringue in the end, because a: there’s nothing to match its dense, marshmallow-like texture; b: the egg whites are cooked by the addition of hot sugar syrup, so it doesn’t need to be baked, and c: it’s the most stable of the meringues and freezes brilliantly (though weirdly remains soft and workable).
Anyway, to cut a now very long story short, this dessert is about as spectacular a dessert as I’ve ever made. The combination of the cold, tart lemon curd ice cream and the sweet marshmallowy meringue was sensational – a total sensory delight. And, the light, eggy genoise sponge provided a nice textural element to an otherwise ultra smooth concoction. I will most definitely be making this again – next time, a large Alaska for a big family dinner, complete with a layered ice cream/sponge interior. Watch this space!
- 1 unwaxed lemon
- 284 ml (10.1 fl oz) double cream
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 250 grams (8.8 oz) natural yoghurt
- 325 grams (11.4 oz) lemon curd - I made my own
- 125 g (4.4 oz) butter, melted and cooled
- 4 eggs
- 125 g (4.4 oz) caster (superfine) sugar
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 125 g (4.4 oz) plain flour (all-purpose), sifted (I used a gluten-free blend)
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 4 egg whites, at room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
- Finely grate the zest and squeeze the juice from the lemon.
- Very lightly whip the cream with an electric or hand whisk until it is just starting to thicken - you're aiming for the stage where it's just starting to form soft peaks.
- Using a metal spoon, fold in the lemon zest and juice, honey and yogurt.
- Gradually fold in the lemon curd then pour into a 1 or 1.5 litre (2-3 pint) freezer proof tub with lid. Place in the freezer for several hours or overnight, until frozen.* (see note about pouring directly into moulds) Remove every hour or so to stir with a fork, making sure the more frozen edges are mixed in.
- The day before serving (but several hours before making the sponge), take out the ice cream, let it sit for about 5-10 minutes to just soften at the edges, and scoop 2-3 balls into 6-8 freezer-friendly ramekins** (see note about an alternative to using moulds) which have been sprayed lightly with oil and lined with plastic wrap - there should be enough wrap to fold back over the ice cream and to grab hold of when you pull the ice cream out of the ramekins. Once covered with plastic wrap, press down the ice cream (I used the bottom of a drinking glass) to ensure it properly fills the mould. Put back into the freezer for a few hours to harden.
- Preheat the oven to 170°C (340°F/Gas 3). Line a swiss roll pan (approx. 22x33cm or 7x13 inch) with baking parchment.
- Melt the butter over a low heat and allow to cool.
- Whisk the eggs and sugar in a bain-marie over a medium heat, until the mixture becomes light and creamy. When the volume has increased by about 50 per cent and the mixture is thick enough to hold a ribbon trail, remove from the heat and transfer to a large mixing bowl if needed (I used the same one).
- Add the lemon zest then, using a large metal spoon, carefully fold the sifted flour into the mix alternately with the cooled melted butter in three batches.
- Pour the mixture straight away on to the lined baking tray and bake for 20 minutes, until golden.
- Leave to cool then cut out 6-8 discs with a round cutter*** (see note re cutter size) The sponge discs should be half an inch to an inch in height - if they are too thick, simply slice a little off). Place the discs on baking parchment or on a silicone mat on a baking tray which you can fit in the freezer.
- Now take the ice cream moulds out of the freezer (one by one if the weather's hot). Grab the sides of the plastic wrap and pull the ice cream out. Unwrap each ice cream mould, then invert and place directly onto the sponge discs (on the lined baking tray) and put back into the freezer to harden.
- Firstly, ensure the bowl you will be beating your egg whites in is scrupulously clean (I wipe the sides down with some vinegar). Check your beaters are also completely clean.
- In a small saucepan, combine sugar and water. Heat over high heat, brushing down sides of pot as necessary with a pastry brush dipped in water (this ensures the sugar doesn't crystalize). Cook until sugar syrup registers 240°F (115°C) on a candy thermometer.
- Once the syrup starts to boil, combine egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Set mixer to medium speed and mix until soft peaks form (when lifted, the head of the mixer should form gentle peaks in the egg whites that very slowly collapse back into themselves). At this point your sugar syrup should be close to the required temperature.
- With the mixer running, carefully and slowly drizzle in the hot sugar syrup - aim for the side of the bowl rather than the middle so as not to deflate the egg whites. Once it's all in, increase speed to high and whip until stiff peaks. Move on to assembly straight away.
- Take the ice cream/sponge stacks out of the freezer (one at a time if the weather is hot) and place on a serving plate (if serving straight away) or tray. Using an offset spatula, generously slather each stack with meringue, making sure every bit is covered, including the sponge. Using the back of the spatula, create swirls and peaks in the meringue.
- If serving immediately take your kitchen torch**** and in small circles, lightly brown the meringue - (this is for appearance only as the meringue is already cooked) and serve.
- If not serving for a few hours, carefully put the meringue-coated stacks back on the tray (use a large spatula or cake slice to transfer them) and into the freezer (they're good for at least 4 hours; I froze two for 24 hours and they were perfectly fine). When ready to serve, take out of the freezer and let them sit for about 10-15 minutes (this depends on the heat factor, but you'll be surprised at how long the ice cream remains frozen inside), then brown the meringue with the kitchen torch and serve.
**Another alternative to using a mould is to just scoop out one big ball and use that as your individual portion size. You can flatten the top of the scoop on the kitchen bench so that it sits flat on top of your sponge disc.
***How large each sponge disc should be will depend on how wide the base of your ice cream will be. I used ramekins to freeze my ice cream in, so measured their base which was 8cm (3 inch), so cut out 6 x 8cm discs. If you're using a big scoop of ice cream rather than a mould, you might be looking at 5-6cm (about 2-2.5 inches).
****It's best to use a kitchen torch when making small Baked Alaskas, as baking in the oven is likely to start melting the small amount of ice cream inside.
Food Photography Info: Canon 550D (EOS Rebel T2i); Sigma 30mm 1.4 DC ‘Art’ lens / Natural lighting