Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Baked Alaskan Birthday

The birthday girl illustrates the proper headwear for eating the Baked Alaska.
My neighbor (and frequent contributing sous chef) Alexis' birthday was Monday, so Kevin and I decided to give her the gift of an amazing birthday meal (I voted for the gift of song and dance, but Kevin just can't hit those high notes). If I was going to live up to the main course of a baked crab and shrimp risotto (essentially the greatest crab cakes ever), I knew my inner baker was gonna have to come up big. For once, I wanted to try making my first real cake (not of the cup variety). Alexis had previously mentioned her love of angel food cake (not just for old people anymore!), so Kevin's recommendation of the crazy ice cream cake concoction known as the Baked Alaska was spot on to show my neighborly love (and appreciation for letting us pretend we live in a giant episode of The Big Bang Theory) with one of the most enchanting birthday cakes ever.

Chiffon Cake Base
Servings: far too much for what you need
Time: 1 hour (plus cooling)

2 cups sifted cake flour
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
7 egg yolks
3/4 cup cold water
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon extract
7 egg whites
1/2 tsp cream of tartar

  1. Preheat the oven to 325.
  2. Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until stiff peaks form. Set aside in another bowl.
  3. Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into your clean mixing bowl.
  4. Form a well then add the oil, egg yolks, water, vanilla and lemon extract to the well.
  5. Using the same beaters as the egg whites, mix the batter until smooth and light.
  6. Slowly, pour the batter over the egg whites and fold them in with a rubber spatula (do not stir).
  7. Fill a 9x5 inch loaf pan 2/3 full with the batter (don't get too crazy because it will rise a lot).
  8. Bake for 35 minutes then up the heat to 350 degrees and bake an additional 5-10 minutes or until the toothpick test comes back clean.
  9. Invert the pan while it cools. 
  10. Let cool to room temperature (or refrigerate overnight) then cut and use the bottom portion as the base for your Baked Alaska.

This is entirely too much cake for what you need, but since when was having extra cake a bad thing (plus I didn't know how to divide 7 eggs for more accurate measurements)? You'll probably end up using about half of the batter allowing you to flick the remainder at your wall for cool art (or I suppose you could just fill two loaf pans and have a back-up cake for emergencies). The ciffon base of our Baked Alaska was beautifully bouncy with a fabulous but not overpowering lemon flavor that would've been a great dessert on its own. Luckily for us, we got to make it even more ridiculously scrumptious with ice cream and meringue. Since this dessert is a two step procedure, I'd recommend making the chiffon cake the night before to make things far less hectic.

This tasty cake makes me happy because it looks just like an extremely shaggy dog.

Baked Alaska
Adapted from Alton Brown
Servings: 6-8 servings
Time: 100 minutes (plus ciffon cake time)

1 1/2 quarts strawberry ice cream, softened
9x5x1 inch piece of chiffon cake (recipe follows)
8 oz sugar
4 oz light corn syrup
2 oz water
4 oz egg whites, room temperature (about 4 eggs)
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch salt

I'm most excited now that I know how easy it is to make ice cream cake.
Now that's a thick meringue.
  1. Line a 9x5 inch loaf pan with plastic wrap.
  2. Fill bottom of the pan with the ice cream and spread evenly. You'll want to fill it about halfway.
  3. Place a piece of chiffon cake on top and lightly press down. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least an hour.
  4. When the cake is almost ready to come out, combine the sugar, corn syrup and water in a saucepan and heat over high. Stir briefly to help it dissolve then bring it to a temperature of 240 F.
  5. While waiting for the syrup to come to temp, beat the egg whites, salt and vanilla in a stand mixer on high speed until you get medium peaks (about 3-5 minutes).
  6. Once the syrup is ready, turn the stand mixer on low and slowly pour the syrup into the egg white mixture (making sure to avoid the whisk).
  7. Increase the speed to high and beat for 10 minutes or until cooled to make your meringue.
  8. Take the cake out of the freezer and invert onto a heatproof serving platter to free it.
  9. Remove the plastic wrap and cover all sides with a 1 inch layer of meringue including sealing up the edges to the serving platter.
  10. Brown the meringue with a torch and serve immediately.
    The strawberries make the cake look like a sad face, but you'd have to lack taste buds for it not to put a big ol' smile on your face.
    Aside from looking extremely fun, the finished cake was unbelievably delectable. The slightly softened strawberry ice cream blended splendidly with the lemony chiffon cake, while the torched meringue perfectly encapsulated it with creamy goodness. Seriously, this was practically a whipped cream only thicker (plus it was spiky). The end result was a seamless transition from one wonderful flavor layer to the next. Most importantly, Alexis seemed to love it enough that I can now consider us even for all the times she's entertained me when I was bored.
    Like I said, the meringue is irresistible. 
    Now that I've had my first birthday cake success I can only hope that my apartment one day becomes like a diner where people lie and say it's their birthday to get a free slice of cake. But for now, I'll just have to start working on brainstorming for Heather's birthday at the end of the month.

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