Categories:Food HIstory Ice Cream & Ices History Meringue Cakes
Baked Alaska History
Baked Alaska is also known as omelette la norvienne, Norwegian omelette, omelette surprise, omelette norvegienne, and glace au four.
Baked Alaska is ice cream encased in some sort of hot casing (pastry crust or meringue). Early versions of this dessert consisted of ice cream encased in a piping hot pastry crust. The later version consisting of ice cream on sponge cake covered with meringue and browned quickly in a hot oven. The creation of Baked Alaska is claimed as being created by many people, and popularized by many others.
Photo courtesy of Epicurious.com
1802 – According to some historians, Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), third president of the United States from 1801-1809, was one of the first to serve ice cream at a state banquet in the White House. He is reported to have served ice cream encased in hot pastry at a White House dinner during his presidency. Although the name came much later, it is likely that this was a dish similar to Baked Alaska.
An article from the LeRoy PennySaver & News called “An 1802 Menu,” by Lynne Belluscio states the following:
A menu of a meal Jefferson offered on February 6, 1802, included “rice soup, round of beef, turkey, mutton, ham, loin of veal, cutlets of mutton, fried eggs, fried beef, and a pie called macaroni.” The desserts included “ice cream very good, crust wholly dried, crumbled into thin flakes; a dish somewhat like a pudding . . .”
Ice cream dishes frequently appeared in visitors’ accounts of meals with Thomas Jefferson. From the web site The Home of Thomas Jefferson, one visitor reportedly commented:
“Among other things, ice-creams were produced in the form of balls of the frozen material inclosed in covers of warm pastry, exhibiting a curious contrast, as if the ice had just been taken from the oven.”
A true Baked Alaska starts with the meringue. A meringue is a “patisserie” made from egg whites and sugar. Patisserie is the French word for various preparations made of pastry and generally baked in the oven.
1720 – The book, Larousse Gastronomique, by Prosper Montagn says the following on the history of meringue:
Historians of cookery say that this little patisserie was invented in 1720 by a Swiss pastry-cook called Gasparini, who practised his art in Mehrinyghen, a small town in the State of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. The first meringues made in France were served in Nancy to King Stanislas who, it is said, prized them highly. It was he, no doubt, who gave the recipe for this sweetmeat to Marie Leczinska. Queen Marie-Antoinette had a great liking for meringues. Court lore has it that she made them with her own hands at the Trianon, where she also made vacherins, for which a similar mixture is used. Up to the beginning of the nineteenth century, meringues were shaped in a spoon, as the pastry forcing-bag had not been invented.
1804 – Omellete surprise, which is virtually identical to Baked Alaska is said to have been first invented by an American-born physicist named Benjamin Thompson Rumford (1753-1814), later known as Count Rumford. An American Loyalist in the Revolution in Boston, it is said that he served as a spy and informant for the British Army. He was forced to flee from America to England 1776.
He had an interest in cooking and he invented the fire-grate, a double boiler, an oil lamp, a coffee percolator (drip), and the kitchen range. As a result of his interest in investigating the resistance of beaten egg whites to heat, which is based on the principle that beaten egg white is a poor conductor of heat, a created a dessert that he called “omellete surprise.” In The American Heritage Cookbook, Rumford is quoted as saying:
“Omelette surpirse was the by-product of investigations in 1804 into the resistance of stiffly beaten egg whites to the induction of heat.”
During the Victorian Era (1937-1901), elaborate ice cream desserts made by local dairies and confectioners were the height of refinement, served at the best teas and formal dinners. They prided themselves on fancy ice cream “bombes” (ice cream pressed into molds which produced elegant and elaborate frozen desserts in fancy and festive shapes. These tradition was taken from molded puddings and custards. These were also known as ice cream cakes.
The technique of covering foods with meringue and then baking until the meringue is delicately browned seemed to have been a popular dessert technique during the middle 1850s.
1855 – The cookbook, The Philadelphia Houswife, by Aunt Mary (a pseud for Mary Hodgson) added a few fanciful French desserts as “Apples aux Pommes” and “Baked Alaska Applie Pie:”
Baked Alaska Apple Pie – Do everything as directed in Meringue aux Pommes, but instead of filling the apple centers with marmalade, fill them with vanilla ice cream, and spoon ice cream in the spaces around the apples. Top with the meringue, bake and serve.
1866 – The French food writer, Baron Leon Brise, wrote a column in the French Journal, Liberte, on June 6, 1866 which suggests the creation of the dessert, Baked Alaska, was introduced into France by French Chef Balzac. According to historians, the master-cook, accompanying a visiting Chinese delegation at the Grand Hotel in Paris, taught Balzac how to bake ice cream in a pastry crust in the oven. Following is what Baron Brise wrote:
During the stay of the Chinese Mission in Paris, the master-cooks of the Celestial Empire have exchanged civilities and information with the chefs of the Grand Hotel. The French chef in charge of sweet courses is particularly delighted with this circumstance. He has learnt from his Chinese colleague the method of baking vanilla and ginger ices in the oven. The pasty is baked before the ice protected by the pastry shell can melt. This phenomenon is explained by poor conductibility of certain substances. The gourmets can thus give themselves the double pleasure of biting through piping hot crust and cooling the palate on contact with fragrant ices.
1867 – Charles Ranhofer (1836-1899), the French chef at the famous Delmonico’s restaurant in New York, created a new cake to celebrate the United States purchase of Alaska from the Russians. William H. Seward (1801-1872), a Senator from New York, negotiated the purchase of Alaska from Russia, and the bill was signed on October 18, 1867. This purchase was known as “Stewart’s Folly” and/or “Stewart’s Icebox.” In Charles Ranhofer’s 1893 cookbook, The Epicurean, he called it an Alaska, Florida, and makes it in individual portions.
Alaska, Florida – Prepare a very fine vanilla-flavored Savoy biscuit paste. Butter some plain molds two and three-quarters inches in diameter by one and a half inches in depth; dip them in fecula or flour, and fill two-thirds full with the paste. Cook turn them out and make an incision all around the bottom; hollow out the cakes and mask the empty space with apricot marmalade. Have some ice cream molds shaped as shown in Fig. 667, fill them half with uncooked banana ice cream, and half with uncooked vanilla ice cream; freeze, unmold and lay them in the hollow of the prepared biscuits; keep in a freezing box or cave. Prepare also a meringue with twelve egg-whites and one pound of sugar. A few moments before serving place each biscuit with its ice on a small lace paper, and cover one after the other with the meringue pushed through a pocket furnished with a channeled socket. beginning at the bottom and diminishing the thickness until the top is reached; color this meringue for two minutes in a hot oven, and when a light golden brown remove and serve at once.
It is possible that what Ranhofer deserves is the credit for popularizing an already known dessert.
1876 – Mary F. Henderson, in her book Practical Cooking and Dinner Giving, published in 1876, calls it “German Steamer Baked Ice-cream.” She shows some familiarity with Delmonico’s restaurant and gives a recipe for their vanilla ice cream. Following is how it is described:
This dish was at least a curiosity, served at the table of one of the German steamers. A flat, round sponge-cake served as a base. A circular mold of very hard frozen icre-cream was placed on this, and then covered with a meringue, or whipped white of egg, sweetened and flavored. The surface was quickly colored with a red-hot salamander, which gave the dish the appearance of being baked. The gentleman who told me about this dish insisted that it was put into the oven and quickly colored, as the egg surrounding the cream was a sufficiently good non-conductor of heat to protect the ice for one or two minutes. However, there is less risk with a salamander.
1880 – George Augustus Henry Sala (1828-1895), British cookbook author and journalist, wrote the following on Baked Alaska after tasting it at Delmonico’s restaurant in New York:
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.
1894 – Agnes Marshall’s 1894 book, Fancy Ices, has a recipe for an ice cream bombe, called “Princesse Marie de Orleans Surprise Bombe,” with a meringue around the outside, seared with a hot salamander, that is similar to a Baked Alaska:
Princess Marie d’Or1eans Surprise Bomb – Prepare and freeze a white coffee ice, and when frozen put it into a plain bomb mould with a pipe, and place the shape into the cave to freeze for two and a half hours; remove the lid and pipe, and fill the hollow space with pieces of fresh sponge cake steeped in Marshall’s Maraschino Syrup; then turn out the ice on to a layer of sponge cake that is placed on the centre of the dish, and by means of a forcing bag with a large rose pipe cover it well in an ornamental style with a stiff meringue mixture prepared as below, and sprinkle it with Marshall’s Icing Sugar. Stand the dish containing the bomb in a tin with water, and place it in a quick hot oven to brown the outside of the meringue, or glaze it with a salamander, and serve it immediately with a pur of peaches (prepared as below) round the base.
Meringue Mixture for Princess Marie D’Orleans Surprise Bomb – Take four large or six small whites of eggs and whip well with a pinch of salt, then add half a pound of castor sugar, stirring it into the egg with a wooden spoon, and use.
1895 – Jean Giroix, French chef at the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo, is also said to have made the dish popular. He called it omelette la norvienne or Norwegian omelet.
1896 – The name Baked Alaska, seems to have first appeared in print in the The Original Fannie Farmer 1896 Cookbook by Fannie Farmer. Following is how Fannie Farmer describes making a Baked Alaska:
Whites 6 eggs
6 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 quart brick of ice cream
Thin sheet sponge cake
Make meringue of eggs and sugar as in Meringue I., cover a board with white paper, lay on sponge cake, turn ice cream on cake (which should extend one-half inch beyond cream), cover with meringue, and spread smoothly. Place on oven grate and brown quickly in hot oven. The board, paper, cake, and meringue are poor conductors of heat, and prevent the cream from melting. Slip from paper on ice cream platter.
A Day in the Life of Thomas Jefferson, Monticello, The Home of Thomas Jefferson.
An 1802 Menu, by Lynne Belluscio, LeRoy PennySaver & News, January 14, 2002./font>
Baked Alaska and Rumford, The Oxford Companion to Food, ed. Alan Davidson, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Biography: Benjamin Thompson.
Boston Cookery Book, Chapter XXVI, Ices, Ice Creams, and other Frozen Desserts, by Fannie Farmer, Bartleby.com.
Chocolate, Strawberry, and Vanilla: A History of American Ice Cream, by Ann Cooper Funderburg, Bowling Green State University Popular Press, Ohio, 1995.
Delmonico’s: A Century of Splendor, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1967.
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Practical Cooking and Dinner Giving. A Treatise Containing Practical Instructions in Cooking; in the Combination and Serving of Dishes; and in the Fashionable Modes of Entertaining at Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner, Page 310, by Mary F. Henderson, Harper & Brothers, New York, 1876. – Feeding America: The American Cookbook Project.
Princess Marie d’Or1eans Surprise Bomb, by Ivan Day, Historic Food.
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The Epicurean, by Charles Ranhofer, Dover Publications, Inc. New York, unabridged and unaltered republication of the work originally published by R. Ranhofer, New York, in 1893.
The Man Huntington Loved to Hate: Loyalist Benjamin Thompson tried to keep the town under his boot.
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World Policy Institute, Brilliant Mischief: The French on Anti-Americanism, Volume XX, No 2, Summer 2003.