Mary’s Neapolitan baked Alaska

‘Twas the weekend and I was visiting my mom’s and thought, This is the perfect opportunity to do a pudding.

Not a North American pudding.

A British pudding.

A dessert.

As previously discussed, puddings and desserts are trickier to bring to work so I decided to leave this section to smaller groups of friends and family.

There are two baked Alaskas in this bakebook so I figured I’d get one out of the way. I know, it doesn’t sound like I was thrilled, but to be honest this recipe made no (and still makes no) scientific sense.

You’re putting ice cream in the oven.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Before I even think about the oven, I have to prep the ice cream. Mary wants me to line a 3-litre freezer-proof pudding bowl with clingfilm, but since only my mom and I will be eating this, I’m opting for a smaller recipe: two clingfilm-lined small dessert bowls.

Then Mary wants me to beat vanilla ice cream to soften it a little and then spoon it into the pudding bowl and level with a spatula before freezing for an hour until firm.

Here’s another thing I’m not going to do: the Neapolitan aspect.

Both my mother and I avoid dairy, so making a proper dairy baked Alaska was out of the question. But she did have strawberry and chocolate dairy-free ice cream in her freezer. (Don’t you love how moms just always have food in their house?) So instead of going out and buying more ice cream, I figured we’d both be happy with just those two. So it’s actually a two-thirds Neapolitan baked (dairy-free) Alaska.

Before freezing, I took the levelling a step further and folded the clingfilm over the top and pushed it down with the other bowl.

*one hour later*

Time for the next layer of ice cream: strawberry.

Instead of beating this one, I just left the ice cream container on the counter for 20 minutes and it was soft enough to spread onto the mostly frozen chocolate.

And once again I folded the clingfilm over the top and stacked the bowls on top of each other to level things out.

And then put those back into the freezer.

*about half an hour later*

While those were freezing, I figured I’d get started on the sponge to allow enough time to cool.

If you’re unfamiliar with a baked Alaska and are super confused, I understand you. If you are familiar with these things, I want to know how. Do you make these often? Do you frequent places that serve these? Is this a secret Dairy Queen item no one talks about but everyone knows about?

Back to the bake. Starting with eggs.

Since I’m doing smaller puddings, I thought I’d do a half-recipe of the cake, but then realized I still needed quite a bit of surface area for two individual baked Alaskas, and I thought my mom and I would be quite happy to eat the remaining pieces of chocolate sponge, so I decided to do the full recipe after all.

Add to that some sugar (but 10 grams less than the recipe calls for because less sugar is now my trademark).

With the eggs and sugar combined, it’s time to beat it “until the mixture is pale in colour and thick enough to just leave a trail when the whisk is lifted.”

It actually took a while.

Eventually the trail thing happened, but before adding the flour and melted butter, I had to melt the butter.

And melting the butter reminded me to prep the sandwich tin.

Now, I had a question last week about how I got a perfect circle of parchment at the bottom of the cake tin. My coworker thought I cut a perfect circle by eyeballing it, but my explanation of “I folded the parchment like a paper snowflake” was met with blank stares. So I thought I’d show you how I line a tin.

First I rip off a square piece of parchment, then I fold it like I would a paper snowflake:

Then I hold it above the greased tin, with the point hovering above the middle, to see where I need to cut. Then I cut and unfold:

Now ya’ll know.

Back to the cake.

The other thing about baking for my mother is that she’s gluten-free, so instead of regular flour, I used her white gluten-free flour. But the thing about gluten-free flour is it can be quite heavy.

She’s made an amazing gluten-free angel food cake in the past, and she achieved it by sifting the flour at least eight times, so that’s what I did with this flour and cocoa.

I didn’t do it eight times, though. I only did it about four before adding it to the egg and sugar mixture.

And then I got folding.

If you’ve never folded before, it’s kind of fun. And interesting how you can fold and fold and fold and then turn your bowl just a little bit and suddenly find a pocket of dry ingredients. It’d make a good science lesson about how different mixtures interact with each other. I should be a science teacher.

Just kidding.

Everyone would fail. Including me.

With the batter fully folded…

I could add the melted butter “down the side of the bowl” before folding that in.

[Insert scientific explanation for why you can’t just dump the butter on top.]

Now that everything is folded, except my laundry—cue laughter—I could pour it into the sandwich tin.

I’m then told to tip the tin to spread it around the bottom.

But there’s one flap of parchment that is not staying put (see if you can spot my pasty white hand holding it in place).

I didn’t want it folding in on the sponge while it baked, so I added a wad of butter like it was a bit of sticky tack holding up a poster in my middle-school bedroom.

Then I baked it.

*10 minutes later*

It’s done!

Now it needs to cool.

*some time later*

With the ice cream frozen and the cake cooled, it’s time to combine the two and start on the meringue.

First of all, note to self, next time cool the cake parchment-side down, lest it look grilled.


Second note to self, next time don’t try to jigsaw-puzzle-piece your chocolate cake together. It’s silly. There are easier ways to do this.

Although, the bonus of trial-and-error cutting pieces to fit the circle of the bottom of the pudding bowl used to freeze the ice cream domes: extra pieces of cake ready to be eaten.

Now, Mary tells me (I almost said Paul and Mary, but it’s clearly only Mary’s name on this bake) to put the cold sponge on an ovenproof serving dish and then turn out the layered, clingfilmed ice cream onto the sponge before freezing again.

I had several ovenproof dishes, but what I was looking for was something with basin-esque qualities because, as I’ve mentioned, baking ice cream seems so silly and if this turns out to be a big prank on me, I don’t want to have to clean out melted ice cream from the bottom of my mother’s oven.

With those freezing, yet again, it’s time to start this meringue.

Before anything to do with egg whites, though, Mary wants me to combine sugar and water…

…and bring it to a dissolving temperature…

…and then to a fast boil until it reaches 110 degrees.

Now, I do not have a candy thermometer and neither does my mom. (She used to but she never used it and therefore gave it away). So I had gone out to he grocery store in search of a candy thermometer. I found an instant thermometer and it said it went up to 220 degrees, so we’re set, right?

I checked the temperature of the syrup and it easily reached 110 degrees. Perfect.

I could start on the egg whites.

Those are to be whisked until they form stiff peaks.

I double-checked the recipe and it said to take the syrup off the stove when it reaches 115 degrees and then slowly pour into the whisked whites, but my syrup was reaching well over 120 degrees. So I took it off the heat to cool it down.

Then I put it to boil again and it easily jumped above the required 115.

Then I realized: Celsius is different than Fahrenheit.

By this point, the egg whites were done.

Needless to say, I was frustrated with my own stupidity.

So I ate more cake.

And started to boil by guesswork.

Because as you can see, my new thermometer only goes up to 104 degrees Celsius. And as you’ll remember I need this to be at 115 to pour into the whisked whites.

So I waited.

And waited.

Eventually I told myself it was close enough and got ready to pour this into the whisked whites, as directed.

However, there was an element of fear.

Mary made it very clear that you are not to let the syrup run onto the whisk. I thought this may have been because of the risk of splatter and burns, so I took precautions, first by pouring the syrup into a glass measuring cup.

And second by covering my arm and hand with an oven mitt.

I have to admit this was not well thought out. Boiling hot syrup splatter wouldn’t just hit the hand that pours. It would also hit the face and upper arms of the pourer (which were uncovered).

This has not been my smartest bake.

But I was thankfully unscathed.

With the syrup poured in, I could let the machine run for 15 minutes “until the meringue is completely cold.”

Now here’s the thing about that last instruction. “Completely cold” is misleading. I was expecting this mixture to go from hot to icy. If, on the other hand, I was to let this mixture be whisked until “completely cool,” well that’s another thing entirely.

I guess what I’m saying is I whipped it for 5 minutes too long before realizing it wasn’t going to become icy as if by magic and I fear I overwhipped.

With that ready, I could try to assemble the entire thing.

I had gone to the freezer to find the sponge and ice cream in the glass baking dish and realized they were still a little soft. I was also suddenly afraid of putting a frozen glass dish directly into an oven set at 475 degrees Fahrenheit. (Not Celsius.)

So I actually moved them to a cookie sheet, put them in my mom’s deep freezer, and brought the glass Pyrex dish back to room temperature before putting the cakes back into the dish that would catch the inevitably melted ice cream mess that was to come.

Mary wanted me to use a palette knife to spread a thin layer of meringue over everything and then paint the inside of a piping bag with two colours of gel food colouring before piping rosettes around the entire dome.

Let’s just calm down, Mary.

Instead I made a mess of spooning overwhipped meringue around both domes and ended up with a hot mess that my artistic mother soon fixed with some strategic spoon swooping.

This is how her mother taught her to do lemon meringue pie.

Sadly, I have yet to master this skill.

And Mom, I know you’re reading this and will tell me that I just need to practice and I’ll be great, so I’ll save you the time and tell ya’ll that I guess I just need to practice. And then I’ll be great.

But really, Mom, thank you for making these pretty.

Time to put them into the oven.

Ice cream.

In the oven.

It just makes no sense.

While those bake for five minutes, I figured I could try to do something with the last bit of meringue, so I decided to make cookies and practice my piping skills.

Before I realized it, though, the baked Alaskas were done!

And guess what!

They worked!

Mary wanted me to decorate with fresh berries, but it’s not the height of summer yet so I just went with strawberries.

I decorated one and then realized I hadn’t sliced enough strawberries to do the same for the second one, so I redistributed the berry wealth.

I cannot believe they worked!

And let me tell you: they were delicious!

I didn’t know what to expect but the warmth of the cooked meringue with the icy coldness of the ice cream and the yumminess of the chocolate sponge was just a whirlwind of unexpectedly perfect pairings.

I still find it difficul tto comprehend the science behind baked ice cream, but I am not going to fight Mary on it. Because it’s great.

In fact, it’s so great that both my mother and I ate it so quickly and with so little regard for the waistbands on our jeans that we both immediately had to change into sweatpants.

(Hope that’s okay to tell people, Mom!)

*two hours later*

Oh yeah and the meringue cookies weren’t bad either.

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