Happy National Baked Alaska Day! Yes, even this meringue dessert gets its very own celebration, but it does have a certain draw that has made it a classic. “Though the flavors and textures are a delight, the real appeal of the Baked Alaska is the fire,” explains Ikuma Motoki, the pastry chef at N.Y.C.-based 21 Club. Officially opened in 1930, this New York institution is one of America’s most famous speakeasies from the Prohibition Era, and has served almost all of the United States Presidents since Franklin D. Roosevelt. (Check out the neat vintage snapshots below.)
So naturally, we wanted to get a Baked Alaska recipe from the place that’s been making them for over 80 years. “The crackle of the fire, sight of the flame, and aroma of the caramelizing sugar and spirits—it is a complete sensory experience,” says Motoki. The trick to mastering the fire component? “First, you need to make sure that you are using a spirit that is 80 proof, such as Grand Marnier or Cointreau. This will give you a nice flame and flavor. Make sure that you don't over-pour the alcohol. You want the flame to go out after about a minute and you don't want to overpower the dessert. Finally, use a long neck candle-lighter or fireplace match so that you don't burn yourself.” Think you’re up to the challenge? Try the recipe for yourself.
Hazelnut Nougat Glace (Base)
½ tbsp orange peel
1½ tbsp toasted hazelnuts
4 tbsp toasted almond
1½ tbsp Sicilian pistachio
½ tbsp dried apricot
1½ tbsp rum-soaked raisins
1 tbsp Kahlua
½ tsp Cointreau
2 egg yolks
1 egg white
3 tbsp honey
2½ tbsp sugar
1 cup cream, whipped to soft peaks
5 tbsp hazelnut praline paste ($12; nuts.com)
4 tbsp sugar
1 egg white
1. To make the nougat glace: Finely chop the orange peel, hazelnuts, almond, pistachio, dried apricot, and rum raisins. Combine in a bowl, and mix in the Kahlua and Cointreau. Let the mixture sit for 30 minutes to marinate.
2. The lightness of the nougat glace comes from a mix of two techniques: pâte à bombe and meringue. To make the pâte à bombe, place the egg yolks in the bowl of a stand mixer and start whipping on medium speed. While that is whipping, put the sugar in a pot, and wet with just enough water to make the sugar look like wet sand. Boil the sugar until it reaches the “soft ball” stage, or 230°F. While the egg yolks are whipping at high speed, slowly and carefully pour in the hot sugar, streaming it down the side of the bowl. Whip the mixture until very light and fluffy, and the bowl is cool to the touch. Set aside.
3. For the meringue, use a clean mixing bowl, and follow the same steps but with the egg whites and honey: whip the meringue on medium speed until frothy. Heat the honey in a pan until it boils all the way through (careful, it rises fast!) and then, with the mixer on high speed, stream the honey into the egg whites slowly and carefully. Whip until the bowl is cool to the touch. Fold the pâte à bombe into the meringue to create the base of the mousse.
4. In a large bowl, mix the hazelnut praline paste with about a quarter of the whipped cream to lighten it. Fold in the whipped egg mixture until well combined, then fold in the rest of the whipped cream. Sprinkle the nut mixture from earlier over the mousse and fold through gently until completely combined, being careful to not overmix and deflate the mousse.
5. Spoon the finished nougat glace into the molds of your choice—any silicon mold will do, or line cupcake tins with plastic wrap. You can also use a brownie pan or other baking dish (lined with plastic wrap for easy removal) if you don’t have other molds. Allow the nougat glace to freeze completely, overnight. (It will still be the texture of softened ice cream when it’s totally frozen.)
6. Make the meringue to pipe onto the outside of the frozen nougat glace, following the same steps as earlier: whip the egg white in a clean bowl on medium speed; while that is whipping, put the sugar in a pot, and wet with just enough water to make the sugar look like wet sand. Boil the sugar until it reaches the “soft ball” stage, or 230°F. Put the mixer onto high speed and slowly and carefully pour in the hot sugar, streaming it down the side of the bowl. Whip on high speed until the bowl is cool to the touch, then drop the mixer to medium-low speed for a minute to even out the air bubbles in the meringue (which will make for easier, prettier piping).
7. Unmold the frozen nougat glace. Place it on its serving dish (you can use a thin layer of chocolate cake under the mousse if you want something to catch any melting drips). Using a piping bag with your favorite tip, pipe designs to cover the entire outside of the nougat glace. If you have one available, use a brûlée torch to lightly toast the finished meringue. Return finished Baked Alaska to the freezer until ready to serve.
8. To serve: Make sure the serving plate is heat proof (not paper!). Use a gravy boat or something similar (something broad and flat, not a creamer pitcher) and place a small amount (not too much!) of Grand Marnier liqueur inside. Light the alcohol with a long match, and pour over the top of the Baked Alaska; the flaming liquid will cling to all the meringue details and temporarily light the dessert on fire. Wait for the flame to die, or blow it out and enjoy!