Where the Baked Alaska Roam

When Tery asked me to write about food in Alaska, at first I thought she was kidding for two reasons: 1) I have never written about food in any professional capacity so what do I know? 2) Is Alaska actually known for anything culinary?

She mentioned Baked Alaska in her email to me. Well, don’t know much about history, but I was thinking that Baked Alaska wasn’t really from Alaska. Before I had time to do a trusty search on Google, the next day I actually had my first taste of Baked Alaska.

I was invited to a lunch for networking purposes with some folks from Alaska Public Radio and Alaska Public Television. The restaurant – The Noble Diner – was an eclectic take on the traditional diner in the heart of one of the “bad parts of town” known for its drugs and guns. The neighborhood, that is, not the restaurant. Lunch fare ranged from macaroni and cheese to meatloaf, salmon salad sandwiches to homemade soups. I’d call the food “Nouveau Diner” in its preparation and presentation.

After a tasty but very messy salmon salad sandwich (a little too heavy on the mayo) on a delicious bun, I opted for the Lemon Meringue pie for dessert. I’m not much of a dessert person or at least not a regular orderer of dessert, however, some of the others were having something sweet, and I’ve been told that when you are trying to “bond” with someone at a professional networking lunch, order what they’re having. When the news director ordered Lemon Meringue pie, I followed suit.

Someone else at the table ordered Baked Alaska.

“Oh, is Baked Alaska from Alaska?” I asked naively.

“I don’t think so,” someone replied. “I think it comes from France.”

The Baked Alaska arrived, a modest golden meringue mound in the middle of a plate.

As I watched my lunch companions cutting into it with their spoons, I noted the bright pink raspberry ice cream interior. Not being a fan of raspberry ice cream, I almost didn’t try it, however I remembered Tery’s request. I reluctantly dug into the meringue and frozen dish.

I think the appeal of the Baked Alaska is that the ice cream, which sits atop a thin layer of sponge cake, remains frozen after the meringue that engulfs it is browned in the oven. A culinary science experiment of sorts.

The Verdict: It was sweet and sugary from the meringue, tart from the raspberry ice cream, and made more substantial by the sponge cake. While personally not my cup of sugar, it was interesting.

More interesting than the dessert, however, is the history. According to a Google search, there are four popular inventor stories for the Baked Alaska:

1. Thomas Jefferson served minister Manasseh Cutler a puddinglike dish that included “ice cream very good, crust wholly dried, crumbled into thin flakes. [1802]
2. An unnamed Chinese chef in Paris, no references made to his professional training or this being a Chinese dish. Pastry shell is used.
3. Benjamin Thompson aka Count Rumford, in Monaco, claim to fame is discovering meringue doesn’t melt
4. Charles Ranhofer, Delmonico’s most famous chef, New York City, said to have served this to mark the occasion of Seward’s Alaska purchase. [source: FoodTimeline]

I don’t think we will ever know the truth about the origins of the Baked Alaska. But if you are in the mood for something sweet, and you see it on the menu, you won’t be too disappointed and will certainly be intrigued.

MORE INFO: The Noble Diner, 4133 Mountain View Drive, 770-3811 Hours: Mon.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Fri. & Sat. 11-10 p.m., closed Sun.

Leave a Reply