Baked Alaska: A Story Shrouded In Mystery

On March 30, 1867, for a mere $7.2 million - That is about 2 cents per acre - the U.S.A. bought land from Russia that would eventually make Alaska its 49th state, gaining a delicious fringe benefit in the process... Baked Alaska.

No, this igloo-shaped dessert of cake and ice cream shrouded in toasted meringue, didn't come from the icy north, but its name was inspired by the land deal.

In fact, the treat's true roots date back to the turn of the 18th century, when American-born scientist Sir Benjamin Thompson (aka Count Rumford, a title he gained for his loyalty to the crown during the American Revolution) — whose inventions included a kitchen range and a double boiler — made a discovery about egg whites.

Rumford realised that the air bubbles inside whipped egg whites made meringue a great insulator. "That's really why the Baked Alaska works," says Libby "O'Connell, the History Channel's chief historian and author of The American Plate. "The meringue insulates the ice cream from heat."

By the 1830s, this culinary revelation had inspired French chefs to create a dessert called the "Omelette Norwegge." This predecessor of Baked Alaska consisted of layers of cake and ice cream covered in meringue, then broiled. The French named this elaborate treat in reference to its own frigid territory to the north — Norway.

So how did the "Omelette Norwegge" become embroiled with the Alaska purchase?

Charles Ranhofer, an expat Parisian pastry chef at the legendary Delmonico's restaurant in New York City, was renowned for dishes doubling as cultural commentary — Peach Pudding à la [President Grover] Cleveland or Sarah Potatoes after actress Sarah Bernhardt, for example. In 1867, Ranhofer made a quip through his pastry that the world would never forget.

Secretary of State William's Seward's acquisition of a faraway tundra drew no shortage of criticism and ridicule. Ranhofer, who likely encountered the "Omelette Norwegge" in his French training, jumped on the bandwagon with a dessert he dubbed "Alaska, Florida" - a reference to the temperature contrast between ice cream and toasted meringue.

The dessert's name as we know it today was coined in the 1880s when English journalist George Sala visited the restaurant and remarked: "The 'Alaska' is a baked ice ... the nucleus or core of the entremets is an ice cream ... surrounded by an envelope of carefully whipped cream, which, just before the dainty dish is served, is popped into the oven or brought under the scorching influence of a red hot salamander."

And so the classic Baked Alaska has made its way onto the Blend Bistro Dessert Menu.

You can be assured that we have kept to the classic Baked Alaska menu, but true to our style, our Blend Bistro twist is that the final act will be to flambé it in Cointreau at your table - Of course we can use another liquer of your choice should Cointreau not be your thing!

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