The August 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Elissa of 17 and Baking. For the first time, The Daring Bakers partnered with Sugar High Fridays for a co-event and Elissa was the gracious hostess of both. Using the theme of beurre noisette, or browned butter, Elissa chose to challenge Daring Bakers to make a pound cake to be used in either a Baked Alaska or in Ice Cream Petit Fours. The sources for Elissa’s challenge were Gourmet magazine and David Lebovitz’s “The Perfect Scoop”.
Baked Alaska. Its a one of the culinary worlds ultimate contradictions. Well, in name at least. Ice cream sitting on a sturdy cake base wrapped in a cloak of meringue, then baked quickly enough to brown and cook the meringue. From what I can tell the ice cream is the Alaska reference and before baking that meringue really does pass for that ultimate snow capped mountain peak. Of course its a bit of a misnomer since while it does see a hit of heat, its not really baked exactly, just browned, or barely baked. While this does seem like true retro fare and a nod to the over the top, cheeky desserts of the 60s and 70s, in actuality, Baked Alaska has been around since the late 19th century when it received its name at a famed New York restaurant, Delmonicos, in celebration of the newly acquired Alaskan territory. In fact it had already been around for at least 70 years under different guises. Whatever its previous incarnations, this meringue covered ice cream bombe is now known the world over as Baked Alaska.
Nowadays if you enjoyed this in a restaurant, your Baked Alaska will likely not see the inside of the oven, but rather be blasted with the flame of a torch, a touch of modernity to an old classic, that's if you come across it at all. I can't remember the last time I saw a baked alaska on a menu, aside for the last time I ever had one. Early on in my gastronomic education I have a vivid memory of enjoying one in a traditional European restaurant in a small town where my parents still live. I still remember the pool of raspberry coulis that it was served with, and how enthralled I was by the idea of baking ice cream.
Now that I have made it myself, I can attest to its instant appeal as a showstopper, and its make ahead quality make it the perfect restaurant dessert. I'm wondering if us Daring Bakers might just be able to start a new trend? Perhaps we will see a resurgence of this long lived dessert. I for one will be making this again - probably at some last minute moment where dessert is needed. Afterall there's always ice cream in my freezer and often a spare bit of cake. Whip up a couple eggs whites et voila!
For this Daring Bakers challenge, not only were we required to make a traditional Baked Alaska, the secondary portion to this challenge was a focus on brown butter, or beurre noisette in reference to the nutty aroma the butter takes when it caramelizes. Browned butter is a simple method of heating butter on the stovetop until the milk solids sink and brown, creating a complex aroma of caramel, nuttiness and butter which take over the entire room. I would suggest realtors skip the cookie trick when selling a home, but rather just put a put of butter on the stove to brown. After so many years cooking and experimenting once in awhile I'm reminded of a classic technique that seems monumental in its ability to affect so much flavour with so little work. I couldn't help but pick at a piece as it came from the oven. I loved this portion of the challenge and I was excited to see how this cake would pair with the rest of the dessert elements.
All that intoxicating beurre noisette left me tinkering with which flavour of ice cream to churn. A basketful of gorgeous Okanagan peaches sat ripening on the dining room table begging me to make them the star. I happily complied. Afterall, this is the height of peach season, which will be soon over. A fruit dessert in August was a must! I made beautiful peach honey ice cream, full of deep peaches and cream flavour and chunks of barely cooked fruit. And since I'm never one to leave things alone I decided I needed a contrast colour and flavour. A quick look in the freezer and the last of the mid summer sour cherry sorbet was screaming to be part that contrast in colour and flavour. The bright cherry with these comforting peaches, sexy brown butter cake and a creamy, sweet meringue make this one fantastic dessert!
Brown Butter Pound Cake
19 tablespoons (9.5 oz) (275g) unsalted (sweet) butter
2 cups (200g) sifted cake flour (not self-rising; sift before measuring) (See “Note” section for cake flour substitution)
1 teaspoon (5g) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (3g) salt
1/2 cup (110g) packed light brown sugar
1/3 (75g) cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1. Preheat the oven to 325°F/160°C and put a rack in the center. Butter and flour a 9”x9” (23cmx23cm) square pan.
2. Place the butter in a 10” (25cm) skillet over medium heat. Brown the butter until the milk solids are a dark chocolate brown and the butter smells nutty. (Don’t take your eyes off the butter in case it burns.) Pour into a shallow bowl and chill in the freezer until just congealed, 15-30 minutes.
3. Whisk together cake flour, baking powder, and salt.
4. Beat the brown butter, light brown sugar, and granulated sugar in an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well, and then the vanilla extract.
5. Stir in the flour mixture at low speed until just combined.
6. Scrape the batter into the greased and floured 9”x9” (23cmx23cm) square pan. Smooth the top with a rubber spatula and rap the pan on the counter. Bake until golden brown on top and when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes.
7. Cool in the pan 10 minutes. Run a knife along the edge and invert right-side-up onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
Peach Honey Ice Cream
adapted from Dorie Greenspan's phenomenal tome, Baking at Home
1 1/2 pounds peaches
1/4 cup honey
1 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
3 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp bourbon or rum
1 tsp vanilla
Peel and pit 1 pound of peaches and coarsely chop. Put in a medium saucepan along with the honey, bring to a boil, then lower heat, cover pan and cook, stirring once in awhile about 10 minutes. Peaches should be just barely cooked. Place in a blender and set aside to cool, then blend until smooth. Set aside.
In the same saucepan, whisk together the sugar and egg yolks until sugar begins to dissolve and the mixture is pale and thick. In the meantime, heat the milk and 1/2 cup cream to almost boiling. Put the remaining half cup cream in a 4 cup glass measuring cup, nestled in a bowl filled with ice and water. Drizzle the hot milk in a thin slow stream into the egg yolks while whisking constantly. Once all is incorporated, put over med heat and stir until the custard thickens and coats the back of spoon, stirring constantly. It should reach about 178 degrees. Pour into a strainer over the cold cream. This will catch any unwanted cooked eggs that might occur. Stir mixture, add peach puree and bourbon and vanilla, then stir frequently until cool. Place in fridge overnight to chill fully. The next day freeze in an ice cream maker. While the mixture is churning, peel and pit the remaining 1/2 pound of peaches and chop into small dice. Add to the ice cream in the last minute of churning.
Sour Cherry Frozen Yoghurt
adapted from The Perfect Scoop, David Lebovitz
1 pound sour cherries
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 tsp almond extract
2 tsp kirsch
1 cup plain greek-style yoghurt
Pit the cherries and put them in small saucepan with the sugar. Cover and bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer 10 minutes until the juices flow and they are cooked through. Place in a blender and leave to cool. Once cool, blend at high speed until fully smooth, then stir in the extract and kirsch. Place in fridge overnight to completely chill. The next day, stir in yoghurt and freeze in ice cream maker.
Meringue (For the Baked Alaska)
8 large egg whites
½ teaspoon (3g) cream of tartar
½ teaspoon (3g) salt
1 cup (220g) sugar
Beat the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt on high speed in an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Beat in the sugar gradually in a slow stream until stiff peaks form.
Assembly Instructions – Baked Alaska
1. Line four 4” (10cm) diameter tea cups with plastic wrap, so that plastic wrap covers all the sides and hangs over the edge. Fill to the top with ice cream. Cover the top with the overhanging plastic wrap and freeze for several hours, or until solid
2. Level the top of the brown butter pound cake with a serrated knife or with a cake leveler. Cut out four 4” (10cm) diameter circles from the cake. Discard the scraps or use for another purpose.
3. Make the meringue (see above.)
4. Unwrap the ice cream “cups” and invert on top of a cake round. Trim any extra cake if necessary.
5. Pipe the meringue over the ice cream and cake, or smooth it over with a spatula, so that none of the ice cream or cake is exposed. Freeze for one hour or up to a day.
6. Burn the tips of the meringue with a cooking blow torch. Or, bake the meringue-topped Baked Alaskas on a rimmed baking sheet in a 500°F/260°C oven for 5 minutes until lightly golden. Serve immediately.