Baked Alaska

Happy birthday to you,

Happy birthday to you,

Happy birthday That Cooking Thing,

Happy birthday to you!

Hey guys, That Cooking Thing turned two years old yesterday and this post marks the third year for recipes from this blog. I just want to extend a massive ‘thank you’ to those who have been following me since the beginning, a few of you have liked every single post and I feel so honoured that you guys are still here after all this time. To those of you who have joined more recently, welcome and I hope you stay around for a long time to come!

I thought it would be appropriate to make something super celebratory to mark this bloggiversary so this week I have made a Baked Alaska. No corners have been cut in this recipe (although I wouldn’t judge if you bought the ice cream because making it fresh takes time). This baked Alaska is vanilla flavoured with a little bit of chocolate. A layer of vanilla sponge with a dome of creamy, delicious vanilla ice cream with a centre of chocolate chip ice cream all topped with peaks of French meringue and then baked in the oven. The homemade ice cream is certainly the star of this dessert and you do not want to detract from it by jazzing everything else up too much. You can tailor your flavours though, why not coffee ice cream and a brownie base? Or strawberry ice cream and chocolate cake?

When it comes to baking your Alaska, you have three options: the oven, the blowtorch or fire. Traditionally (and as I have done in this recipe) the entire dessert is placed into a maximum setting oven for five minutes to caramelize the outside and give the beautiful golden crust you associate with a baked Alaska. The blowtorch method is most likely the best thing to use if you are piping on your meringue as the blowtorch will crisp any edges (such as those left by a star tipped piping bag) and really bring out the definition of the meringue. If you use a blowtorch, I would recommend using a Swiss or Italian meringue where the egg whites have already been heated during the cooking process. For a classic baking in the oven, you could still use these meringues if you want but there is no need to expend the extra effort as a French meringue will work just fine! The final method – the flambé – is obviously the most theatrical but is the hardest to control. Once you have set the alcohol on fire and poured it over the Alaska, you cant stop the cooking if it goes too far. It might even be worth a practice run on a separate Alaska (just for you of course) to work out the correct quantity of rum to use for the flambé.

 

If you try this for yourself, let me know how it goes – maybe even give me a tag on Instagram so I can see what you have made. Have a fab one and hopefully the next two years will be as successful as the last two.

 

 

Baked Alaska

Work time: 1 hour

Cooling time: overnight

 

Ingredients:

1 tub vanilla ice cream

OR

4 egg yolks

300ml double cream

300ml whole milk

1 vanilla pod

100g caster sugar

 

For the cake:

2 oz. butter

2 oz. caster sugar

2 oz. self-raising flour

1 egg

½ tsp Vanilla extract

½ tsp milk

 

For the meringue:

4 egg whites

8 oz. caster sugar

¼ tsp cream of tartar or ¼ tsp white wine vinegar

 

 

For non-homemade ice cream:

Allow the ice cream to soften a little until it can be scooped easily.

Line a 600ml bowl with a double layer of cling film.

Scoop the ice cream into the bowl, press it down and wrap the clingfilm over the top.

Place back into the freezer until completely solid (probably best to do this overnight).

 

For homemade ice cream:

Follow churning instructions on your ice cream maker – mine requires the bowl to be cooled for 24 hours in the freezer prior to use but other varieties may differ.

Pour the cream and the milk into a heavy based saucepan.

Split the vanilla pod down the middle and scrape out the seeds. Add both the seeds and the pod into the milk mixture.

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Gently warm the milk until it is hot to the touch but not boiling. You do not want to scald the milk.

While the milk is heating, lightly beat the egg yolks and sugar in a large bowl until they have lightened in colour and you have a homogenous mixture.

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Once the milk mix has begun to steam, take one cup of it and slowly pour into the egg mixture whilst whisking. This will temper the eggs.

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Stream the rest of the milk into the egg mix whilst stirring continuously.

Return the mixture to the pan and gently heat, constantly stirring in a figure of eight, until the custard begins to thicken. The custard will coat the back of a metal spoon when it is ready. The mixture will start to steam quite a lot before it begins to thicken so don’t worry if you start to see wisps rising from the surface. Once the custard begins to thicken, it will do so very fast and you will be able to see that it is far more viscous.

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Pour the custard through a fine sieve and into a jug. Leave this to cool completely before the next step.

 

If using an ice cream maker, follow the instructions on your machine. Some will have an internal freezer, others will require freezing prior to use. The following instructions are for my brand of ice cream maker: the Magimix 1.1.

Assembler the ice cream maker and turn on the paddle.

Stream the custard into the maker and then leave for 25 minutes to half an hour until the ice cream is very thick and frozen. If you are unsure, and your ice cream maker is still churning away happily, give it another five minutes as this can’t do any damage!

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Before you turn off the ice cream machine, double line a 600ml bowl with cling film.

Scoop the ice cream into the bowl, cover the top and leave to freeze solid overnight.

 

 

For the cake:

Preheat the oven to gas mark 3.

Grease and line an eight inch tin.

In a bowl, beat the butter until light and fluffy.

Add the sugar and vanilla and beat again.

Add the egg and beat to combine.

Finally, add the flour and slowly mix until just combined.

Add the milk and mix one last time.

Pour the cake batter into the baking tin and spread it out.

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Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown.

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Leave to cool.

 

 

To prepare the Alaska for serving:

Preheat the oven to gas mark 9.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks.

Add the cream of tartar and whisk again.

Slowly sprinkle in the caster sugar a spoon at a time until it has all been incorporated.

Continue to beat until you have a glossy meringue. The sugar should be completely dissolved.

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Assembly:

Remove the ice cream from the freezer.

Cut the cake to the same size as the base of the ice cream dome.

Place the ice cream on top of the cake on a baking sheet.

Spread the meringue all over the ice cream and the cake. Make sure the meringue covers everything.

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Use the back of a spoon to make peaks in the meringue.

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Bake for five minutes turning halfway through to ensure it is crisped up evenly around the outside.

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Transfer the Alaska onto a plate and serve.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. This was one of more complicated things I have made for the blog but only because I made the ice cream from scratch. The final result is absolutely delicious and it is sure to wow anyone you make it for. You could always make mini ones too if you want to do single portions.

 

If you would like to know a little bit more about the different types of meringue, check out my usual recipes for both swiss and French meringues. If you are just interested in the cake element, why not make yourself a Victoria sandwich?

 

Have a good one and I will see you next week with a delicious savoury snack.

H

Pavlova

Pavlova is another one of those foods which has debatable origins. Both Australia and New Zealand argue that it started with them, however there does not seem to be any conclusive evidence to decide between their claims. This is primarily because the earliest recipe we have for a dessert labelled pavlova is not meringue… it’s gelatine based. What we do know is that the pavlova in the form that we see it today was named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova.

Pavlova should have a crisp outer shell and a marshmallowy centre. This differs from normal meringue which is usually hard all the way through. This difference is attributed by most chefs to the cornflour added to the recipe, however this is probably done to help stabilise the meringue so it does not deflate. What makes the centre ultra-soft is how the dessert is cooked. By using a slightly higher baking temperature at the start, and then reducing it, the outside of the pavlova is cooked substantially more than the centre so it hardens up before the temperature of the oven is reduced. The pavlova is also cooked for less time than you would use for crisp meringues. If you think about it size wise, the pavlova is far bigger than a standard meringue but is cooked for the same amount of time so the central area will not be cooked as much.

I have talked a lot about whisking eggs in recipes on this blog and I thought that, seeing as it is such a crucial element in this dish, I would go into the actual science behind the meringue. Egg whites are about 90% water and 10% protein. Of this protein, the majority is a substance known as ovalbumin. Ovalbumin has a bizarre property: one end is hydrophilic (that is to say, it loves water) and the other is hydrophobic (it hates water, rather like oil does). This is simplified on the diagram below [1] where the green end is the water loving side and the red is water hating. When in the unbeaten egg white, the protein is suspended in water but this is not good for the hydrophobic side. To avoid the water, the ovalbumin curls up [2] encasing the water-hating region inside the water-loving one. As you beat the egg white, two things happen: one, the ovalbumin is unravelled exposing both sections of the protein (the most stable position for it is on the surface of the liquid [3] where the hydrophilic side can sit happily in the water, and the hydrophobic side can float in the air) and two, air bubbles are beaten into the egg white. As you beat the egg white more and more these bubbles are broken up and made smaller and smaller, increasing their surface area. The surface of the bubbles is the perfect place for the freshly uncurled protein to sit so as the proteins come into contact with the bubbles, they begin to surround them [4]. The proteins then form chemical bonds to each other which causes the giant mesh of air and water to become, at least, semi-stable.

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When you add sugar to the pavlova, you must do it slowly. This gives the sugar time to dissolve in the water in the egg whites (N.B. this is why you should use caster sugar instead of granulated as the crystals are smaller and thus dissolve faster). If you add the sugar too fast, the weight of the solid grains will break the bonds between the protein molecules and cause the meringue to deflate. This is often unsalvageable – you can try to keep beating the mixture on high speed to thicken it up but it will never be as fluffy as it once was.

After baking, you should get as much cream onto the meringue as possible. The fruit choice is up to you – more colours, and more vibrant colours, will have a more striking effect but really no one will mind as long as it tasted good. Be careful if you use a coulis as this can flow off the edge and dissolve the meringue, so try to make the edges of the cream higher than the centre (like a shallow bowl) as this will help prevent any leakage.

I hope you enjoy the recipe!

 

 

Pavlova

Prep time: 20 mins

Cook time: 2 hours 10 mins

Cool time: 2 hours

 

8 egg whites (at room temperature)

450g caster sugar

1 tbsp cornflour

1 tbsp lemon juice/white vinegar

Pinch of a salt

 

600ml double cream

Fresh fruit

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 1 (140°C).

Draw a nine inch wide circle on a sheet of baking paper.

 

Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks in a stand mixer. You should be able to invert the bowl without the egg falling out at this point. It’s fun to do this over an unsuspecting friend/parent/child/housemate/loved one (but only if you are certain that it won’t go wrong… accidentally)

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The egg whites hold their shape and appear almost cloud like.

Add the sugar a tablespoon at a time with the mixer running.

Once all the sugar is added, continue beating the meringue until the sugar is fully dissolved.

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The meringue should be thick, glossy and hold its shape. This photo was not taken while the meringue fell from the whisk into the bowl, it actually stayed like this after settling, supporting its own weight.

Beat in the cornflour and vinegar.

 

Spoon the meringue into the centre of the circle on the baking sheet.

Spread it out to edges. You can decorate the boarder with peaks of meringue or just smooth it off so it is flat at the sides if you want a cleaner look.

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Some volume was lost as I used carton egg whites for this – they do not whip up as well as fresh ones but I had no way to get rid of eight yolks and didn’t want to waste any. If you use fresh eggs, you will get a far taller meringue.

If you manage to get maximum volume out of the egg whites, the pavlova will be tall too. It is common to use the end of a spatula or palette knife to drag indents up the side to give the meringue a bit more structure when it bakes. It can also help to make the sides a little higher than the centre to help hold the filling in.

 

Bake for ten minutes before reducing the temperature to 90°C in an electric oven or leaving the oven on gas mark 1 but wedging the door slightly ajar with a wooden spoon.

Bake for another two hours.

Turn the oven off and leave the pavlova to cool in it. If you used a spoon to wedge the door open, shut it now. If you take it out now, it will sink and crack.

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To assemble, beat the cream to soft peaks and spoon over the top of the meringue.

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Decorate with the fruit.

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Pavlova profile

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are interested in trying a different type of meringue (which can also be used for this), check out my recipe for swiss meringue – it’s crispy and delicious.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for a Mediterranean dish that is great for lunches.

H

Swiss Meringue

A few months ago, I did a post on making foolproof meringues. This comes as a sort of follow up because what is important about the three different types of meringue is that they are all good for specific, and different, things. I don’t tend to make meringue for any other reason than using up egg whites left over from other recipes – however I have been known to make the odd meringue cake or pavlova in the past.

Unlike French and Italian meringue, swiss meringue is heated before baking. The sugar is added at the start of the recipe and the additional weight literally weighs down the egg whites during the beating resulting in a strong but dense mixture. When making a classic (French) meringue, you can also add the sugar at the start but, because the eggs are not heated, this doesn’t have as much of an effect as it does when making the Swiss variety. One of the benefits of the thicker mixture achieved in a Swiss meringue is that you end up with a super marshmallowy centre without going through the stage that we all want to avoid where putting the meringue into your mouth is like eating a tube of superglue.

Where Swiss meringue really comes into its own is when you are making layered meringue cakes. As the mixture is denser, the final baked product is much less fragile and the rigidity of the meringue makes it a safe option for stacking without any of the edges snapping off. The stability of the uncooked meringue is also far superior to both French and Italian meringues. If left for too long, French meringue will deflate – this is irreparable; beating it again will not help – and, once made, you have a limited time (around 24 hours) with Italian meringue before the sugar starts to recrystallise leading to a gritty mouthfeel with is rather unpleasant.

Unlike both of these, Swiss meringue will stick around for a long time making it perfect for use in icing – most famously, the Swiss Meringue Buttercream. With a much higher butter:sugar ratio than traditional American buttercream, the icing is far less making it nicer for those of us without a sweet tooth. The high proportion of butter does unfortunately come with a cost. This can be a dangerous icing to use in summer as the butter can melt. The meringue does help prevent it getting too runny but there is only so much you can do to hold together a frosting that has become 50% liquid in the heat. Of course the very butter that can cause this catastrophe in the summer is also what allows the icing to set solid in the fridge making it a perfect base layer to have underneath fondant and ganache as you can scrape things off the cake without damaging any crumb coats that you may have already applied. I would definitely recommend using a Swiss meringue buttercream if baking for adults (assuming you have the time) as it has a far nicer flavour and texture that its American counterpart – just make sure that it is at room temperature before you serve it.

I hope you enjoy the recipe for the meringues and that the baking gods prevent any cracks from occurring.

 

 

Swiss Meringue

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 90 minutes

 

3 egg whites

6 oz. caster sugar

¼ tsp cream of tartar or ¼ tsp white vinegar or ¼ tsp lemon juice

 

Put the egg whites and sugar into a large mixing bowl.

Add about an inch of water to the bottom of a saucepan and stand the mixing bowl over the top – the bowl should not touch the water.

Bring the water to a gentle simmer whilst stirring the egg mixture.

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You can see the grains of sugar around the outside of the bowl.

Continue to beat the egg mix (by hand as you don’t want to whip the eggs yet, just dissolve the sugar) until all of the sugar has dissolved. The egg mix will feel slightly warm to the touch and a small amount rubbed between your fingers will feel smooth and not grainy. At this point, it will be glossy white and have the consistency of double cream.

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The mixture is far smoother after gentle heating.

Remove the egg and sugar from the heat.

Turn the oven to gas mark 1 (140°C) to preheat.

Add the cream of tartar/lemon juice/vinegar and whisk with electric beaters until the meringue has increased massively in volume and is thick and glossy. It should be able to mostly hold its shape when the beaters are removed. This will take about seven or eight minutes.

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Pipe the meringue onto baking sheets – larger meringues will take longer to cook. For an added stripe of colour, take a small amount of gel food colouring and straw a strip down in the inside of your piping bag before filling it.

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Place the meringues into the oven and prop the door slightly open with a wooden spoon (only about one or two centimetres).

Bake for 90 minutes or until one of the meringues comes off the tray without sticking.

Turn the oven off, remove the spoon from the door and let cool for at least an hour before removing the meringues from the oven. This will help prevent cracking and the formation of a cavity at the base of the meringue.

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. These can be served with whipped cream and fruit for miniature pavlovas or Eton mess. You can also melt a little chocolate, dip the meringues into it and leave them to cool to get a lovely, chocolate layer around the base of the meringues. They also make great snacks when you just need a little bit of sugar.

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Have a good one and I will be back next week with a delicious dinner.

H

 

 

Foolproof Meringues

Unlike most foods in baking, meringues are not cooked as much as dried out in the oven. A very low temperature should be used when making them to prevent the meringues from colouring in the oven – they should come out a brilliant white. They are also incredibly versatile as meringue can be used not only to decorate other desserts but also as the main base for pudding – for example pavlova and Eton mess. They can be either solid or marshmallowy inside but be careful, if they are undercooked a tasty snack can easily become the equivalent of eating something akin to superglue.

Owing to their minimal list of ingredients, colouring meringues can be a bit of a hassle. Ideally you want to use egg whites which you separate out from the yolk yourself. This is because the egg whites which come in a carton tend to be pasteurised and during this process, some of the proteins are affected so they do not whip up as well as fresh egg whites. If you do have to use egg whites from a carton, you will have to whip the meringue for far longer and should also use half a teaspoon of cream of tartar to help bind them. It is imperative that you use gel food colourings or even better, gel paste as normal water based food colouring can disrupt the balance between the sugar and egg white and lead to the meringues deflating. The same can be said of adding flavourings – if they are liquid based, add them right at the end and add as little as possible. Adding a teaspoon of cornflour can help offset this problem but won’t prevent it entirely.

There are several types of meringue – French, Swiss, and Italian – which are all made and used in different ways. The recipe below is a classic example of a French meringue. The egg whites and sugar are whipped together to form a thick, glossy mixture which holds it shape upon piping. It is then baked to set the proteins in the egg white and drive off excess water. Swiss meringue is similar however it is whipped in a bain marie (over a pan of simmering water) until it is thick. The mixture is then removed from the heat and beaten until cool – the meringue is again baked. The final type is Italian meringue. Unlike the other two, this used hot sugar syrup instead of solid sugar. When it is added, the mixture will go very runny. It is then whipped until cool resulting in a stiff meringue. As the sugar syrup was very hot when it was added, the egg whites are already cooked so Italian meringue does not need to be baked before using. As a result, it is common to put it on lemon meringue pie and baked Alaska before blowtorching the outside to give it a caramelised finish.

I hope you enjoy the recipe and that you end up loving meringue as much as I do!

Meringues

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 2 hr plus

Ingredients:

3 egg whites (room temperature works best)

6 oz caster sugar

½ tsp lemon juice/white vinegar/cream of tartar

Pinch of salt

Method One (with a stand mixer):

Preheat the oven to 85-90⁰C

Place all the ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat for around 10 minutes until the mixture is thick and glossy.

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The meringue mostly holds its shape on the whisk – it could probably do with another few minutes at this point.

Take a tiny bit between your fingers and see if it feels gritty. If it does, continue to whisk the mixture for another minute or two until the sugar has dissolved completely.

Pipe or dollop shapes or piles of the mix onto a lined baking tray.

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Bake for around two hours until the meringues come away from the base of the baking tray without breaking.

Method Two (with an electric hand whisk):

Preheat the oven to 85-90C

Put the egg whites in a bowl and beat them until they reach stiff peaks.

Add the sugar in two tablespoons at a time and make sure to keep whisking in between additions so the sugar will dissolve properly.

Once all the sugar has been incorporated, add in the salt and lemon juice and continue to whisk for another five or so minutes until the mixture is very thick, glossy and smooth.

As with method one, use a piping bag or a spoon to make little mounds of meringue on the baking sheet and place into the oven for around two hours.

Serve with cream and fresh fruit.

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Deconstructed pavlova with rainbow meringues.
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Banana caramel with meringues? Yes please!

I hope you enjoyed the recipe; for another sweet treat check out my recipe for apple pie (it’s possible to make this one vegan) or if you fancy something a little more savoury, why not make yourself some red pepper and tomato soup?

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with an easy recipe for crispy skin salmon and lemon couscous – it’s super fast and utterly divine!

H