Twice Baked Alaska

A few months back, we blogged about making a dessert called Baked Alyeska. We were inspired by a feature in the Alaska Dispatch by Suzanna Caldwell. She wrote a great column with a detailed description of the dish as made by the extraordinary pastry chef at Alyeska Resort, Chef Scott Fausz.

Making Baked Alyeska at home was pretty involved, but we thought our version came out well. As a part of our victory lap, we sent the Dispatch our blog and thanked Suzanna for her article–figuring that our email would find its way into a newsroom spam filter.

Much to my surprise, a few weeks later I got a really nice email from Chef Scott Fausz, who had been forwarded our blog by Suzanna Caldwell. He offered up a few suggestions on making the meringue and then generously invited us to stop by his kitchen at Alyeska the next time we headed north.

Flash forward to this week, when we found ourselves passing by Alyeska Resort on our way to a wedding for close friends in Homer. Chef Fausz graciously hosted us and gave us a full tour of his kitchen, spending nearly an hour and giving advice on how to make a “northern lights” decoration as well as how and where to best enjoy the (actual) northern lights.

Alyeska makes more than 5,000 of these desserts a year, so he might just have this recipe down. He also shared with us that he had told the Dispatch that “there’s no way anybody is going to actually try to make this, as it’s way too complicated.”

It was great to have a chance to see behind the scenes and to get advice from a professional. We learned about new (to us) ingredients like luster dust, meringue powder, and isomalt, got a bunch of recipe ideas, and we swapped stories of various travels across the state.

We followed our visit with a stop into the Aurora Bar and Grill, one of three restaurants at the resort that feature Chef Fausz’s amazing desserts. One bite of the Baked Alyeska and it was clear that there’s a big difference between pastry chefs and Souzzchefs. The dish was light, full of textures, and just fabulous. It was plated with raspberry, chocolate shavings, and of course a northern lights decoration on top.

Souzz and I don’t usually spend a lot of time at resorts in our travels, but we’ll be back to Alyeska for sure. And as for our chance to meet Chef Fausz and tour the kitchen, I think we need Suzanna Caldwell to write articles about all of our favorite recipes from Alaska.

Burning Dessert

DSCN1736
Sara enjoying dessert

A few years back, Souzz and I made flaming Baked Alaska on a packrafting trip in West Virginia with our good friend Sara. The trip was Sara’s Bon Voyage before she moved to Alaska, and we wanted to send her off in style.

Naturally we chose a backcountry meal that required dry ice, a dutch oven, and a hand-crank mixer. It may have been our most outrageous camping meal ever, and to this day it serves as proof that even the stupidest and most futile gesture can yield a good meal. It also gave us a taste for more.

Baked Alaska supposedly was created as a novelty dessert to celebrate the Alaska Purchase way back in 1867. A combination of ice cream, cake, and meringue, it appeared in fancy restaurants off and on for the next 100+ years or so.

It probably peaked in popularity during the 1960s as a dinner party treat. The 60s were of course a time when flaming dishes like bananas foster, crepes suzette, and cherries jubilee burst on the scene…and probably a time when a lot of drapes were accidentally lit on fire by careless hosts while people sipped Manhattans and smoked cigarettes.

Since then, the dish has slowly faded into obscurity, with cruise ship mass-marketed dessert menus perhaps the lone holdover (along with packraft campouts). But when it is done well, it is still a worthy dish, and one with a lot of interesting variations. For instance, there is a “reversed” version called Frozen Florida (warm liqueur inside, cold meringue outside), and there is a sponge cake version popular in Hong Kong called Flame on the Iceberg.

A more contemporary adaptation comes by way of the restaurant at Alyeska, a ski resort in Alaska (of course), just south of Anchorage. The pastry chef at Alyeska, Executive Chef Scott Fausz, uses mousse (two different kinds) instead of ice cream, which makes for a lighter dessert that is much more more popular with today’s crowd. Baked Alyeska also includes a layer of ganache under the meringue. As you might imagine, putting it together requires a bit of a time commitment (suggestion: wear comfortable shoes and bring a bag lunch).

Alyeska’s recipe actually spans two days, as we soon learned, although much of that time is spent watching the freezer. The mousses (one chocolate, one raspberry) and layers of chocolate cake are assembled and frozen before the ganache and meringue are added (the mousse/cake step alone took us a solid two hours).

The entire recipe is a bit unusual, calling for gelatin sheets (I didn’t even know what those were) and meringue powder (we couldn’t find that locally, so we just made a regular meringue). Oh, and the gelatin sheets must be bloomed” before using, which turns out to be just a fancy culinary term for “soaking them in water.”

Once the dome of mousse and cake was frozen, we drizzled on the ganache and then coated the whole assembly with meringue. We then browned the almost-finished product with a torch and let it sit for a few hours.

Afterwards, we both agreed that making this dish in the backcountry would be completely absurd, as even doing it in our home kitchen was a challenge. Sara is on her own on this one.

 

Baked-alaska.paradeMost of what makes this dish fun is the mix of textures and the interesting flavor combinations. Add in 150 years of history, including a bizarre cruise ship tradition called a Baked Alaska Parade, and you have a dessert, a story, and a trip through time–all rolled into one.

It was almost enough to have me searching for a Manhattan and a pack of smokes.