Legend has it when the US acquired Alaska they got the tasty ice cream dessert Baked Alaska as a fringe benefit.
How did the dish known as “Norwegian omelet” or “Flame on the iceberg” become Baked Alaska?
From Omelet to Baked Alaska
Baked Alaska’s true roots date back to the turn of the 18th century.
American-born scientist Sir Benjamin Thompson – inventor of the kitchen range and double boiler- made a discovery about egg whites.
He realized that the air bubbles inside whipped egg whites made meringue a great insulator.
By the 1830s, discovery inspired French chefs to create a dessert called the “Omelette Norwegge.”
It consisted of layers of cake and ice cream covered in meringue, then broiled.
Many people credit Charles Ranhofer with naming Baked Alaska.
As Delmonico’s Restaurant chef in New York City in 1896, Ranhofer was notorious for naming dishes after famous people and events.
- “Lobster Duke Alexis,” named for then Grand-Duke Alexis in 1871.
- “Sarah potatoes,” named for Sarah Bernhardt.
- “Lobster Paul Bert,” named for Paul Bert.
- “Chicken filets Sadi Carnot,” named for Marie François Sadi Carnot.
- “Peach pudding à la Cleveland,” named for President Grover Cleveland.
- “Veal pie à la Dickens” and ” Beet fritters à la Dickens,” named for Charles Dickens in honor of his 1867 visit to New York. (Note that neither term appears in Ranhofer’s own copy of the menu offered for that visit, but Ranhofer does indeed list recipes for these, as well as Beetroot Fritters a la Dickens).
- “Salad à la Dumas,” named in honor of Alexandre Dumas, père.
- “Lobster Newberg”, named in honor of sea captain Ben Wenberg then renamed when Wenberg had a falling-out with the restaurant.
- “Marshal Ney”, a dessert named in honor of Marshal Ney.
Naming a dessert after the Alaska Purchase would fit his M.O.
This $7.2 million purchase of Alaska was controversial.
It was known by opponents as “Stewart’s Folly”, “Stewart’s Icebox” or “Walrussia”.
The original version consisted of banana ice cream, walnut spice cake, and meringue torched to a golden brown.
Making it required time and all of the kitchen staff.
The cost of the fabulous dessert then would equal about $40 today!
But in Charles Ranhofer’s called the dessert an Alaska, Florida.
Not quite as catchy as Baked Alaska.
According to Billy Oliva, Delmonico’s current executive chef, the dessert’s name 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.”
February 1st is Baked Alaska Day in the U.S.