I Tried to Make the King of All Retro Desserts. Here’s What Happened.

Turns out Baked Alaska isn't as intimidating as we thought.

Growing up, I remember my mom talking about the Baked Alaska she used to make when she was first married to my dad. In my childhood mind, the dessert sounded exotic and intriguing. What was a Baked Alaska? I assumed it was something dog sledders ate.

Years later, when I found out the retro dessert was layers of cake or brownie, ice cream and meringue—that you then baked—I was somehow even more confused. Ice cream in an oven? How was that supposed to work?

So, after years of intrigue, I finally decided to give the dessert a try. Here’s what happened.

Psst! This is the most iconic dessert from every decade.

Initial Thoughts

First, I found a recipe. Taste of Home has a lot of yummy options, but I settled on a Brownie Baked Alaska. It looked simple enough, and brownies + ice cream is one of my favorite dessert combos. The part that seemed most intimidating was making the meringue, then baking the Alaska. What happened if the ice cream melted all over my oven? It’s a good thing I had these expert oven cleaning tips up my sleeve—just in case.

Baked Alaska Recipe

Ingredients

 For the brownie:

  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 1/2 cup butter or shortening
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts, optional

 For the ice cream layers:

  • 1 quart strawberry ice cream, slightly softened
  • 1 quart vanilla ice cream, slightly softened

 For the meringue:

  • 5 egg whites
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Step 1: Make the Brownie

Making a Baked Alaska, preparing the brownieKatie Bandurski

The first step is to make the brownie. I melted the chocolate and butter in a microwave-safe bowl, stirring until smooth. Then I added the sugar, vanilla and eggs—one at a time—beating well after each addition. Next, I mixed up my dry ingredients: the flour, baking powder and salt. I added the dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture, then spread into a greased 9-inch round baking pan.

Editor’s Tip: I usually get anxious when flipping cakes, but I’ve come up with a pretty foolproof method for greasing the pan. First, place a layer of parchment paper on the bottom of the pan. Then, grease the parchment and sides with butter and flour or a baking spray (I like to use Baker’s Joy). Add your batter and bake. Then, after the brownie or cake has cooled for a few minutes, run a butter knife along the sides of the pan and flip it over. Peel off the parchment paper, and voila! You’ve just released a perfect cake.

Here are more genius ways to use parchment paper.

Step 2: Bake the Brownie

I popped the brownie into a 350° oven for about 20 minutes—or until a toothpick inserted into the center came out mostly clean. Since this is a pretty dense brownie, it’s important not to overbake it. I cooled the brownie on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then removed it from the pan so it could cool completely.

Love brownies? Then you need these recipes.

Step 3: Prep the First Ice Cream Layer

While the brownie cooled, I got started on the star ingredient of Baked Alaska—ice cream! I lined a 9-inch domed bowl with waxed paper (although you could use foil, parchment or even plastic wrap, too). Then, I quickly spread the strawberry ice cream on the bottom and up the sides of the bowl, leaving the center hollow. I put the bowl in the freezer for about 45 minutes to let the first layer firm up.

Editor’s Tip: I found that the easiest way to spread the ice cream around the sides of the bowl was with my fingers. I covered them with a plastic sandwich bag, then formed the ice cream up and around the sides. The heat from my hand helped to soften the ice cream and made it easier to work with.

Step 4: Pack the Second Ice Cream Layer

Making a Baked Alaska, softening the ice creamKatie Bandurski

Once the strawberry ice cream layer was well-frozen, I packed the vanilla ice cream into the hollowed-out center of the bowl. Using an offset spatula to smooth the top, I covered and returned the bowl to the freezer.

Editor’s Tip: While I used strawberry and vanilla ice cream, feel free to switch up the flavors. Smooth, simple ice creams will be easier to spread than chunky flavors (like Rocky Road), but you can use any combination you like. And, as delicious as these homemade ice cream recipes are, we recommend you use a premium store-bought brand that firms up nicely.

Step 5:  Assemble the Alaska

I let my ice cream dome freeze for several hours before I began assembling the dessert. It’s important that the ice cream is as solid as it can be. Once the ice cream is ready to go, place the brownie base on a 10-inch ovenproof serving plate. Unmold the ice cream onto the brownie. (For this step, you might need to give the ice cream a little help. You could use a warm cloth, your hands or even a hair dryer to help unmold the dome from the bowl.) I removed the waxed paper and placed the Alaska in the freezer while I prepped the meringue.

If you’ve never made a meringue before, read these secrets first.

Step 6: Make the Meringue

Making a Baked Alaska, beating the meringueKatie Bandurski

To make the meringue, I started by separating the egg whites. (Here’s how). Then, in a double boiler over simmering water, I combined the egg whites, sugar and cream of tartar. I gently heated the mixture while also beating it with a portable hand mixer on low speed. I kept heating and beating the mixture until it reached a temperature of 160°. Then, I removed the meringue from the heat and beat it on high speed until stiff peaks formed.

Here’s how to tell the difference between soft and stiff peaks.

Step 7: Cover the Alaska

Next, I preheated my oven to 500°. Then I grabbed my ice cream dome from the freezer and started covering the entire thing—even the brownie part—in the meringue. You want to create a seal with the meringue that insulates the ice cream and prevents it from melting. Once the meringue is on the Alaska, either return it to the freezer or pop it in the oven right away.

Editor’s Tip: Did you know Baked Alaska can be made in advance? The entire meringue-covered dessert can be stored in the freezer before baking. Next time I need a wow-worthy dessert, I’ll make the Alaska the night before and just brown it in the oven right before serving.

These tasty overnight desserts can also be made in advance!

Step 8: Bake and Serve

Once your oven is at 500°, bake the Alaska for 2-5 minutes or until the meringue is lightly browned. I found that 4 minutes was my treat’s sweet spot. Whatever you do, don’t walk away—as those precious minutes go by fast! Once the meringue was brown, I removed the Alaska and transferred it to a cake plate. Time to serve!

The Verdict

Making a Baked Alaska, beauty, wholeKatie Bandurski

After all these years, I can see the appeal of this retro dessert. It’s delicious! In a single bite you get a trifecta of warm, gooey meringue, dense brownie and creamy ice cream. (Love meringue? Try these delicious desserts.) Plus, it’s visually stunning. Perched on a cake plate, Baked Alaska is an impressive dessert. I can see myself making it again for special occasions.

The only drawback of this treat is that it’s quite labor intensive. I spent the entire day working on the Alaska—especially since the ice cream has to freeze for so long. Next time, I think I’d make the brownie and prepare the ice cream layers at night, then finish up the meringue the next day.

Next, see what happened when I tried Ina Garten’s famous chocolate cake!

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Katie Bandurski
Katie is an Associate Editor for Taste of Home, specializing in writing and email newsletters. When she’s out of the office, you’ll find her exploring Wisconsin, trying out new vegetarian recipes and combing through antique shops.