Andee Stepp switched on the torch and leaned away from the flame as fire heated up a silver ladle full of rum.
It caught fire.
“Pretty,” Stepp said as she poured the fiery liquid over a small dome of meringue.
I recently met with the Stepp, who’s an advanced baking student at the University of Alaska Anchorage to learn the history of baked Alaska, and to watch her make her version of the old fashioned dessert.
It’s one of her favorites.
There are many variations of baked Alaska, but it’s traditionally a sponge cake base, topped with a scope of ice cream and then covered with meringue.
Stepp told me that a French chef, Charles Ranhofer, who worked in New York City at Delmonico’s Restaurant created the dessert to celebrate the purchase of Alaska. But how did he come up with the idea? Ice cream seemed obvious, you know, because it’s cold in Alaska. But, why did he use meringue?
“Because it kind of reminded him of the igloos in the snow,” Stepp said.
It also helped slow the ice cream from melting before it was served. Stepp said during the 1800′s chefs would get an oven as hot as possible before putting the dessert in, to brown the meringue. Once it was at your table rum would be set on fire before it was poured over top. It’s a pretty stunning presentation.
Stepp told me baked Alaska’s making a comeback in restaurants.