Over the summer, my husband and I took turns taking our son to out for dinner one a week night to give him a break from (I mean, not to point fingers or anything) the occasional yelling/food-flinging dinnertime antics of The Interloper, a.k.a. his younger sister. On one of my evenings, he pointed to the top of one of the many mirror-covered walls at the restaurant with the menu scrawled over it and said “What’s a Baked Alaska?”
“Well, son,” I began because let’s not even pretend I don’t live for this kind of stuff, “It’s a dessert in which ice cream is wrapped in cake and then covered in a marshmallow-y frosting that’s toasted and then they light it on fire…” “CAN WE GET ONE OF THOSE?” Look, I don’t know what stuff you’re made of, but I consider telling a 6 year-old that ice cream wrapped in cake, frosting and fire exists but not for them is cruel and unusual punishment. And so we ordered it and I tried to warn him that they might not do the fire thing and maybe it won’t be as cool as I made it sound and then this happened.
And don’t worry, I didn’t, like, text my husband the video and say “You can probably quit now because I just won at Dinner With Jacob” or anything unbecoming and immature like that, nope nope nope. The joke was on me because I bet you know what came next, don’t you? “Mom, can you make me one of these for my birthday?” [Gulp.] “Sure?” [Note to self: Learn how to make Baked Alaska.]
Fast-forward a couple months and boom, his birthday week was here and somehow I hadn’t gotten far on this beyond thinking, what did I get myself into? I started looking at recipes that involved homemade ice cream and that’s great and all if you wish but as my son is perfectly happy with a good old-fashioned chocolate-vanilla-strawberry trifecta from the store, I decided to save my energies. Many recipes either had you either make a cake from scratch or box mix or use a storebought pound cake, but we here have a fondness for frozen brownies (extra chewy and fudgy!) and my favorite recipe is one-bowl and so I made that instead. The frosting is just a meringue and we’ve totally got that down. Plus, I learned you can frost it and freeze it hours and more before you need it, meaning that it was easy to get a lead on this. Wait, was this… easy?
Wait for it.
Birthday candle time arrived and the lights were dimmed while everyone waited for this masterpiece to emerge from the kitchen, my husband and I were frantically watching YouTube videos on our phones about how to flambé a dessert because — like everything else in parenting and also probably life — we had no idea what we were doing. The cake was melting on the counter. I was trying to figure out how to warm brandy without cooking the flammable alcohol off, and of course putting a lit match to a cup of alcohol is terrifying (I rather like my eyebrows and also my home. “How was your 7th birthday, kid?” “My mom burst into flames.”) but it turned out to be a veritable kitten of a flame and you guys, it turns out if you set a whole cake on fire for a kid to blow out, nobody even notices that you forgot to buy birthday candles.
Now, I understand that Turning Seven and Setting Cakes On Fire is pretty exciting stuff. We could stop right here! But we’re not because I’ve been fidgeting in the background all month trying to figure out how to tell you something cool was happening but couldn’t decide how. [Oh my god I am NOT PREGNANT. Just stop it.]
Smitten Kitchen is a decade old. This little website I started in 2006 fully planning for it to be over within 6 months because whhhy would anyone want to hear what a total non-expert had to say about cooking, turned 10 this month. I tried so hard to come up with the perfect way to celebrate this and then got flummoxed and picked 4.
I have questions.
You are what makes this site awesome. Without you, well, I don’t know what I’d be doing but it certainly wouldn’t be getting to write songs of fire and ice cream all day. Will you tell me something about yourself? Who are you? I’m assuming you’re on the internet for the reason the internet exists, to procrastinate — what does everyone think you’re doing right now? Most importantly: What’s your favorite thing to
do cook? Least favorite? (I’ll settle for an answer to any of the above.)
Let’s have a chat/Q&A.
It’s been way too since our last Q&A — almost two years (gulp). Let’s fix this. I want to hang out. I’ve been dabbling in Snapchat (@smittenkitchen) since the summer because it turns out they’ll basically let anyone on and thought it might be fun to try the next Q&A over there next Friday afternoon, September 30th. Snap me all your questions you have and I’ll do my best to answer them before my kids find me and demand I make them dinner.
I wrote some stuff + Come watch me cook live today!
Food52 invited me to be their newest Writer In Residence this month, which is fun enough, but given the big anniversary over here, I’ve been writing on the topic of 10 years of blogging, if you ever wanted to read more behind-the-scenes stuff. Here’s the first piece. Here’s the second and it comes with a… bonus demo! At 4:15 today (I’ll pause while you put this on your calendar), hop on over to Food52’s Facebook page while I hop on over to their offices to demo my Mom’s Apple Cake and take questions. (Stuck at work at 4:15? No worries, the video will be available indefinitely for viewing later; I’ll add a link once it is up unless I’ve spectacularly embarrassed myself, in which case we will never speak of this again.)
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While this could theoretically be done over a few hours, especially if you have a freezer that’s pretty good, I found it a lot easier to do over 2 days, mostly because at each step that you have the ice cream out of the freezer — first, to scoop it into the bowl mold, next to unmold it onto the brownie base and third when you’re frosting it in meringue, your ice cream is going to want to soften so you’re going to want to get it back in the freezer for a bit. You can also fully finish the cake long before you’ll need it; the toasted meringue keeps really well in the freezer, even for several days (as long as ours lasted, but probably even longer).
Ice Cream Center
- Nonstick spray oil, to coat the bowl
- 6 cups (from 3 pints) ice cream, one flavor or a mix of flavors you like
- 3 ounces (85 grams) unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped
- 1 stick (4 ounces or 115 grams) unsalted butter, plus extra for pan
- 1 1/3 cups (265 grams) granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt or 1/4 teaspoon table salt (about 2 grams)
- 2/3 cup (85 grams) all-purpose flour
- 3 large egg whites
- Pinch of cream of tartar
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch or two of salt
Flambé Finish (optional)
- 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) brandy or kirsch
Scoop ice cream into bowl in any pattern or non-pattern you wish. Use the overhang to cover exposed ice cream and press it mostly flat. Place this ice cream bowl in the freezer for 3 to 6 hours, or overnight, until fully firm again.
Make the brownie base: Heat oven to 350°F. Line a round baking pan slightly larger than the diameter of your ice cream bowl (i.e. 8 to 9 inches) with parchment paper and butter the parchment and sides of the pan.
In a medium heatproof bowl over gently simmering water, melt chocolate and butter together until only a couple unmelted bits remain. Off the heat, stir until smooth and fully melted. You can also do this in the microwave in 30-second bursts, stirring between each. Whisk in sugar, then eggs, one at a time, then vanilla and salt. Stir in flour with a spoon or flexible spatula and scrape batter into prepared pan, spread until even. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out batter-free.
Let cool in pan on a rack for 15 minutes then run a knife around the brownie to loosen it and flip out of pan onto the cooling rack. You might need to bang it around a little but it will come out best while it is still warm. (Read: The first time I wait until it was totally cold and nope. Put the cooling rack with the brownie right into the freezer to fully cool and firm up, about 30 minutes.
Place brownie on cake serving plate. Use the outline of the ice cream bowl to mark the size you want to trim the brownie to, and then cut away — don’t forget to share the scraps (or not). Use the plastic covering the bowl/mold as handles to yank the firm ice cream out of the bowl and onto the brownie. Trim the brownie further if needed. Return the ice cream-topped brownie cake to the freezer to firm again, 1 to 2 hours.
Make the meringue: Beat the egg whites with a pinch of cream of tartar in an electric mixer until satiny peaks form and then beat in the sugar a spoonful at a time — I do spoonful, pause, spoonful, pause until all of the sugar has been added and then keep running the mixer until the meringue is stiff and shiny. Beat in the salt and vanilla.
Frost the cake Spread the meringue in big, messy swirls over the ice cream and brownie base. Return the cake to the freezer for as long as needed — you can use it right away, but it’s best to let it re-firm freeze for another hour. You can also leave it in for a full day.
Toast the meringue: You can do this one of two ways.
Oven method: Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Bake the cake until the meringue peaks are golden, about 4 minutes.
Blowtorch method: Torch the cake until toasted all over.
Both methods: If you’re not going to need the cake right now, return it to the freezer until needed. Take out 5 minutes before serving.
Flambé finish (optional): [Please note: I have done this twice, ever. It works but I’m hardly an expert and if there are more helpful tips offered in the comments, I’ll be happy to point you to them.] Fill a mug halfway with very hot water. Place alcohol in a shot glass and set it inside the hot water (not letting the water spill in) until the alcohol is very warm to the touch, about 5 minutes.
Take a deep breath. Hold the hot cup of alcohol in a oven mitt-ed hand. Light a match with the other. With the cake below you, begin to tip the alcohol as slowly as possible to the edge of the cup. Light the alcohol with the match — it’s going to be a low, blueish kitten of a flame, promise. Drizzle this burning alcohol over the cake. You can let it flame out or it can be blown out. We found the gentle on the cake to last 15 to 30 seconds.
To serve: Serve cake in thin wedges, cutting with a very sharp or serrated knife as frozen brownie is quite dense, chewy and all the more rewarding because of it. Cake keeps in the freezer for easily a week (and probably longer); the meringue holds up surprisingly well.