I can mount no defence for this dessert: it truly is obscene in its excess – heinously decadent, unforgivably ostentatious. With its billowing fleece of snow white meringue, though, it looks positively angelic. There’s a recipe for salted caramel sauce below, too.
I’d be the first to admit that this is a pretty labour-intensive dessert. You can make things a lot easier for yourself by just buying a tub of your favourite ice cream and working with that. Having said that, the elegant economy of this recipe is that it roundly uses a six-pack of eggs – 4 yolks in the ice cream, 4 whites in the meringue, 2 whole in the cake. It adds up… I like it.
For the pecans:
2 tablespoons butter
Generous pinch of salt
For the ice cream base:
400ml full-fat milk
4 large egg yolks
60g caster sugar
60g light brown soft sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
150ml double cream
For the cake:
100g unsalted butter, softened
100g light brown soft sugar
2 large eggs
100g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
For the meringue:
4 large egg whites
175g caster sugar
1 Slowly heat the milk until just shy of the boil. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until creamy. Pour the hot milk into the egg yolk mixture in a slow stream and whisk constantly as you do so. Decant the custard back into the pan and set over a low heat. It’s crucial that you stir constantly now, taking care to cover the entire base of the pan with your spoon to prevent the custard from splitting. After around 5 minutes, the custard should have thickened to the consistency of double cream. It’s important that you don’t let it boil. Remove it from the heat, stir in the vanilla extract and cream, pour into a lidded container and leave to cool to room temperature. Once cool, transfer it to the fridge to chill.
2 While the ice cream base chills, prepare the pecans and the cake. Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C/gas mark 4 and grease and line a 20cm round cake tin.
3 Roughly chop the pecans and place them in a large frying pan set over a medium-low heat. Toast them for 3-4 minutes, stirring very regularly. Add the butter and salt and leave to cook for a further minute before removing from the heat and leaving to cool.
4 For the cake, cream the butter and sugar together until lighter and fluffy. One by time, whisk in the eggs then add the flour and baking powder. Fold the ingredients together to give a smooth batter. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, or until well-risen and springy to the touch. A knife inserted into the centre of the cake should emerge with no more than a couple of crumbs stuck to it. Leave to cool on a wire rack.
5 Once the ice cream base has chilled, you can begin the freezing and churning process. If you have an ice cream maker, simply follow the manufacturer’s instructions. If you don’t have an ice cream maker, place in the freezer for 30-45 minutes, then whisk it vigorously and return it to the freezer. Repeat the whisking (which helps to prevent ice crystals from forming, and so ensures a smoother set) at roughly 30-45 minute intervals until the ice cream is thick and semi-frozen.
6 Once the ice cream is freezing cold and beginning to set firm, add the buttery, toasted pecans and leave the ice cream to freeze and set completely. Meanwhile, prepare the meringue topping. Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C/gas mark 6.
7 In a very clean, dry bowl (preferable metal or glass – not plastic, which tends to retain traces of grease) whisk the egg whites on a high speed until they’re completely foamy. Now add the caster sugar a quarter at a time, whisking very thoroughly between each addition to give the sugar time to dissolve. The meringue will start off quite runny, but as you whisk will grow thicker, glossier and – alas – harder to whisk. After about 8 minutes with an electric mixer (or quite a bit longer without) the meringue should hold stiff peaks.
8 It’s time to assemble everything. Trim the cake down to a 15-17cm circle (you can eat the excess) and place on a cake tin base or heavy baking tray. Pile scoops of the ice cream on top, taking care to fill in any gaps between scoops and round the profile off to a neat igloo shape. Now spoon the meringue all over, covering every centimetre of ice cream and sponge. It’s the meringue that’s going to insulate the ice cream against the fierce heat of the oven, so it’s important that you give it a good, thick coat. If you don’t want to cook and eat the baked Alaska just yet, you should freeze it in its entirety now, ready to bake later (add a minute or two to the baking time, if so).
9 Place the lot in the oven for 4 minutes – just long enough to cook the meringue, without melting the ice cream. Serve straight away.
Salted Caramel Sauce
Whether flooding a baked Alaska with salted caramel sauce is gilding the lily is up to you to decide. Personally, I don’t think anything’s ever felt so right.
100g caster sugar
2 tablespoons water
75ml double cream
1 tablespoon butter
Salt, preferably sea salt crystals
1 Stir together the sugar and water in a small pan, preferably not non-stick. Set over a medium-low heat until the sugar has fully dissolved, stirring gently only if necessary. As soon as the sugar has dissolved, stop stirring, increase the heat and let simmer until it darkens to a rich amber colour. It’s crucial that you don’t stir, otherwise the caramel will crystallise. Whisk the mixture off the heat a few moments before you think it’s ready, as it’ll continue to cook and darken for a short while. Whisk in the cream and butter straight away – take care to avoid any sputters of the hot sauce – and add the salt, to taste.