So Dessert Week arrived on the Great British Bake Off, full of drama that made last year's Custardgate seem rather insignificant. I thought desserts were back in my comfort zone after last week's bread- after all, I am one of those people who flips straight to the desserts page of a menu, and has been known to occasionally order a two-person dessert all for myself. What quickly became evident though, was that being good at eating dessert is not actually equivalent to making them. The bakers began with 'self-saucing puddings' which sounded do-able but difficult, and I didn't think I'd have the right kind of equipment.Then came the tiramisu cakes. I love tiramisu, but to be quite frank, I don't think I have the knife skills to slice the sponge that thin! So rather than risk not-so-sponge fingers tiramisu, I decided it was going to have to be the Baked Alaska. I had just one aim with it- not to throw it in the bin. If you don't feel like reading the whole recipe and method right now, you can skip to the end to find out if I achieved said aim!
I used a recipe from Cake by Rachel Allen for the sponge and meringue, and then decided to take the challenge one step further and make my own ice cream as well, adapting a Waitrose recipe for rhubarb gelato wafers. The overall result was a chocolate sponge and raspberry and rosewater ice cream encased in meringue. If you don't have time to make and freeze your own ice cream, a one-litre tub of shop bought will suffice. This week I once again had a helping hand from my sister, so thanks! And if the BBC ever fancies doing a team version of the Bake Off, we would very much like to enter and provide a bit of comedy value with our baking antics.
Anyway, on with the recipe...
For the ice cream
225g punnet of fresh raspberries
75g golden caster sugar
4tsp Rose Water (although you could probably halve this, or leave it out altogether if you don't like the flavour)
500g fresh vanilla custard
For the sponge
50g dark chocolate (I was using 90% cacao)
125g softened butter
125g caster sugar
125g self-raising flour
For the meringue
3 egg whites
200g caster sugar
Pinch of cream of tartar
You will also need a 1-litre pudding basin (I think I used something bigger though) and a 20cm diameter cake tin. Ideally you want a completely flat baking tray, with no lip, so that you can easily get the baked Alaska off it, but I didn't have one.
While the raspberry mixture cools, line your pudding bowl with clingfilm (so much easier said than done!). Make sure to have plenty overhanging so that you can lift the ice cream out once it has set.
Now for the prettiest bit in my opinion. Pour the raspberry mixture into the cream and custard mixture and mix slowly by hand to get the rippled effect. Or you could just make it all smooth and pink. The choice is yours! Then pour into your prepared pudding bowl and cover the top of the bowl with clingfilm.
Place in the freezer for at least three hours. Definitely DO NOT REMOVE! As you can see in this picture, we also happened to have some back up ice cream, just incase one of our sneaky fellow competitors tried to sabotage our bake. (What do you mean I'm not really on the show?!) The eagle-eyed among you may also have noticed that I hadn't seen the 'cover with clingfilm' instruction at this point. I can assure you that this was swiftly rectified.
Once you've gone away, eaten lunch, done a bit of jigsaw, watched a few TV programmes or whatever you choose to do with the freezing period, it's then time to start on the sponge. (You can actually do this earlier and freeze the sponge while the ice cream solidifies if you don't have all day.) Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of water and allow to cool.
Cream the softened butter until smooth, then add the sugar and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. Beat two eggs and gradually add to the mixture, then beat in the melted chocolate. Once everything is combined, stop beating, sieve in the flour and fold it into the mixture.
Grease and line the cake tin, then scrape the mixture into it and use a spatula to smooth it out. Bake for 25-30 minutes at 220°c (200°c fan). Once baked, cool in the tin for about 10 minutes, then place on a cooling rack to cool down completely. Be patient here- you don't want it to melt the ice cream!
Now for the meringue. You need your bowl to be completely clean and free from any grease or residues. Separate three eggs- making sure you crack them in the middle otherwise it gets a bit difficult if you use the pouring from shell to shell method - and beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks.
Add half the caster sugar and a pinch of cream of tartar and whisk until glossy and the mixture is stiff (enough to hold over your head. I never dare test that though). Remove the whisks and use a metal spoon to fold in the remaining sugar, taking care not to lose the air you've got in.
Take you ice cream from the freezer and hopefully it should easily come out of the bowl. Turn it out on top of the sponge, trying to get it as central as possible.
Then get to work with the meringue. For some reason I decided to pipe mine, despite the recipe saying spread thickly with a spoon. This resulted in a few little gaps, and running out of meringue to fully cover the sponge. Oh well, I know for next time. Apparently it also looks a bit like a brain- I can only blame the medical student in me...
If you do decide to pipe the meringue, I put the sponge and ice cream back in the freezer while setting up the piping. I used a piping bag, placed inside a large measuring jug with the top of the bag folded over the edges so I could easily spoon in the meringue. You have to work quite quickly and keep the meringue moving as you pipe.
I then stuck the whole thing back in the freezer and waited patiently for a good time to serve it. It annoys me a bit that you have to eat the whole thing straightaway, and as my family tend to be quite busy, finding a time when maximum people could enjoy this was not easy! It would be good to serve as the dessert for a dinner party though. I baked this on Thursday and froze until Sunday afternoon which was probably a bit too long- it's probably best to serve on the day, or at most the day after.
I was pleasantly surprised that it didn't collapse or melt while in the oven, and it did come out having maintained all the layers. I would definitely recommend using a warm knife to slice through it because I can tell you it was not easy!
Sadly, despite all the effort, I think this has been my least favourite bake so far. The ice cream tasted great before freezing, but by the time we came to eat it, the rose water flavour was far stronger and it's a bit of an acquired taste. Personally, I think there's too much going on in a baked Alaska. I like meringue, I like ice cream and I like sponge cake- but not all in the same bowl. I ended up just scraping the meringue off and eating it by itself. I didn't even achieve my goal really- this giant dessert defeated the five of us and the remaining half a sponge and slightly less than half the meringue went in the bin. As I type, the ice cream is currently melting somewhere ready to be poured down the drain... what a shame!
Never mind, you live and learn. I hope I haven't put you off completely- this recipe could be adapted to make something nice! I think half the sponge and ice cream amounts, while keeping the same quantities for the meringue, to have a smaller dessert would be a good start. The ice cream flavour needs a bit of adjusting, and the amount of time the whole dessert is frozen should be reduced a lot. Perhaps in a few years time I'll give this another shot, but I can't wait to put this behind me and get on with pies and tarts next week!