A baked Alaska is an ice cream dish that is topped off with a lightly baked meringue. It may also be called a Norwegian omelet or an omelet surprise.
This dish received its current designation in 1876, from the popular restaurant, Delmonico’s in New York. The Delmonico’s version may have been named baked Alaska in honor of the US acquiring the territory of Alaska. Others cite the dessert's similar appearance to Alaskan glaciers, as a reason for its name.
Baked Alaska had been made prior to this date, with meringue and whipped egg whites; it is said to have been first developed and baked in the very early 19th century. It became a particularly popular dish in the 1960s because of its hot exterior and cold interior. As well, baked Alaska offered a dramatic presentation — colored ice creams, like strawberry or peach, were used to create a contrast in color with the white outside layer of meringue.
In traditional recipes for baked Alaska, ice cream is spooned onto a layer of chilled sponge cake. A layer of meringue is added to the top. The whole item is then cooked in the oven in order to make the meringue more firm. The goal is to bake the meringue without melting the ice cream. Once the ice cream is added to the sponge cake, the entire dish is usually refrozen. Glass dishes should be avoided, since the dish may shatter when placed in a warm oven.
Muffin tins or ramekins can be used to make individual servings of baked Alaska. These may be easier to make because the baking time on the smaller servings is shorter. The meringue browns more quickly, and there is less chance of melting the ice cream.
Some baked Alaskan enthusiasts do not care for meringue that is not thoroughly cooked. If undercooked, meringue can have an undesirable “wet” mouth feel. To avoid this texture, it's important to properly follow the recipe. It is generally better to have a baked Alaska with slightly melted ice cream, than to have one with wet meringue.