A warm and gooey covering, a chilled treat within: the taste of opposites mixing is what gives our signature Baked Alaska cone much of its appeal! Where did the inspiration for this hot/cold creation come from? As it happens, there is a storied tradition of pairing ice cream with a scorched exterior. And it was all made possible by a scientific discovery made in the late 1700s.
Physicist Sir Benjamin Thompson noted that frothy egg whites excel at trapping heat. This is because of the air pockets that form when you beat an egg -- they make it a very effective insulator. So if you subject whipped egg whites to high temperature, they will cook nicely while the surface beneath them will not.
Thompson’s study of eggs and insulation led to a craze in the dessert world. Chefs across Europe were soon whipping up meringues (fluffy mixtures of egg whites and sugar) and slathering them atop all manner of desserts, which were then broiled, baked, or flambéed.
By the 1830s, diners were introduced to the “Norwegian omelette.” It consisted of layers of sponge cake and ice cream inside a broiled meringue, and it was actually a French creation; the nod to Norway in its name was a tribute to one of Europe’s snowiest regions, inspired by the frigidity of the ice cream in the dessert.
Why is it that we are eating Baked Alaska today, while the Norwegian omelette has faded into obscurity? We owe this to the skilled marketing of Charles Ranhofer, a Paris-trained pastry prodigy hired to run the famed restaurant Delmonico’s in New York. In 1867, the United State’s controversial purchase of Alaska from Russia inspired Ranhofer to add a new item to Delmonico’s menu. His take on the Norwegian omelette was made of walnut spice cake, banana ice cream, and an igloo-shaped mound of meringue. He called it Baked Alaska, in a savvy move that took advantage of the publicity attached to the brand new American territory.
There is some debate over just how much credit should be given to Ranhofer for the invention of Baked Alaska. He was hardly the first to harness the insulating power of egg whites, but he did contribute to a legacy of dessert development that continues to this day.
It is a heritage Wild Scoops is proud to acknowledge: Ranhofer took inspiration from the newly acquired Alaska, and we are happy to return the favor with our own take on a creation he made famous.