On Our Plates: A Fun Half-Day in Lexington and Baked Alaska

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Last weekend, Laura and Tim came to Lexington! Tim (wisely) took off to get some work done, which meant that Laura and Amy had a couple of hours to kick it around town. And kick it we did! This week’s On Our Plates post is about fun stuff to do if you have a few free hours in the Horse Capital of the World.

Take a short walk in Thoroughbred Park and race along with the horse statues.

Drive out to Wallace Station Deli & Bakery for a corn-on-the-cob cookie. The trip takes you through gorgeous horse farms, and holy cow, those cookies are fantastic! We’ve got to figure out how to make them soon!

Stop by the Grey Goose for a Greek pizza: spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, and feta. Yummm. Tim (again wisely) rejoined us in time for pizza. Maybe we’ll come up with a recipe for this, too.

Make Baked Alaska to celebrate your birthdays. Then set it on fire. The recipe is below.

The Best Baked Alaska in the Bluegrass

A brownie base topped with dark chocolate raspberry gelato, smothered in a quick-baked meringue. And set on fire. Did we mention the fire?

We made our own ice cream, which meant Amy had to start a day in advance. This dessert is really adaptable, though, and you could use store-bought ice cream to simplify the process. If you buy the ice cream, start at step 7 early in the day you plan to serve it. This dessert could also use any flavor of ice cream with any cake base. The possibilities are endless! Pound cake and strawberry ice cream, carrot cake with pralines and cream gelato, brownies with peanut butter ice cream…

For the ice cream (adapted from the chocolate base in The Ciao Bella Book of Gelato and Sorbetto)
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (60% or more cacao), finely chopped
4 large egg yolks (save the whites for the meringue, but refrigerate them overnight)
1 1/2 cup sugar, divided
1 16 oz bag frozen raspberries

For the brownie base
1 box brownie mix + the extra ingredients called for on the box (mixes designed for 8×8 and 9×13 pans will both be fine)

For the meringue (adapted from the Joy of Cooking)
4 large egg whites (about 1/2 cup), ideally at room temperature
1/t tsp. cream of tartar
1/2 cup sugar, ideally superfine but regular will do
1/2 tsp. vanilla

For the fire
1/3 cup liqueur of your choice – the higher proof, the better (amaretto worked perfectly with our dark chocolate raspberry gelato and brownie base, punched up with a bit of bourbon for more dramatic fire!)

1) Make the ice cream: Add the milk and cream to a medium-sized saucepan. Place over medium heat and cook, stirring periodically, until there are little bubbles around the edges and the temperature reaches 170 F. (A thermometer that you can clip to the side of the pan is really helpful here.) While the cream mixture is heating, place the eggs and 3/4 cup sugar in a medium-sized heatproof bowl. Whisk them until the mixture is thick and pale yellow and the sugar is all incorporated. Set aside.

2) When the cream mixture reaches 170 F, turn off the heat, but leave the pan on the burner. Whisk in the cocoa powder and add the chopped chocolate, whisking until everything is melted and incorporated. Next, temper the egg yolk mixture by s-l-o-w-l-y pouring in the hot chocolate cream, whisking constantly. When all the chocolate cream has been added to the egg mixture, give the whole thing a few more good whisks and return it to the saucepan.

3) Cook the chocolate mixture over low to medium heat, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon. When the custard reaches 185 F and is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon, remove it from the heat. The mixture should never come to a boil. If for some reason the mixture isn’t smooth, pour it through a fine-mesh strainer.

4) Cool the mixture to room temperature, stirring every 5 minutes or so. You can also place it in an ice bath to cool more quickly, but remember to stir. Once it’s cooled, put the chocolate custard in the refrigerator until it’s really cold. Four hours is sufficient, but overnight is best.

5) While the mixture is in the refrigerator, make the raspberry sauce. Combine the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and all the raspberries in a medium-sized saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the berries collapse and the mixture thickens, about 20 minutes. Place the raspberry sauce in the refrigerator until completely cold.

6) Pour the chocolate custard base into the frozen basin of an ice cream maker, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. A couple of minutes before the gelato is done, add the raspberry sauce. While the raspberry sauce is mixing in, line a 1.5 quart bowl with plastic wrap. Scoop the finished ice cream into the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the freezer overnight.

7) Make the brownies: The next morning, make a batch of brownies in an 8×8 or 9×13 pan, according to the directions on the box. (If you’re feeling schmancy, you could always make brownies from scratch. But Pillsbury worked for me!) When the brownies have finished baking and are cool, trace an outline of the bowl in the brownies and cut out the circle. Fit the brownie circle into the top of the gelato bowl so that it covers the gelato. Cover it with plastic wrap and return to the freezer for several hours. Begin the next step about 15 minutes before you want to serve the Baked Alaska.

8) Make the meringue: Preheat the oven to 450 F. In a clean grease-free (wipe it down with a paper towel squirted with lemon juice) metal or glass bowl, beat the egg whites at medium speed until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and continue beating until soft peaks form. Very slowly, beat in the sugar. Keep beating the whites on high speed until the peaks are stiff and glossy. Beat in the vanilla.

9) Working quickly, unmold the gelato-brownie dome from the bowl. Place it on a baking sheet with the brownie side down. Cover the ice cream with the meringue, spreading it in a thick layer all the way down to the base, touching the cookie sheet. You can smooth the meringue or swirl it decoratively. Just do it quickly! Pop the as-yet-unbaked Alaska in the oven for around 5 minutes, watching carefully to be sure that the meringue browns but doesn’t burn. (The fire comes next!)

10) While your Alaska is baking, pour the liqueur into a small saucepan and warm it over medium heat. Don’t boil or you’ll burn off the alcohol that makes it burn. Once the now-baked Alaska comes out of the oven, place it on a flame-resistant serving tray with a rim (to contain the burning liqueur) and assemble your guests. When everyone is in place, scoop some of the warm liqueur into a metal ladle and light the liqueur on fire with a long-necked lighter. Pour the flaming liquid over the baked Alaska, and bask in the glow of your guests’ admiration. The liqueur will burn out pretty quickly. The admiration should last a few minutes longer. (Alternatively, if you want to prolong the show or are hosting pyromaniacs, you could cut the dessert into slices and pour individual ladles of burning libation over each slice. You may need additional liqueur if you go this route.)