Ever since we enjoyed Bombe Alaska on New Year’s Eve, it’s been on my mind how much I’d like to make one. This is a theatrical dessert that was big in the 70’s when a dinner party wasn’t a dinner party unless you were setting your guests’ food on fire.
But the dessert originated a long time before the 1970’s. It is said to have been around as early as 1802 when it was served to Thomas Jefferson at a White House dinner. But it lay low until it was greatly popularised by Charles Ranhofer, chef at the famous Delmonico’s restaurant in New York. In 1867 Ranhofer created a new cake to celebrate the United States’ purchase of Alaska from the Russians.
At first it was called Alaska-Florida Cake but was soon changed to Baked Alaska. Adapted by the French, it became known throughout Europe and the British Colonies as Bombe Alaska. It’s a cake that’s topped with solidly frozen ice cream, that’s enveloped in meringue, then browned and served still warm from the oven. The ice cream doesn’t melt because the meringue insulates it.
It’s a spectacular-looking cake that when brought to the table always creates ooohs and ahhhs however, then the theatrics come into play as warmed brandy is poured over the cake and the brandy set alight. The cake becomes enveloped in a pretty blue flame that’s a real conversation stopper. Served at the table, everyone receives a slice of dessert that contains many favourites; sponge cake, sorbet, ice cream, berries and meringue.
This sort of dessert can be a labour of love or, if you’re like me and wanting maximum applause for the minimum of effort, there’s my cheat’s version.
Last week we celebrated Archie’s birthday and just like the day he was born, the day of his birthday was a scorcher. With the mercury soaring to 40C (104F), I knew we would need a cooling dessert. With this version of Bombe Alaska the oven is only on for 30 minutes and everything else takes place in the freezer. Perfect!
While traditionally made with vanilla sponge cake, I made a chocolate sponge as there are a lot of raspberries in this dessert and I think raspberries and chocolate are wonderful together. This dessert may look complicated but it’s actually very, very easy and from start to finish, I’m quite sure I spent less than an hour putting it together.
Just before serving you need to make the meringue which takes less than 10 minutes. Once it’s covering the ice cream, you can either place it in a hot oven to brown it or use a blow torch. I used a blow torch or rather, the little guy used it. He was so keen so I let him but hovered making sure he didn’t burn a hole in the bench top. He was a little over-zealous and the meringue ended up with a few burnt patches but he had a good time!
And so did the birthday boy – he loved his cake.
- 750g raspberry sorbet
- 2 ltr good-quality vanilla ice cream
- 150g fresh raspberries (or frozen if fresh not available)
- 6 egg whites
- 1¼ cups caster (super-fine) sugar
- ¼ cup brandy
- For the Chocolate Sponge:
- 100g butter
- ½ cup caster (super-fine) sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 cup self-raising flour
- ¼ cup cocoa
- ⅔ cup milk
- Line a 1.5ltr (6 cup) capacity pudding bowl with a 20cm (8") rim with 2 sheets of cling film.
- Soften sorbet just until it's manageable (you don't want to melt it) and spread over bottom of mould. Place in freezer to harden.
- Soften ice cream in the same way and fold through raspberries. Spoon ice cream into the mould and spread over the top of the sorbet. Cover with foil and return to the freezer for 6 hours or overnight.
- For the Sponge Cake:
- Pre-heat oven to 180C (375F).
- Grease and line a 20cm (8") round cake tin.
- Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
- Add egg and beat until well incorporated.
- Sift together the flour and cocoa and fold into butter mixture alternating with the milk.
- Pour cake batter into the prepared cake tin and place in the oven. Cook for 30 minutes or until cake is cooked (test by gently pushing top of cake and if the indent bounces back, the cake is cooked).
- Rest for 5 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack.
- For the Meringue:
- Just before serving, place egg whites in a clean, dry bowl and beat until stiff peaks form. Gradually beat in the sugar. Continue to beat until thick and glossy (about 5 minutes).
- To Assemble:
- Place sponge cake in the centre of a large platter. Remove mould from freezer and upturn on top of sponge. Remove mould and cling film. Working quickly, use a spatula to cover ice cream and sponge with meringue. Don't smooth the meringue - it looks better with a rough finish.
- Use a blow torch to brown meringue (be careful not to burn it).
- Pour brandy into a jug and warm gently in microwave (do not boil).
- Take Bombe, brandy and matches to the table. Pour brandy over meringue and quickly light.
- When the flames have died down, cut into slices and serve.