… featuring guest taster JB!
This recipe sounded like it might be a good one for company, and as it happened our friend JB was in need of some diversion, so we invited him to Freak Mountain for a lunch of Bryan’s baked mac’n’cheese, and Jell-O. JB is one of the people who helped to convince me to reboot the blog, so this was long overdue.
Given what we’ve been doing here, it probably won’t come as much of a surprise that Alaska Surprise is baked Alaska, but with Jell-O (any red flavor) instead of ice cream. (Surprise!) The preparation is a little time-consuming because it’s in three stages, done hours apart. First, there’s a batch of clear Jell-O made with a half-cup of ginger ale instead of cold water, which has to be chilled until firm and then cut into cubes. Second, there’s a batch of Jell-O made with a pint of vanilla ice cream instead of cold liquid, which is thickened, and the cubes of clear Jell-O are stirred into it.
This is put in either a load pan or a four-cup mold and chilled until firm. The Jell-O gets unmolded and chilled again. As I think you can see in the photo above, I experienced the same problem I had with Crown Jewel Cake, where the creamy gelatin didn’t adhere to the clear Jell-O cubes, which led to cracking and separation.
The third stage is the meringue, done shortly before serving. The directions in the book don’t call for cream of tartar, and I tried whipping up a meringue as directed without it, but it wouldn’t stiffen up properly and I ended up adding a little cream of tartar, which helped, although I think my meringue was still a bit soft for this.
(While I made the meringue, JB raided our cookbook collection for Bryan’s stash of vintage ice cream recipe books. For nearly 30 years, JB has been hosting an annual weekend-long event of camping and creative ice-cream-making that makes the Project seem tame.)
The mold is sitting on a round of foil because I wanted to be able to transfer it easily from a plate onto whatever I was going to use to put it under the broiler. I mulled over this a fair bit. The book says to put the mold on a board covered with foil. I don’t know who might happen to have a board laying around the kitchen that’s the right size for this, but I sure don’t, so I ended up sliding the mold onto a baking sheet.
The meringue ended up very well done on top, and hardly at all on the sides. In my defense, this is my first time using our broiler, and Bryan was not particularly forthcoming with advice on how to use it. The over tends to be slow, so I guess I was assuming the broiler would be, too, especially since it’s electric (in a gas oven, what?), but the coils heated up quickly.
Even though this was only in the oven for maybe a minute and a half, the creamy Jell-O got all melty, not quite liquid but very soft, and the Jell-O cubes were kind of swimming in it. I made regular baked Alaska once when I was a teenager, and the ice cream didn’t melt this much – but, of course, part of the trick to baked Alaska is that you make sure the ice cream is frozen hard before you coat it in meringue and broil it, The Jell-O isn’t as cold, so it starts out closer to melting temperature. That’s science, people.
Bryan and JB thought that maybe I wouldn’t have had so much of a melting issue if I had broiled it on something less heat conductive, but I’m not so sure, because the baking pan didn’t actually get that hot. One thing that might have helped that’s a usual part of baked Alaska is a layer of pound cake on the bottom. A round of pound cake underneath the mold might have insulated it from any heat transferred from the baking sheet, and also soaked up some of the melted Jell-O, which would have been rather nice in its own right. I considered trying that, but after last week’s major deviation from the plot, I wanted to follow this recipe more closely. If anyone really wants to try making their own Alaska Surprise, I would advise going with the pound cake bottom.
For eating, this was intensely sweet. I used strawberry flavored Jell-O because it’s my favorite red flavor, but in retrospect maybe raspberry, which is a little more tart, would have been better. I didn’t care much for the combination of textures, but JB seemed to find it interesting. Both he and Bryan ate all of the servings I gave them but didn’t go for seconds, and we all needed something to drink afterwards.
One thing I realized was that the ginger ale wasn’t noticeable in the clear Jell-O. When I mentioned it to JB, he mused that maybe using something with a more intense flavor would have worked better. I told him about how I’d tried substituting ginger beer for ginger ale once and found that the stronger ginger flavor didn’t really do anything for the recipe. He had an interesting insight, that maybe the ginger ale is meant to enhance the flavor of the Jell-O (as bay leaves do in savory dishes), rather than giving additional flavor to it. That sounds plausible. Let’s go with that.
Afterwards, the sugar coma we experienced lent itself to a viewing of a couple of episodes of series one of Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy. If you happen to be out of your favorite recreational substance, it turns out that Alaska Surprise is a reasonable substitute.
A big thanks and hugs to JB for Jell-O’ing with us today!