Baked Alaska (also known as glace au four, omelette à la norvégienne, Norwegian omelette and omelette surprise) is a dessert made of ice cream placed in a pie dish lined with slices of sponge cake or Christmas pudding and topped with meringue. The entire dessert is then placed in an extremely hot oven for just long enough to firm the meringue. The meringue is an effective insulator, and the short cooking time prevents the heat from getting through to the ice cream.
The notion of cooking a dessert with ice cream as its core ingredient within an insulated covering may have originated with a Chinese cook, who used pastry for the casing. However, facts surrounding this assertion are still scant, and thus are still in debate, in part because, according to librarian and food researcher Lynne Olver, no recorded knowledge of his training is known. As well, there is no evidence of this being a truly Chinese dish. Furthermore, several other origins are still up for debate. At this point, it appears baked Alaska is a combination of origins. Nevertheless, according to the June 1866 issue of the French journal Liberte a master cook (from a Chinese delegation visiting Paris) introduced the concept to French chef Balzac of the Grand Hotel. Taken with the idea, the French substituted pastry with meringue, and named the dish omelette surprise or omelette à la norvégienne; the Norwegian epithet was used as a consequence of its Arctic appearance and cold centre. Some assert though, that the discovery of meringue not melting – a concept attributed to Anglo-American physicist Benjamin Thompson in 1804 – led to the creation of what we know as baked Alaska. As a British loyalist, Thompson moved to England, followed by an appointment of Count Rumford under the employ of Bavaria. He investigated the heat resistance of beaten egg whites; the results demonstrated that while pastry would conduct the heat to the ice cream, beaten egg whites would do so to a lesser extent. Francois Rysavy, President Eisenhower's chef, claimed that, "baked Alaska is a Scandinavian delicacy". A popular dish in America, it is often thought that baked Alaska originated with Chef Charles Ranhofer in 1876 at the famous Delmonico's Restaurant in New York City who is said to have named it in honour of the newly acquired Department of Alaska. However, this dish is actually called Alaska, Florida in his 1893 cookbook Epicurean. In John F. Mariani 1999 book Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink baked Alaska is a term dating back to 1905 publication. It was "used by Fannie Merritt Farmer in the 1909 edition of her cookbook". Regardless of origins, the dish is usually considered delicious. It was popularised worldwide by the chef Jean Giroix in 1895 at the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo, Monaco.
The dessert was once a popular choice for dinner parties, especially during the 1960s and 1970s, but its popularity has waned in recent years. It is still a very common dessert on the final dinner of a cruise.
Another version calls for raspberry filling to be substituted for the ice cream, or even for the filling to be added along with the ice cream.
The process was simplified in 1974 by Jacqueline Halliday Diaz who invented a baking pan for Baked Alaska that forms a fillable hollow.
In 1969, the recently invented microwave oven enabled Hungarian physicist and "molecular gastronomist" Nicholas Kurti to produce a "reverse Baked Alaska", aka Frozen Florida (hot on the inside and cold on the outside).