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What is baked Alaska, and why is it paraded around cruise ships?

April 19, 2022
5 min read
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Baked Alaska is the cruise equivalent of "The Price Is Right" — a decades-old phenomenon that has, inexplicably, been able to withstand the test of time, with or without Bob Barker.

And when it comes to baked Alaska, cruise ships are a prime place to find the quirky hot-meets-cold dish. Yet do not think, dear reader, that you will simply order this dessert like any other. Oh no. A zealous group of waiters in costumes, having torched the dessert so that it's literally aflame, will parade it around the dining room until a piece comes to rest at your table.

So, what, exactly, is baked Alaska, and how do you make it (should you be daring enough to try)? Which cruise lines host baked Alaska parades, and why is it still such a popular tradition on cruise ships? TPG answers all your burning questions here.

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What is baked Alaska?

Baked Alaska is a dessert that consists of a sponge or pound cake base with an ice cream center and a topping of meringue. The dish got its name because you're baking something that is traditionally served cold. (Ice cream = Alaska in this metaphor. Get it?)

If you've ever tried to make baked Alaska, you know it's a tricky feat. Because the dessert's bottom and top layers both have to be baked, its perfectly intact -- if made correctly -- ice cream center is a fascinating and tasty mystery. How does the preparer keep it from melting?

The answer is in the meringue, which acts ingeniously as insulation between the heat source -- either an oven or a blowtorch -- and the ice cream just below the meringue.

Where did baked Alaska come from?

As is the case with many great culinary breakthroughs, baked Alaska's origins are murky. Some sources claim it was invented by Charles Ranhofer, a chef at Delmonico's in New York City in the 1850s. Others say it was created in 1867 by Chef Antoine Alciatore at his New Orleans restaurant Antoine's in celebration of the United States' acquisition of the 49th state that year.

Which cruise lines serve baked Alaska?

Despite its mysterious past, this delectable treat has become a staple on many cruise lines' ships, including those in the Holland America Line, Seabourn and Carnival Cruise Line fleets, to name a few.

In fact, Carnival is known for its baked Alaska parades, which happen once per cruise in the main dining rooms. Waiters carry flaming trays of the sweet treat and weave a route around the tables as cruisers twirl their napkins in the air. It's a bit hokey, but passengers love this throwback to the early days of cruising.

How do you make baked Alaska?

Baked Alaska. (Photo by ginauf/Getty Images)

Now, for the most important part: how to make baked Alaska.

As it turns out, baked Alaska is a bit complicated, so I looked to the Food Network for help. More detailed instructions can be found on the network's website, but here's the quick and dirty version. Below that, if you're searching for a tried-and-true cruise line baked Alaska recipe, you can also find Carnival's version in the included photos.

Baked Alaska recipe

Ice cream cake ingredients

  • Vegetable oil.
  • 1 pint fruit sorbet.
  • 1 pint vanilla ice cream.
  • 1 pint chocolate ice cream.
  • 1 cup chocolate wafer crumbs.
  • 1 loaf pound cake.

Meringue ingredients

  • 1 cup egg whites (about 6 large eggs).
  • 1 pinch cream of tartar.
  • 1 cup sugar.

Directions

Alternate scoops of ice cream and sorbet in a metal bowl greased with oil and lined with plastic wrap, saving half of the chocolate ice cream for later. Cover with plastic wrap and press gently to remove gaps between scoops. Remove plastic, sprinkle with wafer crumbs and recover. Freeze about 30 minutes.

Remove the wrap, and add the remaining chocolate ice cream. Cut the cake into 1/2-inch slices, and arrange the slices over the ice cream. Cover with fresh plastic wrap, and freeze for at least 2 more hours.

Make the meringue by whipping the egg whites and cream of tartar with a mixer until foamy. Beat in sugar until the whites are glossy and hold stiff peaks.

Remove the plastic wrap from the ice cream bowl, and flip the contents upside down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Remove the lower layer of plastic. Cover the ice cream completely with meringue, making sure the top is thicker than the sides. Freeze for 3 hours.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Bake until the meringue is golden. Alternately, used a blowtorch to brown it. Allow to cool for 5 to 10 minutes, and put any leftovers back in the freezer.

(Recipe photos courtesy of Carnival Cruise Line)

Got more cruise questions? TPG has answers:

Featured image by Getty Images/iStockphoto
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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