Baked Alaska Cassata
There’s something so undeniably “grand” about both a Baked Alaska and a Cassata, that it’s hard to imagine why the marriage of the two isn’t more of a thing.
Around this time of year, as we’re looking for something “wow” to grace our festive tables, I usually like to make the dessert my pièce de résistance. It is, after all, the climax of the dinner; the course that lingers, and that your dinner party is likely to be remembered for. And the more of a showpiece you create, the more memorable it becomes…
Baked Alaska and the Cassata have very little in common apart from a presence of sponge cake and a certain festive flair. The Cassata originated in 10th-century Sicily and traditionally consists of sponge cake laced with fruit juice and liqueur, and layered with ricotta cheese and candied fruit. Baked Alaska, on the other hand, is a more recent invention that is said to have gotten its name from America’s acquisition of Alaska from Russia in 1867. It’s essentially ice-cream encased in sponge cake and covered in browned meringue and is traditionally served around Christmastime.
I find that when working with ice-cream, using a great quality cast-iron casserole instead of the more traditional cake tin ensures that your ice-cream stays frozen for longer. And around the festive season in South Africa when parts of the country hit the mid-40s, this little tip comes in very handy.
Prep Time: 15 Minutes for the cake/ 1½ Hours for Italian Meringue/Baking Time: 10 Minutes/Freezing Time: Overnight / Serves: 12
Ingredients for the sheet cake
10 ml vanilla essence
250 ml milk
300 g (360 ml) caster sugar
450 g (800 ml) cake flour
20 ml baking powder
pinch of salt
240 g (260 ml) soft butter
for the cassata
160 g pitted pistachio, roughly chopped
200 g macadamia nuts, roughly chopped
250 g glacé cherries, halved
140 g glacé oranges, diced
4 liters good quality vanilla ice cream
for the Italian meringue
600 g (750 ml) sugar
135 ml water
6 egg whites
Method for the sheet cake
Preheat your oven to 180 °C. Line the bases of two 25 cm x 32 cm baking trays with baking paper and coat with non-stick food spray.
The next step is very important: the ingredients must be placed into the bowl of an electric beater fitted with a flat-beater in the order of ingredients list above.
First the eggs, then the vanilla, milk, and sugar. Placing a sieve over the bowl, sift the flour, baking powder and salt into the bowl. Finally, place the soft butter into the bowl.
Beat all the ingredients together for 2 minutes. Divide the cake mixture between the baking trays and place them in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes before taking the trays out of the oven to cool.
to line your casserole
Line the bottom of a 24 cm cast-iron round casserole with baking paper. Cut one of the sheet cakes in half, lengthwise. Line the sides of the casserole with the cake. Keep to one side while you are making your cassata.
Use the lid of the casserole to cut a circle out of the second cake. This will be the base of your cassata.
for the cassata
Take your ice-cream out of the freezer to soften, but do not let it melt. It must have the consistency of soft-serve ice-cream.
Spoon the ice-cream into a large mixing bowl, add the nuts and fruit and mix. Spoon this mixture into the prepared casserole and place the cut-out cake on top. Cover with foil and place it in the freezer overnight.
for the Italian meringue
Place the sugar and water in a saucepan over very low heat. Do not stir this at all. Leave the sugar on the low heat until it has melted and starts to boil. Let it boil for 8 minutes.
Beat the egg whites to soft peaks. With the mixer running, carefully and slowly drizzle in the hot syrup. Increase the speed to high and whip until the desired stiffness is achieved. Then, whip until the meringue is cool.
Turn the cassata out on your serving plate. Cover it completely in the Italian meringue. Using a gas burner, brown the meringue. Sprinkle with dried roses and serve immediately.