Executive pastry chef Taylor Siok’s modern, chocolate take on a classic Baked Alaska went on the winter menu at Luna in February. And it isn’t a dessert to miss.
Decadent and silky chocolate semi freddo is shrouded in intricate pearls of hand-piped meringue set upon a base of devil’s food cake, evoking an igloo. That presentation is charming in and of itself.
But, then, tableside, the server pours flaming high-proof alcohol over the top, charring the drops of meringue until they’re reminiscent of mini marshmallows in a campfire, toasted and a tad smoky.
It’s fun to watch. And, Siok’s Chocolate Baked Alaska has “gotten a really good response. When people see it in the dining room, it gets ordered a lot more,” he said.
Luna added his Chocolate Baked Alaska to the menu after offering a similar dessert as a special for New Year’s Eve. The New Year’s version featured a sugar-cookie base and a dark Madagascar chocolate.
“It was really heavy chocolate,” Siok said.
He lightened it up just a bit for the regular menu, using Guittard chocolate. It’s still rich – and satisfying. And, because the house-made semi freddo doesn’t freeze completely, it’s easier to spoon into than most versions of Baked Alaska.
“I don’t like cutting through the hard ice cream,” Siok said. “Usually, you have to wait awhile” for the ice cream center to soften.
Siok, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America who worked at Daniel in New York City before returning home to Spokane, is drawn to traditional techniques.
“I’m always drawn to the classics – classic desserts, classic everything,” he said. “They’re classic for a reason. They’ve made it through the test of time.”
But a Baked Alaska hasn’t been on the menu at Luna in the time he’s worked there. And, “I just wanted to do something exciting and wintry,” he said.
He also wanted to keep it “light and fun.”
Baked Alaska is usually made with a vanilla sponge or chiffon cake base, ice cream and meringue. Trapped air in the whipped egg whites protects the ice cream from the flame, keeping it cold while the crust blazes.
Early versions date at least to the early 1800s.
Manasseh Cutler, a Federalist representative in Congress from 1801 to 1805, wrote in his journal about a White House dinner in 1802. He described the dessert: “Ice-cream very good, crust wholly dried, crumbled into thin flakes; a dish somewhat like a pudding – inside white as milk or curd, very porous and light, covered with a cream sauce – very fine.”
Around the same time, physicist Benjamin Thompson was experimenting with heat’s effects on stiffly beaten egg whites, finding that the air bubbles whipped into the egg whites made for great insulation and opening the way for the Omelette Surprise or Omelette Norvegienne or Omelette Norwegge: layers of cake and ice cream coated with meringue, then broiled. French chefs named the dessert in honor of its snowy appearance and frigid temperatures of the north country Norway.
The purchase of the land that would eventually become the state of Alaska – from Russia, in 1867 – inspired chefs in America to commemorate the milestone. Charles Ranhofer, the pastry chef at Delmonico’s in New York City, created a dessert with a frozen ice cream core, reminiscent of Alaska, and toasted outer shell, evoking Florida, and called it, naturally, the Alaska, Florida. It featured banana ice cream, walnut spice cake and a toasted outer layer of meringue, and he included the recipe in his 1894 cookbook, “The Epicurean.”
Two years later, a recipe for Baked Alaska appeared in Fannie Farmer’s cookbook. And, in 1903, Omelette Norvegienne as well as several variations appear in Auguste Escoffier’s “Le Guide Culinaire,” which remains a masterpiece of modern cookery.
“That’s what I like to do: take classic desserts and make them a bit more fun,” Siok said.
His Chocolate Baked Alaska takes two days to make. First, he makes the chocolate sheet cake, which takes about two hours. Then, he makes the semi freddo, which takes about an hour. But, it has to be scooped into molds and set for eight hours or overnight. Then, the semi freddo has to be unmolded, circles must be cut from the sheet cake, and the dessert needs to be prepped. There’s also meringue to make, which takes about 15 or 20 minutes.
Siok’s version – about 3 inches in diameter – is large enough for two to share, but not too big for one to enjoy alone. He likes his a little more charred than most. “That’s kind of controversial, though.”
For customers, it’s served “medium burnt,” unless guests ask for more – or less – char.
Luna uses 151 “because it burns easily.” And, in this dessert, “Honestly, it tastes best,” Siok said.
His Chocolate Baked Alaska is $9 and expected to stay on the menu at Luna until spring – “maybe longer.”
And he’s already toying with variations for spring or summer.
“It’s just missing graham cracker, and it would be s’mores, essentially,” he said.
Could we just go ahead and plan for that?
Luna is at 5620 S. Perry St. Call (509) 448-2383. On the web: www.lunaspokane.com.