Rosie’s recipes: Toasty comfort food and a cool dessert

By on January 21, 2018

January is a time for new beginnings. Mind you, I don’t do “resolutions,” but I’ve resolved/decided to tackle two dishes I’ve never had before and have always wanted to try — Welsh Rabbit and Baked Alaska.

To me, this would be the Perfect Meal. An appetizer, which is a comfort food in and of itself, no main course, and a straight line to the finish — glorious dessert.

First the appetizer. Is it Welsh Rabbit or Welsh Rarebit? And what exactly is it? The dish originated in the early 1700s in the United Kingdom; however, don’t let that deter you. And it was called “Welsh rabbit” despite there being no meat involved.

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The alternative form, “rarebit,” appeared about 60 years later, the word having no meaning aside from this particular dish.

Among legends, it is suggested that the meat-based name for this meatless dish might have stemmed from Welsh peasants who substituted cheese for unaffordable meat. It is thought to have been an English insult to the Welsh.

Rabbit was the poor Englishman’s meat. The even poorer Welshman’s “meat” was cheese. Another “insult theory” is that it was an Englishman’s jab at the hunting ability of the Welsh. The Welshman failed to bring home a rabbit, thus the family would have to settle for cheese and toast.

Another slur from the condescending English is that the uncivilized Welsh considered the dish fine dining, as good as eating rabbit, meaning they didn’t know what fine dining was, let alone afford it.

How the word “rarebit” came about amounts to more confusion. Perhaps it was an attempt to identify the dish as not having any rabbit to begin with or it might have been an effort to glamorize a simple, humble peasant dish, giving it a hint of the exotic.

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Restaurants began serving the dish and may have changed the name, suggesting a rare bit of something extraordinary, allowing them to charge more for it.

Whatever name it goes by, the dish is merely toasted bread topped with a cheddar cheese sauce. A blissful combination. Toast. Cheddar Cheese. Sauce. The ultimate comfort food.

Welsh Rabbit
2 TB unsalted butter (My butter of choice is Plugrá and I can only find it at Fresh Market.)
1 shallot, minced (2-3 TB)
1 TB flour
2 tsp dry mustard
½ tsp ground black pepper
10 oz. aged cheddar cheese, grated (I used Collier’s Powerful Welsh Cheddar from Fresh Market, “carefully aged and selected to ensure an extraordinary taste sensation.”)
¼ cup ale (I used Green Man ESB special amber ale from Fresh Market
1 TB Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce
6 ½-inch thick slices of bread, toasted (Pick a fresh-baked artisan bread from the bakery at Fresh Market.)
Fresh scallions and/or chives, chopped

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In a small saucepan, melt the butter. Add shallot and cook over medium heat about 2 minutes. Whisk in flour, dry mustard, and pepper, stirring. Cook another minute. Add ale, Worcestershire sauce, and cheese. Cook over medium low heat until cheese melts, 2-3 minutes.

Heat broiler and arrange toasts on rimmed baking. Spoon cheese mixture over toasts and broil until bubbly and browned. Sprinkle with scallions and/or chives.

For any leftover cheese sauce, I’d go with a “healthy” alternative. Heat it up and use it for a dip with broccoli and cauliflower florets. The tart, savory sauce is a nice complement to vegetables.

Baked Alaska, to me, is the ultimate dessert. It’s cake. It’s ice cream. And it’s meringue.

The dessert was originally called “Alaska-Florida” because of the cold ice cream and the hot meringue, and the technique of insulating ice cream with heat-resistant beaten egg whites was created in 1804 by an American physicist and inventor, Benjamin Thompson.

For a bit of back story, Thompson, also known as Count Rumford, was a British spy during the Revolutionary War. A prolific inventor working with the properties of heat, he invented the double boiler, a kitchen range, a drip-type coffee maker, the Rumford fireplace, thermal underwear, and the sous-vide method of food preparation.

At that time, the dessert was called omelette surprise or omelette à la norvégienne (Norwegian omelette). Eventually, it became known as “Baked Alaska,” in celebration of the newly acquired Alaska Territory in 1867.

Credit for baked Alaska is given to French chef Charles Ranhofer of New York city’s Delmonico’s restaurant, who is said to have invented the dessert in commemoration of Seward’s Alaska purchase.

Baked Alaska became known as a dessert for the privileged. Its popularity waned during the austerity of the Victorian era and Depression and it wasn’t until the 1950s, when Alaska became a state, that the dessert enjoyed a renaissance.

Generally, baked Alaska is in the shape of a bombe; however, I’m re-engineering it and assembling a log shape, making it easier to slice and serve.

A baked Alaska has three components. The center is ice cream encased in a flexible cake with the whole enveloped in a layer of meringue. The entire assembly is baked in a 500° oven to brown the billowy meringue and the ice cream remains firm and does not melt. Egg whites form an excellent insulation in that they’re full of tiny air bubbles which conduct heat quite poorly.

My recipe for the cake, a genoise, makes enough to cover two ice cream centers. I’m covering the first base in meringue for the Baked Alaska and saving the second base for later.

Baked Alaska
For the ice cream:
2 1-pint containers of ice cream (I selected a Talenti Double Dark Chocolate ice cream and a Coffee Chocolate Chip ice cream, both from Fresh Market. You want a premium ice cream for baked Alaska.)

Remove ice cream from containers (A quick bath in warm water helps loosen the ice cream.) Cover each tightly in plastic wrap and roll to form a uniform cylinder shape. Place each cylinder in freezer, on end, until completely solid, about 2 hours.

For the cake:
1 ¼ cups cake flour
⅔ cup sugar
⅓ cup cocoa (I used Dutch processed baking cocoa from Fresh Market.)
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp kosher salt
2 TB espresso powder
½ cup buttermilk
½ cup vegetable oil
5 eggs separated, room temperature

Heat oven to 350°. Lightly grease a 13 x 18-inch rimmed baking sheet, line with parchment paper, and lightly grease parchment.

Whisk flour, cocoa, sugar, baking powder, salt, and espresso powder in large bowl. Whisk oil, water, and yolks into flour mixture until smooth.

Using stand mixture with whisk attachment, whip egg whites at medium-low until foamy, 1-2 minutes. Increase speed and whip another 1-2 minutes, until soft mounds form. Gradually whip in sugar until soft, glossy peaks form, another 2 minutes. Whisk ⅓ of whites into batter until mixture is lightened. Using a spatula, gently fold rest of egg whites into batter.

Pour batter onto prepared sheet, spreading evenly. Bake about 12 minutes, until cake springs back when lightly pressed in center. Transfer cake to wire rack and let cool for a few minutes, then invert onto another wire rack and carefully remove parchment. Let cool completely.

For assembly:
Transfer cake to cutting board and, with a serrated knife, cut 2 rectangles out, each approximately 4 ½ x 11 inches. Place ice cream cylinders on each rectangle and wrap cake around ice cream. Cut out a 4-inch cake round and press onto one end of the cylinder. Tightly wrap each cake and ice cream cylinder in plastic and return to freezer vertically on end, for an hour, or until cake is firm.

Place cylinder on cutting board, unwrap, and cut in half lengthwise. Cut another rectangle out of cake to form a base for the halves and place halves on top, ice cream side down and open ends meeting in middle. Wrap tightly in plastic and press cylinders together to close gap between halves. Return to freezer for overnight before covering in meringue.

Now, you have two cake and ice cream cylinders. I’ll be covering one cylinder with meringue and preparing Baked Alaska, saving the other cylinder for later. That way, I have the fixin’s on hand for a quick Baked Alaska anytime in the near future.

For the meringue:
3 egg whites, room temperature
¾ cup sugar
⅓ cup light corn syrup
2 TB water
Pinch salt
2 tsp vanilla extract

Heat oven to 500°. Set wire rack on baking sheet and spray with vegetable oil. Unwrap cake and place on rack.
Combine egg whites, sugar, corn syrup, water, and salt in bowl of stand mixer. Place bowl over saucepan filled with an inch or so of simmering water, being sure water doesn’t touch bottom of bowl. Whisking constantly, heat until sugar is dissolved and mixture registers 160°, about 7-8 minutes.

Place bowl in stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Beat on medium speed about 5 minutes. Increase speed to high and beat until mixture forms stiff peaks, about another 5 minutes. Beat in vanilla.

Spread meringue over top and sides of cake, creating peaks all over. Bake until slightly browned and crisp, about 5 minutes. Transfer to serving platter. To slice, dip sharp knife into hot water and wipe dry after each cut. Serve immediately.

Enjoy!

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