In my family, Christmas dinner is always the main focus of the holiday season. Once a year, we congregate from the far corners of the globe to sit around a table in my parents' house, stuff ourselves silly, drink some wine and try not to argue about anything too personal. It's kind of a big deal.
Naturally, there's a lot of food. The oversized turkey. The painstakingly prepared roast potatoes. The sausages wrapped in bacon, the spiced cabbage, the Brussels sprouts, the assorted vegetables, the multiple sauces. The works.
None of this would get cooked without my mother, who takes it upon herself every year to spend weeks planning and days preparing the perfect Christmas dinner. The rest of us are deputised to various tasks around the kitchen, but the bulk of the cooking work always falls to my mother. We are all hugely grateful to her and, I like to think, try to help out as much as we can. For the past couple of years, to give her one less thing to worry about, I've persuaded her to let me take sole responsibility for the dessert.
Christmas dessert is a tricky thing. Everybody's already stuffed after the main course and, deep down, nobody really likes Christmas pudding. What's needed is something fresh, something exciting, something that will grab people's attention. What's needed is combination of rich chocolate cake, delicious ice cream and seasonal sorbet all smothered in meringue, drizzled in rum and set alight with a carefully controlled remote detonation that singes the eyebrows off anyone leaning in too close.
What's needed is Nuked Alaska.
Nuked Alaska is a variation of baked Alaska, a dish in which a block of ice cream is baked into a crust of meringue without melting, resulting in a dessert which is hot, cold and delicious.
This recipe owes a lot to Heston Blumenthal, from whom I took the idea and method for preparing a concentric sorbet and ice cream core. The chocolate (and Guinness) sponge recipe comes from Nigella Lawson, by way of Gizzi Erskine. Their original recipes are all available online.
This is fairly time-consuming recipe, parts of which require preparation at least 36 hours before serving (to allow the ice cream and sorbet to freeze) and parts of which require preparation at the very last minute. This recipe does not require an ice cream machine. It does, however, require some slightly specialist materials for the pyrotechnic effects. I'm going to assume that they're all legal where you live, but please don't count on that being the case.
The quantities of food used in the recipe are also somewhat wasteful. Well, wasteful in the sense that you'll be left with several spare servings of delicious sorbet, chocolate cake and meringue that can be eaten on their own at your convenience. I cooked this without knowing how much of each ingredient would be required, but aware that the leftovers would all be used and appreciated.
Step 1: A brief discussion and a schematic
The backbone of this dessert will be a block of ice cream. The spinal cord within that backbone will be a tube of sorbet. Both of these things will be very cold.
If you put a block of ice cream into a hot oven, you'd expect it to melt. Unfortunately, liquid ice cream lacks a certain flair when presented as a dessert, so you'll need a way to keep the ice cream solid.
Fortunately, meringue, being a foam full of air bubbles, is a great thermal insulator. By coating a block of ice cream in a Thermos-like layer of meringue, you can prevent it from even noticing the fierce blaze of your oven for several minutes. If you make sure the ice cream is rock hard before it goes into the oven, it will be another few minutes before it starts to break a sweat. That's all the time you need to cook a soft meringue.
To help insulate the ice cream even further, you're going to include a pre-cooked layer of crisp chocolate meringue. This has the bonus of providing some crunchiness to the dessert, even if you undercook the outer layer of meringue.
Rather than try to cook a layer of meringue underneath your block of ice cream, you're going to insulate the base with a thick layer of rich chocolate sponge. This sponge will also hold a thin layer of caramel which will liquify as the dessert is cooked.
Before you get started, have a look at the diagram below to get a feel for what you'll be making.