On March 30, 1867, for a mere $7.2 million — about two cents per acre — the U.S. bought land from Russia and made Alaska its 49th state, gaining a delicious fringe benefit in the process: Baked Alaska.
No, this igloo-shaped dessert — cake and ice cream shrouded in toasted meringue — didn’t come from the icy north, but its name was inspired by the land deal. In fact, the treat’s true roots date back to the turn of the 18th century, when American-born scientist Sir Benjamin Thompson (aka Count Rumford, a title he gained for his loyalty to the crown during the American Revolution) — whose inventions included a kitchen range and a double boiler — made a discovery about egg whites.
Rumford realized that the air bubbles inside whipped egg whites made meringue a great insulator. “That’s really why the Baked Alaska works,” says Libby “O'Connell, the History Channel’s chief historian and author of The American Plate. "The meringue insulates the ice cream from heat.”
By the 1830s, this culinary revelation had inspired French chefs to create a dessert called the “Omelette Norwegge.” This predecessor of Baked Alaska consisted of layers of cake and ice cream covered in meringue, then broiled. The French named this elaborate treat in reference to its own frigid territory to the north — Norway.
So how did the “Omelette Norwegge” become embroiled with the Alaska purchase?
Photo: Courtesy of Delmonico’s Restaurant