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August Daring Bakers Challenge: Baked Alaska for a best (pen) friend

I’ve always been a romantic girl, maybe more suited to a Jane Austen’s or an Emily Brontë’s novel than to this crazy and modern life! I used to love spending time reading with my cousin in our attic or in the garden, pretending to live into Little Women book (I’ve always considered myself as Meg, by the way). What’s more romantic and old fashioned than a love or a friendship born and lived through the handwritten pages of an epistulary correspondence? I’ve always been desperate for pen friends, seeing this as an opportunity to get to know far away people and have a peek into their life. I’ve had pen friends from Canada, Russia and Belgium to practice English, all thanks to my English teacher, but… who could think that through that letters one could meet…

… this is a long and happy story, dated back fiteeen years ago, when during summer I was reading with attention one of my favourite comics, the one dedicated to Minnie Mouse, with glossy pages and girly colours. It was maybe the second number of that children magazine and there was a column dedicated to exchanging addresses to make pen friends. I don’t know if now it is still the same, but in that period it was very up-to-date and cool, so I decided to choose one of that girls and write a letter. There was a girl, her name was Chiara, she lived near Milan, she seemed fun and reliable (I didn’t want to open my heart to any girl, I wanted someone sensitive, to built a real friendship!).

Today is Chiara’s birthday, she’s 30! We’ve beeing writing for 15 years now, getting to know each other and becoming best friends, first through letters (I can still remember her neat and lovely handwriting, often written with pink or pale green marking pen), then through e-mails and now through chat, texts and Facebook. We met just once, two years ago, and I finally met her husband, Luca, and my “niece” Sara. This year, this month, today, we were supposed to meet again, so that I could be able to meet finally little Davide, my “nephew”… but we both have had work problems, so I can’t hug one of my best friends, all I can do is dedicate her this post and whish happy birthday Chiara! I miss you today, my friend! This dessert is for you!

The August 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Elissa of 17 and Baking. For the first time, The Daring Bakers partnered with Sugar High Fridays for a co-event and Elissa was the gracious hostess of both. Using the theme of beurre noisette, or browned butter, Elissa chose to challenge Daring Bakers to make a pound cake to be used in either a Baked Alaska or in Ice Cream Petit Fours. The sources for Elissa’s challenge were Gourmet magazine and David Lebovitz’s “The Perfect Scoop”.

I followed the brown butter pound cake recipe step by step, and did almost the same with the ice cream recipe, deciding to flavour it with DOP Bronte’s pistachios, a precious birthday gift from a dear friend. The nutty flavour of brown butter pound cake was a perfect complemet to pistachio ice cream.

Pistachio Ice Cream

  • 250ml whole milk
  • 165g sugar
  • 500ml heavy cream
  • 150 gr unsalted pistachios
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • a pinch of salt

1. Heat the milk, salt, and sugar in a medium saucepan until the liquid steams, then let cool to room temperature.

2. Set up an ice bath by placing a 2 litre bowl inside a large bowl partially filled with water and ice. Put a strainer on top of the smaller bowl and pour in the cream.

3. Blend pistachios until they are finely chopped.

4. In another bowl, lightly beat the egg yolks together with pistachios. Reheat the milk in the medium saucepan until warmed, and then gradually pour ¼ cup warmed milk into the yolks, constantly whisking to keep the eggs from scrambling. Once the yolks are warmed, scrape the yolk and milk mixture back into the saucepan of warmed milk and cook over low heat. Stir constantly and scrape the bottom with a spatula until the mixture thickens into a custard which thinly coats the back of the spatula.

4. Strain the custard into the heavy cream and stir the mixture until cooled. Save pistachios that will remain in the strainer for later. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, preferably overnight.

5. Freeze in an ice cream maker. If you don’t have an ice cream maker, you can make it without a machine. See instructions from David Lebovitz.

Brown Butter Pound Cake

  • 275g unsalted (sweet) butter
  • 200g sifted cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 110g packed light brown sugar
  • 75g cup granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 160°C and put a rack in the center. Butter and flour a 23cmx23cm square pan.

2. Place the butter in a 25cm skillet over medium heat. Brown the butter until the milk solids are a dark chocolate brown and the butter smells nutty. (Don’t take your eyes off the butter in case it burns.) Pour into a shallow bowl and chill in the freezer until just congealed, 15-30 minutes.

3. Whisk together cake flour, baking powder, and salt.

4. Beat the brown butter, light brown sugar, and granulated sugar in an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well, and then the vanilla extract.

5. Stir in the flour mixture at low speed until just combined.

6. Scrape the batter into the greased and floured 23cmx23cm square pan. Smooth the top with a rubber spatula and rap the pan on the counter. Bake until golden brown on top and when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes.

7. Cool in the pan 10 minutes. Run a knife along the edge and invert right-side-up onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

Italian Meringue


  • granulated sugar, 200 gr + 50 gr
  • water, 50 gr
  • egg whites, 125 gr

1. Beat egg whites with 50 gr of sugar in a stand mixer bowl at low speed.

2. While whites are being beaten, put water then 200 gr of sugar in a thick based pan and let the sugar melt. It will start slowly to make bubbles, so pay attention and wash down from the pan sides the sugar crystals with a clean brush dipped in water.

3. When the syrup reaches 121°C, remove it from the heat and slowly add it into the egg whites which are now white and stiff.

4. Pour syrup in a thin stream, taking care not to let it run onto the whisk, but letting it slide along bowl sides, as to be conveyed into the centre by mixer movements.

5. Beat at high speed until it is glossy white and airy, you’ll need about 10 minutes: don’t overbeat. Put in the fridge covered with cling film.

Assembly Instructions

1. Line four 10cm diameter tea cups with plastic wrap, so that plastic wrap covers all the sides and hangs over the edge. Fill to the top with ice cream. Cover the top with the overhanging plastic wrap and freeze for several hours, or until solid.

2. Level the top of the brown butter pound cake with a serrated knife or with a cake leveler. Cut out four 10cm diameter circles from the cake.  Spread the cake rounds with the leftover pistachios remained in the strainer. Discard the scraps or use for another purpose (soon I’ll show you how I used them!).

3. Make the meringue (see above).

4. Unwrap the ice cream “cups” and invert on top of a cake round. Trim any extra cake if necessary.

5. Pipe the meringue over the ice cream and cake, or smooth it over with a spatula, so that none of the ice cream or cake is exposed. Freeze for one hour or up to a day.

6. Burn the tips of the meringue with a cooking blow torch. Or, bake the meringue-topped Baked Alaskas on a rimmed baking sheet in a 260°C oven for 5 minutes until lightly golden. Serve immediately.

Tasting test. I hate, I hate when I happen to say every time the same things, but, believe me, this was one of the best dessert EVER! Thank you Elissa for choosing Baked Alaska, I’ve been meaning to do it for months, and finally I managed to find time and patience to do it. It’s not a last minute cake, obviously, but each and every effort will be generously payed back by your guests’ delighted eyes! And, why not to mention your own pleasure, when you eventually dip your spoon into this multiple layer dessert and drive a spoonful of soft brown butter pound cake and pistachio ice cream, topped with Italian meringue, to your mouth? Swoon!

Once again, happy Birthday Chiara! May today be for you one of those British days we love so much, and may an ever ending Oasis soundtrack follow your steps throughout your life!

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This Post Has 25 Comments
  1. That’s a lovely story! I had pen friends as well when I was very young and really enjoyed it. You are lucky to still have one that is so special. I was inspired by your piping when I made mine… I truely loved the way you decorated your Alaskas. Great job!

  2. A lovely story. Such friends are to be cherished and I know she will be proud you made this cake for her. There’s something to be said for hand written letters that nothing else can compare with, except meeting for real, perhaps. 🙂
    It looks absolutely beautiful and I liked the addition of pistachios.

  3. What a beautiful story! I love pen friends and it sounds like you have such a fulfilling relationship with your best (pen) friend. Your baked Alaska looks gorgeous, and the patterns are amazing!

  4. Juls, I was waiting to see your post ever since I glimpsed your Alaska on the forum!! Oh! what a beautiful way to celebrate a friendship!!:)))

    btw, I am an Austen and Bronte.. sighh.. I wish I could live those lives.. reading Sense & Sensibility again now 🙂

  5. WOW, you did an amazing job on this Daring Bakers challenge!! This looks beautiful and I love that you included the pistachios on the ice cream. And what a sweet post to dedicate to your friend! 🙂

  6. What a great friendship! I really love the photos of your Baked Alaska. So pretty and professional looking. Nice job on the challenge!

  7. that’s so sweet of you to dedicate this challenge to your best friend! you’re stories very touching.. i also enjoyed having penfriends around the world when i was a teen.. now i have them on my facebook.. but i’m not close to anyone of them as you are with your penfriend.. lovely friendship you have there!:)

    you’re Baked Alaska is absolutely gorgeous.. it has elegance and pretty written all over it.. and i love the rose effect on top, very romantic!

  8. Beautiful story and beautiful dessert! Yours turned out much better than mine- i opted for the petit fours and they were not that pretty. I think its so awesome you’ve kept a pen pal for that long.. kudos to you 🙂

  9. Thank you so much for your sweet comments, they mean the world to me!
    It’s amazing how you can discover so many people like you, with your same passions and memories (Jane Austen, pen friends..), through a simple recipe… the power of internet or the power of shared passions?

  10. What a beautiful story! I always wanted a pen pal as a girl, too. I think that it is fantastic that you have kept in touch with yours for this long.

    Your baked alaskas are beautiful. I love the ribbon/flowered look of them, they look absolutely perfect! Perfect for a tea party! 🙂

  11. Lovely story of you and your friend. You’ve brought back my own memories of reading Little Women and much, much later, I Capture the Castle. Fabulous. The pistachio ice cream sounds like a fabulous selection with this and I LOVE your work with the meringue. It turned out so pretty! I still haven’t posted mine (what a slacker!) but we had fun eating them 🙂

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