Baked Alaska and a Book

Recipe for A Perfect Wife

         This month’s recipe was inspired by a book.   Recipe for a Perfect Wife, by Karma Brown, is a quirky look at the lives of two newly married women living in the same suburban house sixty years apart – Nellie, a typical 50’s housewife, who is trying to get pregnant, and Alice, a reluctantly transplanted New York City writer, who is trying not to.    Told in alternating voices, Nellie 1956 and Alice 2018, with quotes of outdated advice at the beginning of each chapter and lots of 50’s recipes, it’s an interesting look at marriage, then and now.     

Link to the publishers/GoodReads review.   

       This book appealed to me because of it’s unique format, plus I thought it would nice to read about what life was like for my mother’s generation – my mother had 4 children under the age of 7 by 1960.  (It’s exhausting just thinking about that.)   The book was immensely readable, but not quite the light fluffy read I had expected.   While it started out okay, it soon took a dark turn and ended up with a strange ending.   I didn’t really like any of the characters, dishonesty seemed to be a common trait – hard to base a marriage on that, even  back then when people often didn’t know each other well before becoming engaged.    Of course the author was trying to make a point, and it would make an excellent choice for a book club discussion.   You could even make some of the 50’s recipes like Baked Alaska.   I always like it when the book club dessert matches the book club selection.   

       My recent Hermit Cookies blog, sparked a discussion about family cookbooks, Betty Crocker and Fannie Farmer being old favorites, although my mother’s bible was the Purity Flour Cookbook.   Growing up on a farm in the 60’s, my family meals were invariably our own home-grown vegetables and meat, and of course no meal was complete without a potato.    No rice or noodle casserole dishes for us, and spaghetti was simply pasta doused with a can of Campbell’s tomato soup.   My mother did not experiment with recipes like Tuna Noodle Casserole or Chicken A La King because my dad and brothers would simply not have eaten them, and I myself was a picky eater, although she did make a good meatloaf and macaroni and cheese with bread crumbs on top. 

Tuna Noodle Casserole

garnish with a layer of potato chips?

For many modern housewives that era saw the ushering in of convenience foods, instead of made from scratch.   Although we had boxed cake and brownie mixes, my mother made enough homemade pies and tarts to feed a threshing crew and just once that glorious Sixties Desert – Baked Alaska. 

Perhaps I remember this momentous event because of it’s rarity.   It was not for a special occasion, but simply on a summer evening, a couple of hours after supper to ensure that no one was too full for dessert.   If you go to all that trouble, you want to make sure your masterpiece is appreciated.

     For those of you unfamiliar, Baked Alaska is basically a mold of frozen ice cream and cake, smothered with a layer of toasted meringue.

Baked Alaska

Baked Alaska

   Although both my (2009 reissued) Purity cookbook recipe and the one in the book, call for white sponge cake and strawberry ice cream, my mothers version was reminiscent of this Martha Stewart creation, with chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream.   

Baked Alaska

It was a marvelous sight to behold, with the meringue all puffy and peaked, and who would believe you could put ice cream in the oven!   Perhaps I also remember it as chocolate cake was always my birthday choice growing up.   

      Baked Alaska can be complicated, if you want to mold it into a perfect dome shape, or use tea cups to make individual portions as in this Martha Steward recipe which calls for strawberry and vanilla gelato and of course, being Martha, she’s making the cake from scratch.   What exactly do you do with all those separated egg yolks? 

Baked Alaska

But it can also be easy if you just cut your cake and ice cream in a slab, layer it up, freeze it hard, and then smother it with meringue, as per this recipe in my mother’s 1965 version of the Purity cookbook.  

Baked Alaska

Maybe not as fancy as the dome-like creation, but wouldn’t it be the same thing?   I even wondered about using a carton of liquid egg whites but some sources said the heat from the pasteurization process would negatively affect the egg proteins.   (Cream of tartar is included as an acidic stabilizer to keep the proteins in the egg whites from sticking together thus enabling a smoother stiffer consistency.   Alternatives are lemon juice or white vinegar.)  

So, I did a grocery run yesterday and bought a carton of liquid egg whites, and decided to experiment last night, and they whipped up just fine.   I used lemon juice as I couldn’t find any Cream of Tartar at the store.

I forgot to buy cake, so I used two portions of Mug Cake mix from the pantry, not the best idea as the shape was not ideal and there wasn’t enough cake.

Baked Alaska

I froze two portions of vanilla ice cream in teacups (a la Martha above), and assembled them over the cake, and then added the meringue. 

It wasn’t bad, but plenty sweet.   I made the mistake of putting the assembled product including the meringue in the freezer for about ten minutes (as it said you could), while I cleaned up the mess, but I wouldn’t do that again, as it made the meringue hard and cold, and then it took too long to brown and by the time I took it out the ice cream was melting.   Better to just put it in the oven as soon as it’s assembled.   Of course I also stopped to take a few pictures, so that didn’t help.  

If I was to make it again for a crowd, I’d do the slab cake, and maybe strawberry and chocolate gelato, which isn’t as sweet.   Maybe when I can have people over again and hold a book club under the trees.   It’s so brutally hot here this week, 35 C (95 F) and 42 (106 F) with the Humidex, that any ice cream served outside would melt lickety-split.  

 Despite my love of all things vintage, especially fashion, I don’t think I would have wanted to live in the fifties –  it seemed very much a man’s world.   I posed that question to my mother, and she said – it seemed okay at the time.  Like many things, some decades are best viewed through a veil of nostalgia.     I’ll leave you with some marriage advice quotes from the book – relics from the past….    

Vintage 50's Marriage Advice

Vintage 50's Marriage Advice

Vintage 50's Marriage Advice

Vintage 50's Marriage Advice

 

Postscript:   Have you ever made Baked Alaska?

34 thoughts on “Baked Alaska and a Book

  1. Anne says:

    I think growing up in the fifties shaped the independence I have valued all my life: I was determined to be mistress of my fate – unlike my darling mother who worked so hard to keep my father and three brothers happy and at peace while having to cope with very difficult situations on the gold mine and the farm where we grew up. While I have not made a Baked Alaska, one Christmas Eve (our summer remember) a neighbour and her daughter called round late in the evening to finish their creation off in our oven because theirs had stopped working in the middle of their dinner!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Joni says:

      I think we are similar in our independence.
      Growing up then shaped me as well, as by the time I was a teenager, the women’s lib movement was starting, and I was determined I was going to have a career and not be reliant on a man for money. My dad had a mini-stroke (TIA) when he was 40 and he recovered fine, but for the week he was in hospital, my mother and older brother had to do all the farm chores – milk and feed the cows, and I’m sure she was scared about what she would do if he hadn’t gotten better. The good thing about it was it made him quit smoking, as everyone did back then, including in the book! So she always encouraged us in our education to be able to support ourselves. I see these young girls now, so casual about their careers and goals and I wonder if we haven’t regressed… The gold mine sounds interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ally Bean says:

    I have made Baked Alaska with chocolate almond ice cream on top of yellow cake. It worked and I was so amazed by my success that I never made it again. Why mess with a perfect baking experience? I KNOW I wouldn’t have wanted to be the little wifey in the 1950s. I’m not keen on mansplaining which is what the ’50s were all about it seems to me.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Joni says:

      I’ve never seen it on a menu anywhere, but you have so many fancy restaurants! It was easy to make with the liquid egg whites, but next time I would use a better cake mix as that Mug cake was way too sweet, or a store bought cake would be okay too, and I’m more into gelato than ice cream. I’d also use a different flavor than vanilla for contrast with the meringue. I’ve cut back on sugar and now find most desserts way too sweet.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. claudiajustsaying says:

    No, I never made baked Alaska, however I was looking for a tuna casserole recipe just the other day. We bought seven cans of tuna at Sam’s Club for a family member (tuna her favorite lunch sandwich) who never came to vacation with us. I’ll try this one. Love the post. . . just saying, Claudia

    Liked by 2 people

    • Joni says:

      Thanks Claudia! I like tuna too, so I would be tempted to try it….and I think the potato chips on top would give it added zip. I like to put potato chips on my hamburgers – they just give it a nice crunch!

      Like

  4. brilliantviewpoint says:

    Baked Alaska — they always serve this on a cruise ship! I’ve never made it, but enjoyed eating it. Your attempt was good.

    Oh… thanks for the quotes on marriage, SO FUNNY, especially the one on men marrying less intelligent women. This must explain why I have been alone since my divorce. Good to laugh a little bit.

    My Italian mother was actually like those quotes, everything for the husband!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Joni says:

      HA! I threw that one or myself too! I’ve been told more than once my intelligence is intimidating….and it wasn’t a compliment.

      Looking back, I suspect most women were brainwashed then. Women’s magazines were full of such advice re meeting your husband at the door wearing pearls and a nice dress, with a martini ready like in those old tv shows. Did they ever stop and think….what about me?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Linda Schaub says:

    I read this post yesterday Joni and was about to comment on it when there was a terrific clap of thunder (the third storm of the day) and I shut down my computer. I thought the book might be fun to read, despite the fact that I am not a cook or baker as evidenced by the other day when I had a devil of a time trying to figure out how to measure the “nectar defender” to keep the nectar safe in the heat. I was struggling to recite “8 ounces is a cup, 2 cups is a pint, etc.” I learned it years and years ago in school, but since I don’t cook/bake, I didn’t know it by heart and couldn’t find it written down in a recipe book – had to get it off the internet as I didn’t want to kill the hummingbird with the wrong mixture – that’s sad, but info learned 50 years ago!

    I have never made Baked Alaska and thought yours turned out well despite your substituions.
    That little mug cake was a cute idea – I’m sorry I gave away my microwave now. I did have Baked Alaska on a cruise and it was the last night and the waiters brought the desserts on a big tray and they had sparklers in them – very fun to watch the sparklers in this treat!!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Joni says:

      The mug cake was way too sweet and rich….I think next time I’d just use a regular cake mix or buy a store cake, but if you’re just making two servings it did in a pinch. I struggle with the measurements too, as we learned pints and cups etc not metric. The book was a dark read Linda, so I’m not sure I’d recommend it…..don’t want to say too much re spoilers but it got mixed reviews from Goodreads. Yes, other people have mentioned the Baked Alaska as being a cruiseship dessert – better to leave the fuss to a professional chef! I could not live without my microwave Linda – I heat up a lot of leftovers and tv dinners and make my breakfast sandwiches in it every morning – much better than McDonalds. I think I use it more than my regular stove! Today seems cooler. We did get a good rain Friday night, but only one downpour and could use more.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        OK Joni, I liked your other recommendation from last year “The Summer of ’69” by Erin Hillebrand and I got it, so had thought I might try it … for Winter or the holidays as I’m not progressing too well with the ones I bought for LAST Winter/holidays … I got the Thanksgiving, Christmas and NY’s books done – one for each long holiday, but not done well since then. I won’t get it then.

        I think it is a big last-night-of-the-cruise extravaganza dessert and not just for the treat but the presentation. I guess they figure people have gained a few pounds anyway, right as well add some more calories to the mix. It was fun to see the parade of Baked Alaskas with their sparklers on top. (They are still shooting off fireworks here by the way – just heard one now.)

        I wish now I had kept my microwave. The problem is, I had it plugged into an outlet downstairs that we used to have a mini fridge. My mom would go to the grocery store and pick her cuts of meat for the whole Winter and put some of it downstairs in that little freezer. Then it went on the blink and she decided not to get a new one as it was just the two of us by then. Since it was a heavyweight plug/wiring, I suggested getting a microwave. We used it all the time too, but I didn’t like having to go downstairs … especially after I saw a huge black spider walking on top of the microwave and disappeared behind it. I’d have to have my wiring tested to ensure it was powerful enough to use a microwave upstairs. I don’t even have a crockpot and I don’t know if a crockpot generates a lot of power or not. My mom used her toaster oven a lot and when I started making meals for both of us in it, I really didn’t like how hot the cord got. So I have it there as a decoration, but don’t use it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joni says:

        I don’t know how much energy a microwave uses, but I don’t think it would be too much? Maybe an electrician could tell you. Even a small microwave 700W would be useful….that’s all my mother has. A hot cord does no sound good…..I think my toaster oven went to the thrift shop long ago. Looks nice out today….better get out there!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        It was gorgeous walking this morning – I am glad you got out. Enjoy it since we are back to hot weather on Wednesday.

        I would have to have an electrician in to check it out as it is the only plug I have in the kitchen, besides behind the stove, – that was my concern, blowing a fuse or causing a fire. We only put the big mixer or toaster there at that plug. If I put it there, I’d have zero counter top space then. The other counter (double sink in between) is maybe 4 feet long, two feet wide and that’s it. The butcher block is the same. Putting the microwave there would be better, but the plug would likely not reach the outlet behind the stove … it’s a problem in my house, always has been, not enough outlets and some are very recessed. And some have furniture in front of the plugs as the furniture is big, rooms are small. I ordered a Midland Weather Radio – configured it over the weekend. Then had to figure out where to put it. It has back-up batteries, but where to plug it?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        Yes, I know you can get more plugs put in, but I try to make do, but it is a pain for sure Joni. It is for weather emergencies. You set the radio up to monitor severe weather in your county (and they can be used in Canada too). Any severe weather alert will turn the radio on and make a loud noise to alert you, plus the radio turns on and gives the impending weather. I found an excellent video on YouTube which made the programming easy – much easier than reading the book. I have set it up now. This is the radio which is fairly small, the size of a landline phone but it requires a plug unfortunately. It has backup battery power.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joni says:

        That’s interestig, I’ve never heard of one before. We don’t get a lot of bad weather here so not likely I would get much use out of it. Sometimes if there is a tornado alert it will come across the bottom of the tv screen. Go to bed early Linda! I’m shutting down now, but am behind in Reader several days again….sigh…hard to stay caught up.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        I am going to bed early tonight – we have a stormy night/early a.m. they say, so if I don’t turn off the A/C before going to bed, I likely will be getting up to do so. We still have fireworks going off, though not as many and that is just crazy. As to the radio, I went down the hall today and saw a series of yellow lights blinking in the dark. I can’t see out any windows due to the blinds, so must put on the lights in every room. I know this storm isn’t until later – went and looked at the weather radiot and the NOAA was doing a weekly check-up on it. The blinking stopped but the amber lights remained. I just had to look up the manual. It looks like you can select being advised silently (wouldn’t be much help – he did not say to configure this part) or by a tone for three minutes or speaking voice three minutes. I am going to set it for tone … I don’t want to hear a man’s voice in the middle of the night – it might give me a heart attack. I am about a day and a half behind in Reader – hard to catch up. You don’t have to answer my e-mail – it was long as I had several things to say … just treat it as a FYI, okay?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joni says:

        I will answer your email Linda but not til the weekend. I’ve been out two days this week running errands, and appointments and now a magnifier lamp I bought for mom today has to be returned to the store as it doesn’t work, but the grasscutter is coming tomorrow….everything at once.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        No problem – really Joni. I was trying to be brief and went off the rails. 🙂 I went out this past Tuesday and got three errands done so I didn’t have to go out two days in row or on two occasions. I now have to make an appointment for the allergist, as opposed to just going on a “drop-in” basis. I feel like every trip to “the outside world” is a big deal these days. What used to be simple, now seems like a big deal. I didn’t know there was such a thing as a magnifier lamp – has your mom tried a lighted handheld magnifying glass – is this for reading, needlework, or you need a stand-up magnifying lamp so it is hands free to use for painting?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joni says:

        No, its for doing her crossword puzzles. She uses a handheld one, but it’s awkward.
        This is a standing or desk lamp, can be either, like a gooseneck lamp which bends over with a magnifer on it, and 21 LED lights so the light is concentrated on the page. The CNIB lady said concentrated light is important, not diffuse from a standing floor lamp behind her, which is what she has.
        She’s fine when she paints. I called the home health store and they said to bring it back tomorrow and exchange it for another one…..but I’ll make sure it works before I leave the store with it. He said he’d never had one faulty before, but I had my friend the grasscutter take a look at it in case I had assembled it wrong, (it came in a box) and he said it looked fine and should work but it didn’t.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        My father used to do model dioramas (of army tanks on a battlefield) and it was painstaking work painting the scenes. He wore something like a headlamp with a magnifier to do that work. Yes, you’d want its hands-free for sure. My mom liked crossword puzzles and word search puzzles. I have saved some word search puzzles to do for when I am retired. I used to buy a new one every month at the grocery store for her.

        Like

  6. J P says:

    I share your fascination with life in earlier eras, and that period around 1960 is one of them, as it was right on the cusp of my awareness of things. Also I live in a neighborhood that was built around that time so have constant reminders in little ways.

    I have never made baked Alaska but saw it mentioned on tv when I was a kid. It sounds like it might be fun to try.

    Its tempting to think our own generation so superior to that of our parents, but haven’t we just traded for a different set of bad things? I don’t think we have much right to be smug given the state of marriage and family life today. Step outside of our upper middle class educated demographic and it’s a disaster zone out there.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Joni says:

      That is true. My mother always says she had the best of times, despite living through a Depression and war and not having much money. I would not want to be a young person today, trying to navigate this crazy world. No wonder so many of them are depressed. I think previous generations had hope and happiness and a sense of security and family. My main issue with that 50’s/60’s era is that most women were dependent on men financially and if you had an abusive husband, like in the book then you were usually stuck. I say, usually, because in the book, the 50’s housewife poisons her husband with foxglove/digitalis from her garden and no one is the wiser. (I can share this spoiler as I’m fairly confident you won’t be reading the book). A drastic solution, but I suppose the author was trying to make a point. It must have been difficult for your mother to have been divorced in that era, where jobs for women were few and poorly paid. I recall my aunt having to quit her job as a telephone operator when she got married, as job she loved, as that’s what you had to do, otherwise people would think your husband couldn’t support his family. My father had a mini-stroke/TIA when I was 10, and my mother and older brother had to feed and milk the cows for the week he was in the hospital. I stayed in the house babysitting. He recovered completely, but I wonder what she would have done if he hadn’t…..with aging parents, 4 little kids and a struggling farm. A wakeup call for them. After that my mother learned to drive and got groceries and took over the finances/bills etc. I credit my parents for my sense of independence as they were always very supportive of education, for women too and it was always assumed we would go to university, helped along by the women’s lib movement which was just starting about that time. I had friends in high school, smart girls, who did not. This is part of the problem for many young people today of lower socio-economic background, , no aspirations or goals or support for anything better. Enough of rant. Have a good day! PS. My house is from that era too and and I sometimes curse it’s old bones!

      Like

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