Let's say you dream of wanting to make a very special dessert for mom on Mother's Day but don't really have the time or the expertise. Here's a cheating version of Baked Alaska. Sure it's antique — is there any other two-word phrase in English as capable of teleporting us in an instant to the dining room of a cruise ship in the 1950s? — but it's also delicious. We're talking about ice cream surrounded by cake, frosted with meringue and baked until golden. Back in the day, they'd light it on fire before setting it down on your table, a flourish we've forgone on the way to simplifying preparation from start to finish.
First of all, I've shrunk it down so that everybody gets to dig into his or her own personal Alaska. Next, instead of having to bake a cake to start, we're rolling with store-bought brownies. You'll be looking for the chewy kind, not the cake-y kind, so they don't fall apart. (Soft chewy brownies are easy to smoosh down, a key step in this recipe.) Working with brownies about half-an-inch thick, you'll cut them into inch-and-a half squares. (Two of them comprise a portion.) As for the ice cream, it's store-bought, like the brownies.
Making the meringue is the only part of this recipe that requires some effort, and you don't have to mess with it until the last minute. You'll have made the ice-cream sandwiches several hours ahead of time (perhaps even the day before) and kept them tightly wrapped in the freezer. At the moment of truth, preheat the oven, whip up the meringue (it takes 5 minutes), frost the sandwiches and then bake the cakes. Four or 5 minutes later, you'll pull these things of beauty out of the oven and take a bow.
Besides the minimal prep, the glory of this recipe is that no matter how you apply the meringue to the outside of the ice-cream sandwiches — smooth or in peaks — you'll have fashioned a showstopper.
Mini mocha baked Alaskas
• Eight 1½-inch squares chewy brownies (about ½-inch thick)
• 1 cup coffee ice cream
• 3 large egg whites
• Pinch of table salt
• ½ cup sugar
• ¼ teaspoon vanilla
Press down gently on the brownie squares until they are about 1/3-inch thick. Working very quickly, place 1/8 cup ice cream on top of each of four of the squares, spreading it to cover the brownie and top the ice cream with a second brownie, pressing down gently. Wrap the ice-cream sandwiches tightly with plastic wrap and freeze them for 2 hours.
About 30 minutes before serving, place the egg whites in a medium metal bowl set in a larger bowl of hot water to bring them to room temperature quickly. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Remove the bowl of egg whites from the larger bowl and, using electric beaters, beat the egg whites on low until frothy, add the salt and continue beating on medium just until they form soft peaks. Add the sugar gradually in a steady stream, beating until the mixture forms soft glossy peaks. Beat in the vanilla. (These egg whites will not be cooked to 160 degrees, which is the safety zone for killing salmonella, so substitute pasteurized egg whites if you are concerned.)
Place the ice-cream sandwiches on a parchment-lined rimmed sheet pan and, working quickly, coat the sides and top of each one thoroughly with the meringue so that there are no gaps. The meringue will insulate the ice cream and keep it from melting so quickly in the oven. Either smooth the meringue or make peaks, depending on the finished look you want. (Note: You will have slightly more meringue than you need.)
Bake the frosted cakes on the middle shelf of the oven for 4 to 5 minutes or until golden. Transfer to four plates and serve right away.