Baked Alaska

The Emperor of Ice Cream
Celestial Chefs’ Invention

Baked Alaska frozen dessert

Baked Alaska

Did ancient Chinese chefs invent Baked Alaska? Trader Joe thinks so. [1]

In promoting a new peppermint Baked Alaska for the Christmas season, the supermarket chain has repeated the claim that the frozen dessert originated in China.

You see this reference to Baked Alaska and China in print and on the Internet.  Until now it has been hard to find any supporting details. [2]

You can also read that frozen desserts were first eaten in ancient China as long ago as 3000 BCE. This is hard to pin down, and a number of Indian cooks claim that kulfi, the Indian frozen dessert, is as ancient as any early Chinese ice cream formula.

Recently a scrap of information from some old French archives of diplomacy sheds some light on this question. [3]

There is a report that the Chinese chefs accompanying a diplomatic mission to Paris in 1866 demonstrated for their hosts a recipe using frozen ices served under a toasted pastry topping, which greatly impressed the French chefs. [4, 5]

It seems that the French then further perfected the dessert, replacing the pastry with a meringue. They first named it Omelette Norvegienne or Norwegian Omelet, which was later called Baked Alaska.

So it does appear likely that Chinese chefs in the 19th century created the prototype which was later developed by French chefs into today[s Baked Alaska.

The word for “Ice Cream” in Chinese is not ancient and appears to be a loan word from English.  The Chinese name for “Baled Alaska” is ambiguous and could be old or new.

You might have thought Chinese chefs had invented the whole thing, from a more recent Christmas visit to Taipei. The chefs in the first class hotels all seemed to have Baked Alaska on their menus, with different  toppings, sometimes flaming, as if they had created the dessert.

One water suggested that that Baked Alaska went well with their bartender’s creation, an after-dinner drink.  It was a kind of pousse cafe, named the “Free China,” from its colors — “red, white and blue, like the Chinese flag.”

A search of recipes from the former Qing Imperial court failed to turn up any desserts resembling Baked Alaska, but there is at least one Chinese recipe for Fried Ice Cream. That probably represents the influence of the cooking of the Treaty Ports.

So the evidence seems clear.  Whether you buy your Baked Alaska ready-made or make it from a recipe, it is the Emperor of Ice Cream — an an early Fusion food!

For Further Information:

[1] Trader Joe Peppermint Baked Alaska — “A modern take on a retro dessert” — http://www.traderjoes.com/fearless-flyer/article.asp?article_id=881
[2] “Baked Alaska,” article, Wikipedia —   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baked_Alaska
[3] French archival article — Chinese diplomatic mission to Paris in 1866 — recipe served by chefs of the Celestial Empire, in Larousse Gastronomique, revised (Clarkson Potter, 2001), p. 65. For more background on the origins of frozen desserts, see“The Real Scoop on Ice Cream’s History.”
[4] Hosea Ballou Morse, International Relations of the Chinese Empire, on Chinese Imperial diplomatic missions.
[5] Jacques Granet, A History of Chinese Civilization, v.2, for coverage of diplomatic missions and relationships with France in the 19th century.
[6] Su Chung, Court Dishes of China for insight into Qing Imperial desserts.
[7] Baked Alaska term — A Complete English Nouns of Industry and Commerce (Taipei: Ji Yuan Publishing Co., n.d.), “Baked Alaska,” xue gao, p. 305 — name means “snow cake.”
Ice cream term — Harry S. Adlrich, A Topical Chinese Dictionary (New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, 1947), reprinted from 1920s, pp.155-56, “Breads, Cakes, Desserts,” — “Ice Cream”: bing ji ling. The term is a loan word from English.
[9] Fried Ice Cream recipe — Eileen Yin-Fei Lo, Chinese Banquet Recipes–  http://www.amazon.com/Chinese-Banquet-Cookbook-Value-Publishing/dp/0517555212

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3 thoughts on “Baked Alaska

  1. Pingback: Litchi Ice Cream, Yang Gwei-fei's favorite - nondiary | Pacific Rim Gourmet

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