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Alaska's namesake dessert is trapped in a dusty 1970s cookbook and can't get out

So you want to find a baked Alaska in Alaska? Good luck. Despite the name, the dessert is a rare sight on menus anywhere in the state.

The origin of the dish is unclear, but most believe it was created to celebrate the Alaska Purchase in 1867. A baked Alaska generally has three components: a cake base supporting a dome of ice cream that is then covered by a layer of meringue that gets toasted under a broiler or with a blowtorch, lending the dish a "baked" touch.

So over 100 years later, why isn't the dessert on more Alaska menus? Like the concept of "baking" ice cream -- it's complicated.

"Who doesn't love ice cream and cake with a toasted marshmallow-y blanket?" asked Mandy Dixon, chef and owner of La Baleine Café in Homer and executive chef at Within The Wild Adventure Lodges.

But Dixon (and her mother, acclaimed chef Kirsten) loves baked Alaska, sometimes serving a version of the dessert at the Within the Wild lodges. The Dixons' version uses homemade strawberry ice cream and lemon thyme cake, finished with wildflowers pressed into the sides of the meringue.

Dixon suggests it's not as popular today because people's tastes have changed -- sugary meringue isn't something people are interested in.

She also thinks maybe some chefs find the dessert "old-school" or a "tourist gimmick."

"There's nothing wrong with old-school, in my opinion, if it's done right," she said.

Rustic Goat pastry chef Lindsay Kucera thinks baked Alaska isn't as timely as it used to be -- kind of like a molded Jell-O dessert. Kucera doesn't think it's complicated to make, but that it can be "fussy," with multiple components, including ice cream.

Kucera has had many baked Alaskas over the years, some good and others not. Don't expect to see it on the Rustic Goat dessert menu anytime soon.

"I believe in simple, high-quality ingredients made into comforting, invigorating dishes," she wrote in an email. "Something about the baked Alaska doesn't fit that bill for me."

There is one place in Southcentral Alaska you can find it -- though it comes with a twist.

At Alyeska Resort, a "baked Alyeska" is the resort's most popular dish. Executive pastry chef Scott Fausz said they make 500 of the desserts at a time several times a week, transforming the entire Alyeska pastry kitchen into an assembly line of mousse, chocolate and fluffy meringue.

It's a lot of work, he said, but it's popular: The resort serves about 125 of the desserts each day during summer months.

While some local restaurants occasionally have baked Alaskas on their menus, Alyeska seems to be the only place in Southcentral Alaska that serves the dish as a regular feature. Executive chef Jason Porter said it has been served in some form since the resort opened. The finished dessert, with its snow-like texture, is supposed to represent Mount Alyeska. Their version even has sugar crystal "northern lights" topping it.

Fausz thinks one of the reasons it's not on more menus is that it's complicated to make, with numerous components that all must be made individually.

Fausz, a longtime pastry chef who once taught at Le Cordon Bleu, said that even in the Lower 48, baked Alaskas are a rare find.

"Outside of a cruise ship environment, I've never seen one on a restaurant menu," Fausz said.

But maybe that won't be for long.

"There are numerous ways we could reimagine it, reenergize it. Maybe I will one of these days. Who knows?" Kucera wrote.

"It sure has an interesting story and history," Dixon wrote. "Let's bring the baked Alaska back!"

[Want to try your hand at making a baked Alyeska? Get the recipe here.]

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