A simple chocolate cake topped with your choice of ice cream – which is then smothered with soft meringue and lashings of chocolate sauce. Surely this 70s classic is due a revival?
Equipment and preparation: you will need a 1 litre/1¾ pint pudding basin (20cm/8in in diameter), a 20cm/8in round cake tin and a flat baking tray.
For the base, line the pudding basin with two layers of cling film, leaving enough hanging over the edge to cover the sides of the basin.
Place the ice cream in the basin (you may need to allow it to soften for a few minutes, but don't let it melt) and press down to get a smooth surface , giving it a few gentle bangs to help remove any air holes. Cover the top with the cling film and return it to the freezer.
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4, butter the sides of the cake tin and line the base with a disc of baking parchment.
Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water. Leave until just melted, stirring occasionally, then remove from the heat and set aside.
In a large bowl or in an electric food mixer, cream the butter until soft. Add the sugar and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. Gradually add the eggs to the creamed butter mixture, beating all the time.
Beat in the melted chocolate, then gently fold in the flour until combined.
Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
Remove the cake from the oven and turn the temperature up to 220C/425F/Gas 7 (if cooking the meringue straight away).
Allow the cake to cool down in the tin for 10 minutes, then loosen around the edges with a small, sharp knife and carefully remove the cake. Place on a wire rack to cool down fully.
For the meringue, in a large, spotlessly clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks when the whisk is removed.
Add half of the caster sugar and the cream of tartar and whisk until stiff peaks form when the whisk is removed and the meringue is satiny and glossy. Fold in the remaining sugar with a metal spoon or spatula.
For the chocolate sauce, place the cream in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the chocolate and stir until just melted, then add the rum or brandy (if using). Set aside until ready to serve (reheat the sauce gently if needed).
To assemble, once the cake has cooled, place it in the middle of a baking tray (one that is completely flat, with no 'lip', so that the baked Alaska can be removed easily).
Take the ice cream out of the freezer. With the help of the cling film, remove the ice cream from the pudding bowl and place it upside down on the cake, remove all the cling film.
Quickly spoon over the meringue, spreading it thickly and in peaks over the ice cream and the sides of the cake right down to the baking tray. You can cook the baked Alaska immediately or you can return it to the freezer for up to an hour (it will take an extra 3-4 minutes in the oven if cooking from frozen).
Place in the centre of the hot oven for 3-4 minutes or until the meringue is set on the outside and golden in colour.
Carefully transfer the baked Alaska to a serving plate, using a palette knife dipped in hot water to help you slide and push it onto the plate.
Serve immediately with the chocolate sauce.
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James is joined by world-class chefs Claude Bosi, Daniel Clifford and Elena Arzak.
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