Alton Brown's Party Baked Alaska Involves A Ridiculously Large Torch

Alton Brown, renowned chef and Food Network cooking icon, always has a few tricks up his sleeve, including apparently making giant versions of awe-inspiring restaurant desserts, like Baked Alaska. 

You may recognize Brown as the host of "Good Eats," a cooking show where he spent decades thrilling and educating audiences with his cooking expertise, quirky sense of humor, and deep dives into the history and science behind favorite foods. Though the beloved show's final episode aired in July 2021, it will live on forever in our hearts. Brown still makes appearances on TV — and in an episode of Food Network's popular cooking show "The Best Thing I Ever Made," he can be seen using a huge torch to make a party-sized Baked Alaska, and the results are toasty and terrific.

The torch Brown wields is nearly 3 feet long, requiring two hands and a 20-pound propane tank — much larger than a traditional kitchen torch, which is typically the size of a glue gun. But the extra firepower is necessary as Brown's extra-large Baked Alaska is the size of a full sheet cake, yielding up to 40 servings.

The story behind Baked Alaska

"One of the reasons that I like older, classical desserts is they tend to surprise people," Alton Brown explained in an interview on Food Network's popular cooking show "The Best Thing I Ever Made," discussing what he calls a real "show-stopper dessert": Baked Alaska. This decadent treat features layers of soft sponge cake and sweet ice cream covered with a thick dome of toasted meringue and is then "cooked."

Older and classical is a great way to describe Baked Alaska, with origins winding back to the 18th century. That's when scientist Sir Benjamin Thompson discovered that meringue is a fantastic insulator. It didn't take long for French chefs to start experimenting with this newfound knowledge, which lead to the creation of Baked Alaska's predecessor, Omelette Norwegge, in 1830.

The name "Baked Alaska" came a few decades later in 1867, from the mind of Charles Ranhofer. At the time, he was the pastry chef at Delmonico's Steakhouse in New York City. Ranhofer created an extravagant dessert consisting of walnut spice cake and banana ice cream that was completely ensconced in broiled meringue. He called the dish "Alaska, Florida," alluding to the extreme temperature differences in the ice cream and the torched meringue, as well as the historic Alaska Purchase Treaty that was ratified that same year.

Alton Brown's secret weapon brings on the heat

Baked Alaska is a time-intensive treat, so in the 1950s, when convenience became king, this labor of love lost its appeal. Yet, it's come back in style in recent years. So how does the acclaimed chef Alton Brown make a monstrous version of this decadent dessert?

"When you're making a party version of this, it's really a lot tougher to make unless you have a very, very big convection oven ... or a secret weapon," he said during his appearance on "The Best Thing I Ever Made."

Brown's recipe starts with homemade sheet cake and two flavors of ice cream, which he likes to make from scratch using liquid nitrogen instead of an ice cream maker. He then whips up an Italian meringue, then after everything has firmed up (the cake and ice cream in the freezer and the meringue in the fridge), Brown quickly builds the cake and ice cream innards and pipes on the meringue. Finally, he carries his creation outside to where the aforementioned secret weapon awaits: a Red Dragon Propane Torch.

Using a careful and constant sweeping motion, Brown evenly toasts the entire surface of the meringue in mere seconds, leaving behind a crispy and caramelized crust. He notes that if you don't have access to a heavy-duty torch, a regular kitchen torch or your oven's broiler will work just as well (but not be nearly as entertaining).