This recipe celebrates one of the first – and sweetest – harbingers of spring: local strawberries.

Here I’ve gussied them up quite a bit by borrowing from an old-fashioned dessert called Baked Alaska, the basics of which are spongecake and ice cream frosted with a thick layer of meringue and briefly set under the broiler. A generation ago, Baked Alaska was as much showbiz as it was dessert, doused in alcohol and set aflame just before your cruise-ship waiter paraded it through the dining room and landed it on your table with a flourish.

I’ve kept the ice cream, swapped out the cake for the crushed cookie of your choice (I chose gingersnaps), added strawberries to the mix and finished it with the key ingredient: meringue, aka beaten egg whites and sugar.

A few notes about making a successful stiff meringue: First, the fresher the egg whites, the better; fresh egg whites produce more volume. Second, let the whites come to room temperature before beating. Third, be sure to beat the whites in a small clean bowl, preferably stainless steel, because any kind of fat will deflate them. Finally, add the sugar slowly in a steady stream. After the sugar is added, keep beating until the peaks are stiff.

This is a relatively simple dessert to make, not least because we have dispensed with the pyrotechnics. I promise your guests will be wowed without them.


Servings: 4

1/2 cup vanilla ice cream

10 medium to large strawberries

1 large egg white at room temperature

Pinch of cream of tartar

3 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon sugar, divided

1 1/2 teaspoons Grand Marnier or balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup crushed gingersnaps or cookies of your choice

Mint sprigs for garnish

Using a melon baller, scoop out 12 balls from the container of ice cream, put them on a plate, cover them with plastic wrap and freeze them while you prepare the rest of the recipe.

Cut off the leaves from the top of each strawberry. Cut 4 of the strawberries into 1/4-inch pieces and in a bowl toss them with 1/2 teaspoon sugar and the Grand Marnier. Halve the remaining strawberries lengthwise and, using a melon baller, scoop out a hollow on the cut side of each strawberry half. Cut a tiny sliver off the other side of each strawberry half so the half will lay flat when the cut side is up.

In a small bowl beat the egg white on medium speed with electric beaters. When it is foamy add the cream of tartar. Continue beating the egg white until it holds soft peaks. Slowly add the remaining 3 tablespoons sugar in a stream, beating the whole time. Increase the speed to high and continue beating until the meringue holds stiff peaks.

Preheat the broiler. Arrange the strawberries on a rimmed sheet pan with 2 or 3 inches between them. Fill the hollow of each strawberry half with a ball of ice cream. Working quickly, spoon the meringue over the ice cream and top of the cut strawberry, making little peaks with the meringue if desired.

Place the sheet pan on a rack set 6 inches from the broiler and broil the strawberries for 45 seconds to 1 minute or until the meringue is lightly browned. Transfer 3 strawberries to each of 4 plates. Spoon a mound of the marinated strawberries next to them, sprinkle the cookie crumbs over the plate and garnish with mint. Serve right away.

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