Oh, man, remember those hot sticky summer days of your childhood, all the cousins and neighbor kids tearing through the yard chasing after June bugs fueled on nothing but sun and popsicles? Those fabulously long summer days culminating with a big family dinner -- a clambake or lobster boil or weenie roast -- and all topped off with that most special of special desserts, Aunt Ida's smooth, tart, oven-defying ice cream treat, Baked Florida?
Of course you don't. I made it up.
Yet, my friends, just like climate change, Baked Florida is real. And you're going to love it.
First, the back story:
My dear friend Quinten is, like me, a connoisseur of unusual desserts. But also, like me, he's more a pie person than a cake kind of guy. Q's from St. Pete, Fla., and on his birthday, what he would routinely request was a classic key lime pie. I was always all too happy to oblige him, as a slice of cool key lime pie does go down awfully nicely on a warm day, and it's ridiculously easy to make. (Every can of condensed milk has more or less the same recipe on the inside of the label. Which poses the questions: Which came first, sweetened condensed milk or key lime pie?)
Back to our story. After several years of making Quinten his beloved birthday pie, I began to tire of the routine. So one year, I found myself in the kitchen with all the pie ingredients positively hungering for something new, a challenge. Coincidentally, I had recently purchased one of those nifty Cuisinart ice cream makers and had been regularly adding to my bottom line with a steady diet of delicious homemade ice creams. Then lightning struck: What if I put the pie filling in the ice cream maker instead of the oven?
What if, after freezing, I topped my ice cream pie with meringue and gave it the Baked Alaska treatment -- 10 minutes in the oven at 425º? Thus was born this humble yet glorious culinary mash-up: Baked Florida.
It has all the hallmarks that make Baked Alaska such a treasure; it's rare, elegant, and has that playful element of surprise that comes from pulling a cool ice cream treat from a piping hot oven. But handily, it also has all the winning traits that make Quinten lust after key lime pie; it's tart, creamy and surprisingly easy to pull off.
So here you go, just in time for this summer of overheated auguries, a season crying out for lightness and adaptation: Baked Florida, my favorite ice cream dessert, where the freezer and the oven duke it out and the freezer is the champ.
The ice cream:
A classic key lime pie is essentially a custard where the acid from the lime juice curdles the egg yolks and condensed milk. (Think of it as kind of a dessert ceviche.) A quick trip to the oven firms things up. The first iteration of Baked Florida, though delicious, was a little more icy than creamy so I borrowed from a more typical custard ice cream recipe and added heavy cream. The lime juice still does most of the work but instead of a trip to the oven, a few minutes on a stove top will get your custard ready for the ice cream freezer.
- 2 cups of heavy cream
- 6 egg yolks (save the whites for later)
- 1 15-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk
- ½ cup of fresh lime juice (about 8-10 key limes or 3 large limes)
- the zest of two limes
- First, line a medium-size metal or glass bowl with plastic wrap and put in the freezer.
- Over medium low heat, gently bring 1 ½ cups of the heavy cream to a simmer.
- In a bowl, gradually beat the hot cream into the egg yolks. When smooth, return the mixture to the stove and, stirring constantly with a whisk, heat the custard until it starts to thicken.
- Be careful not to let the custard stick or overcook. You'll end up with curdled muck. If you've maintained a smooth mix, remove from the stove and pour into a medium-size bowl. If your custard is starting to get lumpy, don't despair. Just force it through a mesh sieve into the bowl and you'll be fine.
- Let the custard cool a bit and then mix in one at a time: the lime juice, the sweetened condensed milk and the ½ cup of remaining heavy cream. Chill for at least 2 hours. If you're in a hurry, half an hour in the freezer will work, as long as you don't let it start to ice.
- Once thoroughly chilled, pour the custard into your ice cream maker and have at it.
- The ice cream will be ready when it's the consistency of soft serve. Sprinkle the lime zest over the top and fold in with a few strokes of a spatula or wooden spoon.
- Next, transfer the ice cream to your plastic-lined bowl and smooth down flat with a rubber spatula. Cover with another layer of plastic wrap and freeze a minimum of 3 hours and a maximum of 8 -- any longer and you run the risk of getting icy cream.
Now, truthfully, there's a lot of leeway in what you use as your base. The key is you're making an insulating layer between the bottom of the ice cream and the oven. You can go with a round thin layer of sponge cake or angel food and, if doing so, for Pete's sake, use a mix. You could make a layer of shortbread baked in a round. But I think the simplest and tastiest match is to make a standard crumb crust. When I first made this dessert, I used Pepperidge Farms Lime Spritzers Cookies for my crumbs and the sweet tart taste was divine. But sadly, they are pretty difficult to find anymore (Amazon, you have failed me.) So try lemon coolers or standard graham crackers. Ginger snaps work great too -- really, any simple dry cookie that will complement a citrus dessert.
- 1 ½ cups cookie crumbs
- ¾ stick of melted butter (6 tablespoons)
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon lime zest to taste (optional)
- Pulverize your cookies in a food processor, then measure out the crumbs.
- Add the melted butter, sugar and, depending on the cookie you've chosen, additional lime or lemon zest. Process until mixed and then spread on the bottom of a 10-inch round springform pan.
- Using the bottom of a measuring cup (a big fat glass one works perfectly), tamp down the crumb mixture evenly across the pan. Unlike a cheesecake crust, you don't need to create a lip around the edge. A flat crust will work best.
- Instead of the oven, put the crust in the freezer. It will need at least a few hours to freeze.
- 6 egg whites, room temperature
- ½ teaspoon cream tartar
- ¾ cup of powdered or superfine sugar
- ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract
- Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar in a clean metal or glass bowl until soft peaks form. (Important: Make sure there is no grease in the bowl or on the beaters. Also be careful to remove any small bit of yolk that may have gotten in your whites. Fat will prevent the proteins of the egg whites from coagulating and you'll never get the height you want.)
- Gradually add the sugar, beating on high until you have stiff, glossy peaks.
- Quickly beat in the vanilla
- About 15 minutes before you'd like to serve your creation, crank up your oven to 425º. Remove the top oven rack so you have plenty of head room.
- This is as easy as pie but you you'll have to be quick or you'll end up with a big sticky mess. (Ask me about the time I attempted a working ice cream volcano to ring in the millennial New Year -- a complete Y2K disaster.)
- Remove your crumb base from the freezer and release the bottom of the spring-form from it's sides. Place it centered on a round pizza pan.
- Remove your ice cream bowl from the freezer. Loosen around the top edges with a thin spatula or knife then upend the bowl under running hot water for 30 seconds or so, using your hand to support the ice cream and plastic wrap underneath.
- When the ice cream mound is loosened free, use the underlying plastic wrap to upend directly on to your crumb base.
- Working quickly, use a spatula or cake knife to cover the ice cream and base with a thick layer of meringue. Without belaboring the process, try to have an even layer on all sides, making sure to create a seal around the bottom edge.
- Put in the very center of the oven on your lowest rack and bake 8-10 minutes, until you have a golden brown on most of the meringue.
- Remove from the oven, slide the cake round off the pizza pan onto a serving plate and -- voilà! -- there you have it, Baked Florida, just like Aunt Ida never made.
Serve immediately. Serves 8-12. If needed, this recipe doubles easily.
Variation: Now, if this isn't playful or creative enough for you and you want to make a political statement, consider dotting the pristine white meringue with little licorice tar balls.
Well, no, don't do that. Just make the Baked Florida as is and glory in the miracle of an ice cream dessert tailor-made for climate change.
Leftovers: There won't be any. But in the unlikely event, cover in plastic and pop it in the freezer. It'll makes a great starter for Baked Delaware.