The cake is made with blueberry, vanilla and strawberry ice cream (blue, white and red are the colors of the French flag). It can be homemade or store-bought, which isn’t a compromise. If you’re using homemade ice cream, you can spread it into the loaf pan — your mold for the dessert — straight from the churn. If what you’ve got came from the freezer, cut it into chunks, turn it into a bowl and go at it with a wooden spoon or a sturdy flexible spatula. Pound and mash and mush, and no matter how satisfying it feels, stop when it’s soft enough to spread. You’re going to freeze each layer, and you don’t want to lose the ice cream’s texture before you get it back into the freezer. If you want the blueberry ice cream to be a truer blue, mix in some freeze-dried blueberry powder to get the color you want. (Food coloring works, too — you can even use it to color vanilla ice cream if you can’t find blueberry.) The vanilla ice cream gets mashed with shredded coconut for flavor and chew and another soupçon of surprise. The final layer, the strawberry ice cream, is twice as tall as the others — it’s a great look — and gets run through with fresh berries. It can also take some coloring. Finish with a cushion of ladyfingers, then freeze.
Now, the best part. Once you’ve warmed the egg whites and sugar and beaten them to shiny, stiff peaks, unmold the ice cream loaf and smooth, slather or swish the meringue over the cake. Traditionally the meringue on top is spread in thick swirls or piped into pristine patterns, but that’s not the way Zoë does it. She grabs small gobs of the glossy meringue, pops them onto the cake and then pulls the meringue with her fingers into spikes and points, willy-nilly, asymmetrical, wild and wonderful.
I know I said that the meringue was the best part, but the flaming’s pretty spectacular. To brown the spikes and spindles, either warm some liqueur in a pan, set it aflame and pour the blazing booze over the frozen cake, or take a torch to it (a small, easy-to-handle kitchen torch is ideal). When the applause subsides, all that’s left is to pour Champagne and toast Sister André. It’s what Zoë and I will be doing every year.
Recipe: Birthday Baked Alaska
Dorie Greenspan is an Eat columnist for the magazine. She has won five James Beard Awards. Her new cookbook, “Baking With Dorie: Sweet, Salty & Simple,” will be published in October.