Sarah Bird’s Baked Alaska: Last Dance at the Starlight Pier

I can’t stand novels where the characters never eat! Think of how much we learn about new acquaintances from what and how they eat. For example, does she pick at a salad or wolf down meatball sandwiches? Why would an author deny us that insight? Given that Last Dance on the Starlight Pier is set during the Great Depression, food takes on an even greater significance. In the opening chapter, hunger drives my protagonist, Evie Grace, to make the decisions she does.

While Evie Grace and most of the country struggled to get enough to eat—standing in bread lines and inventing recipes like Mock Apple Pie that substituted Ritz crackers for more expensive fruit—she also experienced another world that remained untouched by hard times. This was the darkly glamorous world of the Galveston crime family that was so successful it kept the Texas Island immune from both Prohibition and the Depression.

In this world, swanky cocktails like the French 75 were popular drinks to accompany equally swanky appetizers like oysters and cucumber sandwiches. But the pièce de resistance—the ultimate in luxury dining —was Baked Alaska. I have a deep sentimental attachment to this dessert. Invented in 1867 at Delmonico’s in honor of the Alaska Purchase, it enjoyed a resurgence in 1959 when Alaska was granted statehood. That is when my mother made it for her awe-struck family. She covered the magnificent concoction of ice cream and pound cake with decadent mounds of meringue toasted to a golden brown. But the most spectacular part was that she had embedded clean eggshells in the meringue, filled them with warm brandy, and, in the darkened dining room, lit the brandy on fire, the blue flames dancing across the white peaks of meringue. It made such an impression that I decided to bake one into my novel and present it to Evie Grace at her moment of triumph.

It was a wonderful surprise when I discovered that Baked Alaska, renamed Baked Texas, was the signature dish at the poshest of all Galveston’s clubs, the Hollywood Dinner Club where the novel’s grand finale is set. The club was a well-known hot spot for fine dining, world-class entertainment, gambling, and bootleg liquor. If you want to really wow your book club, a Baked Alaska would be hard to top. It certainly beats Mock Apple Pie! Enjoy this easy version of the recipe.
-Sarah Bird

Book Club Buzz: Author menu, note


10 servings

Prep Time

40 mins

Cook Time

40 mins

Sarah Bird’s Baked Alaska: Last Dance at the Starlight Pier

Recipe from
The ice cream needs to be rock solid before covering with the meringue. Be careful when cutting: Baked Alaska will be frozen and hard when you cut into it.

For the filling
  • Vegetable or canola oil, for oiling the bowl
  • 2 pints ice cream any flavors
  • 1½ quarts ice cream any flavor
  • 1 loaf pound cake
For the meringue
  • 4 egg whites room temperature
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 cup superfine sugar 
To make the filling
  1. LIghtly coat an 8- to 9-inch-wide bowl with vegetable or canola oil. Line the bowl with plastic wrap, leaving several inches of overhang around the edges.
  2. Place the ice cream in the fridge for 20 to 30 minutes or soft enough to very easily scoop, but not runny. Slice the pound cake into ½-inch-thick pieces.
  3. When the ice cream is soft, place alternating scoops of the various ice cream flavors in the lined bowl, reserving half of the 1.5-quart flavor. Press a piece of plastic wrap to the top of the ice cream scoops and gently press down to fill in any gaps between the scoops. Smooth out the top. Freeze for 15 to 20 minutes or until the top is mostly firm. Return the remaining ice cream to the fridge while the bowl freezes.
  4. Once mostly firm, remove the plastic and spread the remaining ice cream over the mixed scoops. Place pound cake slices on top, making sure they fit snugly together. Cut some of the pound cake to fill in any gaps, as needed. (There will probably be some cake leftover.) Fold the excess plastic wrap up over the cake to cover and freeze until solid, about 2 to 4 hours or up to 1 week.
To make the meringue
  1. When ready to serve, place the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whip attachment. Beat on medium speed until frothy and doubled in volume, about 2 minutes. Very slowly add in the sugar while beating. Once added, continue beating until stiff and glossy, about 6 more minutes.
For the Assembly
  1. Remove the bowl of ice cream from the freezer and unwrap the bottom. Place a large plate on top and flip to invert, using the excess parchment to help release the ice cream from the bowl. Once inverted, carefully remove the plastic from the ice cream.
  2. Spread or pipe the meringue all over the ice cream, making sure that it is completely covered and touching the plate, creating a seal. Using a kitchen torch, brown the meringue. Serve immediately. Loosely cover any leftovers with plastic wrap and freeze for up to 1 week.