FOOD & DRINK / A-Z of Treats: Norwegian Omelette

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N is for Norwegian Omelette in our alphabet of sweet indulgences - or Omelette a la Norvegienne. This is the very dish the Americans believe they invented in the 1890s, Baked Alaska, which is as much a national dessert to them as Pavlova cake is to New Zealanders.

The French were first to seize on the recipe. Baron Bresse, writing the food column of Liberte in the mid 19th century, revealed that it was a Chinese invention. He tells how, on a visit to the Chinese Mission in Paris, in 1862, 'The French chef . . . has learnt from his Chinese colleague a method of baking vanilla and ginger ices in the oven.'


Serves 4-6

1 sponge cake, 20cm/8in across

3/4 litre/1 1/2 pints vanilla ice cream

4 egg whites

100g/3oz caster sugar

1/2 teaspoon tartaric acid

1/2 glass brandy or Calvados

You need to use a grill which leaves a clearance of several inches so you can place the dish underneath. Get the grill really hot, at full heat for 10 minutes at least. (You can, alternatively, use a very hot oven; put it on at least 20 minutes beforehand.)

Lay the sponge in a dish 25cm/10in wide to leave a gap all round. Sprinkle with brandy or Calvados. On a base of kitchen foil, shape the ice-cream into a high mound 18cm/7in across, so that it doesn't reach the sides of the sponge. Re-freeze the ice-cream.

Whisk the egg whites to a froth, beat in the tartaric acid and half the sugar, then whisk into stiff peaks. Fold in the rest of the sugar.

Transfer the ice-cream on to the base quickly, and using a spatula or the back of a spoon, spread the egg white mixture over the top as evenly as you can, providing, in effect, insulation for the ice-cream.

Place under the grill for three or four minutes until the meringue topping turns a pale brown. Alternatively, pop it into the oven, standing the dish in a larger dish part-filled with cold water.