When Mardi Gras "roulez-s" around, I'm reminded to give a nod to Anna Laura Squalls, head baker at the Pontchartrain Hotel from 1960-1985. Squalls' ingenuity is responsible for elevating Baked Alaska to the iconic Seven Mile High Pie. A gravitational wonder composed of vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and peppermint ice creams, it was blanketed in torched meringue then drizzled with chocolate sauce. Mile High Pie stands tall on my list of indelible food memories from the Pontchartrain's Caribbean Room.
For breakfast, the hotel's Silver Whistle Coffee Shop served muffins bursting with blueberries. Most mornings before hopping the street car to the Saenger Theatre, I bought one muffin, still warm, tucked inside a waxy bakery bag. Diligently breaking off small pieces, the challenge was making it last for the duration of the trip from the Garden District to Canal and Carondelet. I was introduced to Squalls on my first day at the hotel and would wave and say good morning whenever I caught a glimpse of her in the kitchen. Very much the driving force behind the hotel's iconic baked goods and desserts, I was a little in awe of her but she was warm and engaging. Revered by the staff and the guests with good reason, she was a female culinary icon who sadly received far less recognition on the national and world culinary stages than she deserved. I think about her with the same sort of affection I felt for Jessie who had such a mastery of kitchen knowledge and innovation, a skilled trouble shooter and creative. I'm pretty sure both women would have advised me to leave the ice cream pie in the freezer (at the very least) overnight before slicing it with a hot knife. (Neither freezer patience nor waiting for chocolate sauce to cool is among my strong suits, as evident in the photo.) Squalls' addition of peppermint ice cream ends this dessert on a jazzy note; refreshing but not overly minty.
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Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm