Food historians generally credit French chef Auguste Escoffier for creating Cherries Jubilee to mark Queen Victoria’s Jubilee celebration—although there is some confusion as to whether it was intended for her Golden Jubilee in 1887 or her Diamond Jubilee in 1897.
Nowadays, there are countless variations to this recipe, but most are similar in preparation to a pie filling: pitted cherries, sugar, spice and butter, thickened with cornstarch. The fruit mixture is typically doused with Cognac or Kirsch, flambéed (or ignited) and served with ice cream or cake.
Pastry Chef Peter Max Dierkes of Rat’s Restaurant at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, N.J., encourages caution when making this delicious fiery finale. Early in Dierkes’ career as an apprentice at a private country club, he witnessed a manager attempt to make Cherries Jubilee for an audience of 16 board members. When the liquor was added, the flame rode up the pouring stream of alcohol and back into the bottle. Thankfully, it didn’t explode; instead, it burst a spectacular roaring blue flame about 8 feet long down the center of the table. “Cherries Jubilee was quickly banned from the menu,” he says.
Although the whole fiery affair of making this dessert may seem to defy the laws of thermodynamics, it doesn’t take special skills to pull off this feat of culinary showmanship—just some basic safety precautions. Make sure your hair is pulled back and sleeves are rolled up before you dim the lights for your dramatic presentation.
Recipe courtesy of Pastry Chef Peter Max Dierkes of Rat’s Restaurant at Grounds for Sculpture, Hamilton, N.J.
2 pounds sweet cherries, pitted and halved
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup kirsch or cognac
Vanilla ice cream (enough for eight 1/2-cup scoops)
1. Sprinkle sweet cherries with 1 tablespoon sugar and let stand about 30 minutes to draw out the juices. Pour off the juice into a medium saucepan.
2. Mix 1 tablespoon cornstarch with 1 tablespoon sugar. Add to juice and stir to combine. Add butter and about one-fourth of the cherries and mix well. Cook over low heat until sugar has dissolved.
3. Add remaining cherries and bring mixture to a boil. While pan is hot, remove it from the stove. (“Important step here, unless you want to burn down the neighborhood,” says Dierkes.) Add the liquor. If your pan is hot enough, the liquor should ignite when you return it to the stove (if you are cooking on an electric stove, use a stick lighter or a long kitchen match). Gently shake pan over hot burner until flames die out. Much, but not all, of the alcohol will burn off.
4. Serve warm over a scoop of ice cream. Serves 8.
Per serving: 260 calories, 10g fat, 35mg chol., 4g prot., 37g carbs., 3g fiber, 55mg sodium.
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Photo credit: Mark Boughton Photography; styling by Teresa Blackburn