A while back, I wrote about sweet cherry season and a request for cherries jubilee. I wound up making a cherry galette instead, with the promise that if there were cherries still around I would make cherries jubilee for the next Sunday family dinner. Cherries are still around at the market, so here’s cherries jubilee, flames and all. It is said that the dish was invented by the famous chef, Escoffier, for a dinner celebrating the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. That was in the era when flames at tableside were considered very fancy. Inventions of the time included Crepes Suzette and Baked (or Bombe) Alaska.
The next rush of flambéing was in the middle of the twentieth century with its epicenter in New York City and the restaurants favored by “cafe society”. Steak Diane made its appearance then, as did Bananas Foster (invented in New Orleans), After that, fashion moved on and the popularity of tableside service, especially with leaping flames, virtually disappeared. I am not certain, but I think there may be a resurgence of interest; at least in our family there has been a recurring request.
There are many recipes for cherries jubilee on the internet, and there are lots of variations: most call for fresh cherries, but you can make cherries jubilee with canned cherries, ready-made cherry pie filling or even cherry Jello. The best version that I could find, and the one that seemed most likely to be true to the original was that recorded by Ethan Becker in his revision of The Joy of Cooking. I used that recipe as a template with my own revisions. The result turned out to be a celebratory conclusion to our last family dinner. The good news is that no one was burned, and the smoke alarms did not go off. As an aside, to be fool-proof, you should heat the brandy before you try to light it, but be gentle with the heating to avoid burning yourself.
- 4 cups ripe sweet cherries
- ¼ cup Kirsch
- ¾ cup turbinado sugar
- juice of 1 lemon, strained
- ¼ cup brandy
- Wash and pit the cherries. In a large bowl, combine them with the Kirsch, cover and refrigerate for 6 hours, gently stirring occasionally.
- When you are ready to serve, transfer the Kirsch-soaked cherries to a chafing dish or large flat-bottomed pan along with the sugar and lemon juice. Over medium-low heat, heat the mixture until the cherries release their juices and the sugar is dissolved. Continue to simmer until the sauce is slightly thickened.
- In the meantime, heat the brandy in a small saucepan over low heat. Do not boil. Light the heated brandy by tilting the pan slightly over the flame or with a long match or fireplace lighter. Pour the flaming brandy over the cherries and allow the flames to extinguish themselves. After the flames have died down, stir the mixture gently.
- Serve immediately over individual bowls of vanilla ice cream. Serves 6.