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.
—By Charyn Pffeufer