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Famed French chef Georges Auguste Escoffier had a long association with England, working with César Ritz of the Ritz Hotel empire to make The Savoy Hotel in London an unparalleled success with royals and the wealthy in the 1890s. Knowing of Queen Victoria’s fondness for cherries, Escoffier set to work creating a special dessert for her Diamond Jubilee in 1897. To make it, he poached cherries in sugar syrup, reduced and thickened the juice with arrowroot, placed the mixture in silver timbales, and set them aflame with heated Kirsch.
Soon after, Escoffier started serving the delicious mixture over vanilla ice cream. Dubbed Cherries Jubilee, the dessert became popular in America, peaking in the 1950’s when showy tableside flambeeing was a hallmark of fine dining. Adapted by home cooks for their dinner parties, the recipe was simplified, skipping the thickening step, and substituting rum for kirsch. A little lemon zest and juice also became part of the sauce.
But if you’d like a thicker sauce that won’t immediately melt the ice cream, prepare it a day ahead of time. Pour some of cooked cherry liquid into a shallow dish, holding the cherries back with a slotted spoon. Left to sit in the dish, the sauce will set up and thicken with no need to add cornstarch or thickeners. After pouring the thickened sauce over the ice cream, you can add the cherries, warmed or at room temperature, over all.
- 1 lb. fresh Bing cherries, washed well, and pitted (Note: Use of a cherry pitter will speed the pitting process immensely)
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 tsp very-finely grated zest from ½ a fresh lemon (I use a microplane)
- 3 tsp juice from the fresh lemon half
- 1/3 cup golden rum
- 4 generous scoops vanilla ice cream
- Place the cherries, sugar, lemon zest and juice in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan over medium heat. Stir until the sugar begins to melt. Turn heat to low and cover pot, simmering cherries for 1 to 2 more minutes until cherries have released juice and are tender, but still holding shape. Remove pan from heat. Pour the rum over the cherries. Using a long match, carefully light the alcohol which will burn with blue flames. (Careful—the flames are nearly invisible.) Once the alcohol has burned off, fill the bottom of four parfait glasses or cups with a little of the cherries and juice. Top with ice cream. Pour a bit of sauce and a few more cherries over of each serving. Note: For a thicker sauce that won’t immediately melt the ice cream, prepare it a day ahead of time. Pour some of cooked cherry liquid into a shallow dish, holding the cherries back with a slotted spoon. Left to sit in the dish a few hours, the sauce will set up and thicken with no need to add cornstarch or thickeners. For service, after pouring the thickened sauce over the ice cream, you can add the cherries, warmed or at room temperature, over all.
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