Monday, July 12, 2010

Retro Desserts, Part V: Cherries Jubilee . . . with Pomegranate Juice & Grand Marnier

Last year, I did a little series of posts focusing on retro desserts. My desire was to zero in on a few of the more definitive desserts that Americans typically associate with the mid-20th century. Sweet and enduring dishes that, despite their lack of modern fashion sense, have managed to avoid full admittance into the dreaded Halls of Obsolescence. How did they escape that fate? By embedding themselves deeply into the treat-loving American psyche, that's how. We don't give up our heroes without a fight, and we obviously feel the same way about our best desserts.

In 2009, we talked here about banana cream pie beneath a snowy drift of whipped cream, triple-layer devil's food cake cloaked in chocolate buttercream, dark chocolate bread pudding, and well-stuffed faux Oreo cookies. It's been quite a while since the last retro post, so I figured it was time to add to the list. No time like the present!

Now, one could argue that cherries jubilee, though having enjoyed a decade or so of wild popularity in the U.S. about fifty years ago, doesn't really fit into the retro American category very neatly. I don't know about you, but my mom sure never made this stuff at home when I was a kid. Flaming food? If food ever caught on fire in our kitchen it didn't happen by design. That was too much pseudo-sophistication for a traditional Midwestern household in the 1960's.

But that's okay. I'm admittedly stretching my own guidelines a bit here. Though it's true I never ate this back then, it seems like every major cookbook I ever peeked into contained a recipe for it. Cherries jubilee, along with its sidekick baked Alaska and its exotic cousin crepes Suzette, popped up constantly and, if not necessarily on middle-class dinner tables, then in TV shows, in movies, in magazines, and on fancy restaurant menus. Somebody out there was eating it, and with good reason.

Of course, cherries jubilee is not at all American in origin. We have the legendary French chef and restaurateur Auguste Escoffier to thank for this beautiful, elegant, and relatively simple dish. He whipped it up in honor of Queen Victoria's "golden" or "diamond" jubilee celebration (exactly which event it was seems to be in question). Whether or not he ever served it over vanilla ice cream is sketchy at best, but that's the form in which it entered our culinary vernacular.

This particular version, which I've taken the liberty of calling my own, is . . . well . . . jubilant. Usually made with cherry brandy, aka kirsch (kirschwasser, literally translated as cherry water), or sometimes with the almond liqueur Amaretto, I instead used Grand Marnier, the bitter-orange based liqueur; it's an interesting alternative to kirschwasser, which doesn't seem to be easily accessible/affordable, in my neck of the woods.

Frequently augmented with almond extract, I left that out of my jubilee recipe entirely. Usually including cherry juice or a cherry juice blend, I chose to use POM Wonderful brand pomegranate juice instead and that worked really well. (Thanks very much to the POM Wonderful company for kindly sending me a free case of their superior juice! I love it!) Pomegranate juice looks and even tastes similar to cherry juice, so it was a natural choice.

Use the nicest, sweetest, ripe black cherries you can find in your jubilee--fresh vs. frozen if at all possible. If you use bad cherries in a recipe that features them, then all will be for naught, so be sure to taste those babies first!

My jubilee did not "flame" in the classic fashion, sadly. Maybe because I didn't add in the full recommended amount of brandy. I got just the tiniest flame out of mine, then it fizzled. Pfffftt. Like that. It seems that the flame concept is mostly for show and not much else, or so I am telling myself, but no matter. Flame or no flame, cherries jubilee is still wonderful.

Oh, and before I forget, this was made using the finest homemade vanilla ice cream recipe I've ever run across. Not unexpectedly, it's from David Lebovitz's book The Perfect Scoop. If it can be improved upon, I just don't know how. The texture is right on target in every way, and the flavor is exceptional.

I've made some sorry dud ice creams in my day, but this one was a huge hit here. My 17-year old son, Charlie, gave me a solid fist-pound directly upon tasting it. He said something like, "Mom, you may have finally cracked the ice cream code." I know it must be a blazing success if that kid will actually eat it with gusto.

The ice cream recipe below makes one scant quart and no more; it's very rich and ultra creamy. If you're serving a crowd, plan to make more than one batch!

Cherries Jubilee . . . with Pomegranate Juice & Grand Marnier

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

For the cherry sauce:

1 cup pomegranate juice (I recommend POM Wonderful brand)
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
4 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1 pinch ground cinnamon
About 4 cups of whole, sweet, fresh black cherries--pitted
2 Tbsp. to 4 Tbsp. Grand Marnier liqueur (Use up to 1/3 cup if you love this stuff; I used the lesser amount  because I didn't want to overwhelm the flavor of the cherries.)

In a medium sauce pan, stir together the sugar, cornstarch, and cinnamon. Add in the pomegranate juice and, on medium heat, stirring constantly, bring the mixture just to a boil. Immedately lower the heat. Simmer the sauce for a couple of minutes, still stirring constantly, just until it thickens enough to easily coat a wooden spoon. You want it to be about as thick as gravy, and no thicker; it needs to remain pourable.

Remove the pan from the heat and gently stir in all the cherries, to coat them. Set aside.

In another smaller pan, carefully warm the liqueur. It doesn't need to be hot--just warm. Now, pour the liqueur over the cherry mixture and immediately light it with a long match. If you time this well, and have your dishes of ice cream scooped and ready, the  cherry sauce can be spooned over the ice cream while it's still flaming, for a classic presentation. (I have yet to achieve this, so don't be discouraged!)

For the vanilla ice cream:

1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 cups heavy cream
pinch of salt
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
yolks from 6 large eggs
3/4 tsp. vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan, warm the milk, sugar, 1 cup of the cream, and the salt. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add them, along with the hull of the bean, into the warm mixture. Cover the pan and remove it from the heat; let it steep like that for 30 minutes.

Pour the remaining 1 cup of cream into a large bowl; set a fine mesh strainer on top of the bowl.

In a medium size bowl, whisk together the yolks. Slowly pour the warm mixture into the yolks, whisking constantly, then pour this all back into the medium size saucepan. Over medium heat, constantly stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan, heat the mixture until it thickens enough to coat a spatula. Pour this custard mixture through the strainer over the bowl of cream; stir it into the cream thoroughly. Put the vanilla bean into the custard and add in the vanilla extract. Cool it in its bowl, set over an ice bath (a larger bowl filled with ice).

Once cool, chill it completely in the refrigerator. When you're ready to churn the ice cream, remove the vanilla bean. Churn and then freeze the ice cream according to the manufacturer's instructions for your ice cream maker.

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(Hey--do you love POM Wonderful? Here are a couple of other great food bloggers' recent posts showing how they used their free POM juice! These are two of my favorite blogs . . . )
Day Dreamer Desserts
More Than a Mountful

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