Kitchen Accomplice- Cherries Jubilee

Editor’s Note: The following dessert was featured at the Ypsilanti Freight House dinner prepared by retired Judge Kirkendall. See today’s front page.

   There is something about fire!  It fascinates and mesmerizes.  
   Back when I was living at home in a very small town, when a siren was heard everyone I knew would rush to the telephone to call “central” to find out where the fire was. 
   And many would go to the site to see what was happening.  My dad, a volunteer firefighter, was not entirely pleased with the phenomenon.  It tended to impede the work of the firefighters but certainly there was nothing malicious intended. 
   It was just that the fire itself caused people to stare in wonder –or to gawk, as he would say.
   But there were benefits.  If a house or barn were destroyed neighbors and fire watchers were quick to assist.
   I am reminded of all this as I ignite Cherries Jubilee at the dining room table.  It causes the same sense of wonder and awe.  But, unlike small town fires, at the conclusion, if done properly, there is no damage – with the possible exception to your diet.
   But there are secrets to success.  At first, you may not feel inclined to perform in front of your guests.  However, the showmanship is very much a part of a flaming dessert. 
   And it is a part of the dessert your guests will enjoy most of all.  A fiery pan and a chef spooning flames over a chilled dessert will cause ooh’s and aah’s from all but the most jaded of guests.  Use a serving dish that can tolerate the flames.
   I like to have a tableside stand on which to place the heat source.  You want something that can heat up what is in your pan.  There are very clever sterno type devices available with adjustable flames. 
   Years ago, when I was teaching at a cooking school in Ann Arbor, I purchased a French copper rechaud.  Its heat source is denatured alcohol.  I bought it for a price I thought was crazy at the time, some $150 at the discount I was given.  Just for kicks, I looked it up as I was writing this.  It is now $500.
   However, a presentable pan and an intense, adjustable heat source are all you need to make this a beautiful presentation.
   Most recipes will call for brandy. You need something in addition to that.
   Standing in front of a dining room of expectant guests with the lights dimmed – waiting for a wonderful flame can be embarrassing if nothing happens. 
   The trick here is to use 151 proof rum, poured from a small pitcher and not from the bottle to avoid the Molotov cocktail effect.  About half a cup is plenty.  It is your fire insurance! 
   Watch your eyebrows and the dining room curtains!  This baby will flame. 
   I like to keep a dampened towel in a plastic bag and a fire extinguisher within reach and out of sight.  I have never been called upon to use them but stranger things have happened.
 

Cherries Jubilee
Ingredients:

  1/2 cup white sugar
  2 tablespoons cornstarch
  1/4 cup water
  1/4 cup orange juice
  1 pound Bing or other dark, sweet cherries, rinsed and pitted (or use frozen pitted cherries)
  1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
  1/4 teaspoon cherry extract
  1/4 cup brandy
   1/2 cup 151 proof rum
  3 cups vanilla ice cream, slightly softened, in fireproof bowls

Preparation:
   In advance: whisk together the sugar and cornstarch in a wide saucepan. Stir in the water and orange juice; bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking until thickened.
   Stir in the cherries and orange zest, return to a boil, then reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.
   Remove the cherries from the heat.  Reserve cherries at room temperature until time to prepare the dessert at the table. 
   Place rum, brandy and cherry extract in a small pitcher and put at the tableside stand.
   At the table: place the Cherries Jubilee mixture over the flame source.  When it bubbles, stir in the cherry extract, brandy and rum, wait a moment and ignite with a long lighter.
   It is likely you will not even need the lighter.  Tilting the pan toward the flame will usually result in instant combustion.
   After a minute or so, scoop the cherries, blue flame and all, over ice cream.


Judge Kirkendall is a retired probate judge. 
He has taught cooking classes for more than 25 years at various cooking schools in the Ann Arbor area and has himself attended classes at Cordon Bleu and La Varenne in Paris, as well as schools in New York, New Orleans and San Francisco. 
He is past president of the National College of Probate Judges and can be reached at  Judgejnk@yahoo.com.

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