Edible DIY: Flambé
In the beginning, there was fire. Ever since our ancestors began to harness the power of the flame to cook food nearly 2 million years ago, we’ve been evolving into a species whose heart is never far from the hearth. Regardless of how refined our cooking techniques become, elements of that basic incendiary nature remain, and never is it more evident than when we ignite a splash of alcohol in a pan and applaud the spectacle that is flambéed food.
Flambé, translated from French as “flamed,” came into fashion in the 19th century as the first culinary artists crafted a cuisine catering to royalty and an elite class seeking sophisticated dining experiences outside the home. Hotel chefs in London were flaming everything from omelets to steak and fruit — whether by accident or intent, in some cases, is still debated.
The father of modern foodie culture, French chef Auguste Escoffier, created Cherries Jubilee to commemorate Queen Victoria’s 50th year as a monarch in 1887. The dessert consisted of fresh cherries tossed in sugar and cherry brandy, then warmed and set ablaze to burn off some of the booze and marry the simple flavors. Fast forward to the 1950s, and the dish had crossed the Atlantic to the U.S., where it caught fire as a way to impress guests at dinner parties in the cocktail era. Leave it to us to up the ante (and the fat quotient) by serving our flaming cherries atop vanilla ice cream.
While Cherries Jubilee fell out of fashion, other flambéed desserts followed in its footsteps: the ever popular New Orleans-borne Bananas Foster (bananas flamed in rum), Pêches Louis (peaches blazed in whiskey), and the enduring monument to frozen tundra and scorched meringue that is Baked Alaska, which can be made from any ice cream flavor and doused with a complimentary liquor.
When mid-summer hits Northeast Florida, it’s the perfect opportunity to wow guests at your backyard BBQ with locally harvested stone fruits and berries lightly sugared and set ablaze with your favorite adult libation. We love the seasonal pairing of peaches and blackberries or blueberries. These fruits release their true flavor essence easily with quick-cooking techniques and just a touch of sugar and spice. What better salve for the Southern soul and summer heat than flash-cooked peaches ignited by the warm vanilla tones of an aged bourbon, gently cooling in a bowl of slow-melting gelato?
TIPS AND TOOLS TO AVOID DANGEROUS PYROTECHNICS
● Use a long-handled sauté pan and a stick lighter to keep a safe distance from flames.
● Always decant the liquor before adding to the hot fruit. Don’t pour straight from the bottle, or a flame could ignite the entire bottle and cause an explosion.
● Stand back. Don’t lean in to see if the pan is flaming.
● Use a liquor you would enjoy drinking and one that isn’t much more than 80 proof. Higher alcohol content will cause bigger flames but also increase the fire hazard and not lend to the flavor of the dish.
● Make sure your liquor has a chance to get warm before igniting or you may drown your fruit and not catch any fire. Adding room temperature alcohol to simmering fruit and sugar should ensure you’re at the right temperature to light.
● Flambéeing only burns off about 25 percent of alcohol, so if alcohol consumption is a concern, allow the dish to cook longer or consider this an adult dessert and use parental discretion!