A Cherry Dessert Fit For A Queen

A bygone fruit sauce gets a savory update, just in time for the height of summer.

With summer in full swing, we’re celebrating one of our favorite fruits: cherries. We’ve partnered with Food52 to bring you fresh recipes, ideas, and cooking tips.

It’s a word that just sounds joyous—jubilee—one that evokes dancing outside under the stars, checkered napkins, hair tied in ribbons, and mounds of dessert just waiting to be had. A pretty dreamy vision, if you ask me. 

When did jubilee become a nickname for flambé?

Let's back up a minute, though: What is flambé—just a hoighty, en français culinary term? No, no—according to the culinary encyclopedia Larousse Gastronomique, flamber is the act of pouring spirit over food and then igniting it. (Both to enhance flavor and "demonstrate culinary showmanship," Larousse says.) This could be for anything savory or sweet, really. 



Flambé cherries with the precise control of induction heat on the Induction Cooktop.

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But the more typical application is sweet, yes—brandy, rum, kirsch, or whiskey is often the culprit of the flames, having been lit up in a "jubilee" table-side in the past—whiz-bang style—just before it hits the plate. This presentation was a delight in the 40s and 50s, not just in opulent, mid-century French restaurants, but at home, too. "What I have found is that its use in the home always seemed to follow the adaptation of a restaurant dish to home use," Matt Sartwell, Managing Partner and owner of Kitchen Arts and Letters, a culinary bookshop on New York City's Upper East Side, says.

But this flamboyant style has lagged behind in the decades since. So how does a dish like this come to prominence, to the point that when you hear its name you automatically presume its preparation or ingredients, even if you aren't sure of exactly what it is?

According to many, the origin of Cherries Jubilee was supposedly at Queen Victoria of England's Golden Jubilee—a celebration of her fiftieth year of reign in 1887. It was widely known, accounts say, that Victoria's favorite fruit was cherries, and that none other than Chef Auguste Escoffier developed the version we now know for this special occasion.

The food at these royal jubilees—held for important anniversaries for the throne, and therefore, not often—was indeed a form of pageantry: ox roasts, pounds of duck and lobster, luscious jellies and ice cream towers, breads and puddings, many molded into crowns or with initials of the king or queen. It seems to me that the rich, boozy sauce of Cherries Jubilee would not have been out of place. 

I got to thinking that this celebratory dish deserves a reemergence—and an update on the syrupy-sweet flavor it's become all-too-known for. The addition of fennel pumps up the texture, crisp and anise-flavored, and black pepper takes things savory, all laid out on creamy vanilla ice cream and a soft pound cake. A little queenly, if you ask me.

Cherries Jubilee With Fennel And Black Pepper

Cherries Jubilee is just that—an ecstatic mishmash of fruit and booze meant to be poured over ice cream or cake, or even both! I wanted a version with more depth, a little spice, and some herbal notes, so I tossed chopped fennel and black pepper into the mix. It did not disappoint.” – Samantha



1 tablespoon butter

1 ½ cups fresh cherries, pitted

¼ cup light brown sugar

¼ cup brandy

½ cup finely diced fennel

½ teaspoon freshly ground fennel seeds

Freshly ground black pepper


In a large skillet over medium heat, warm the butter. When the butter is hot and beginning to bubble, add the cherries. Cook, stirring occasionally, for approximately 5 minutes, until the cherries begin to soften and the skillet is substantially covered with the juice of the cherries. 

Add the brown sugar and stir with a rubber spatula until the sugar is fully dissolved. Add the brandy. (At this point, you have the option to light everything on fire. While this is traditionally done tableside for added effect at the end, here it provides a small amount of smokiness to the mix.) Cook the cherries until almost all of the alcohol has evaporated and the sauce in the skillet looks syrupy.

Add the diced fennel along with the ground fennel, and season with freshly ground black pepper. Remove the skillet from the heat and fold the fennel in with the warm cherries and syrup. Let the skillet sit undisturbed for 2 minutes, letting the residual heat from the skillet meld the flavors of the fennel and the cherries. Taste and adjust as necessary with more freshly—ground black pepper. Serve immediately over slices of pound cake and ice cream.

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