Flaming Ice Cream Sauce

Ah, the flambé.

When you talk about a fruit-infused flaming ice cream sauce, there are really two specific influences worth mentioning: cherries jubilee (from England in the late 19th century) and bananas Foster (from Brennan’s in New Orleans in 1951). Both involve heating their namesake produce in a sugar syrup and igniting with liquor — a step that, depending on who you believe, either adds new and subtle flavors to the dish or is entirely designed to be a spectacle for the diners.

Not that there’s anything wrong with a little spectacle, now and then.

Bananas foster by rulenumberone2, on Flickr (CC license) (cropped). Taken November 13, 2013 in New Orleans at Arneaud’s Restaurant.

The anti-flambé crowd tends to argue that the alcohol is on the surface of the dish, the flame travels upward, and the alcohol burns too quickly for anything meaningful to happen to the ingredients below. There’s some science showing the surface of the food doesn’t get into the range required to trigger the Maillard reaction.

I’m in the other camp. That pre-heated alcohol (and it does need to be warmed in order to get alcohol vapors that will catch fire and make a big show — without that, it might burn more like a candle) is going to go up at about 250 degrees Fahrenheit. (Meanwhile, the flame itself can climb to up to 1,300 degrees.) Given that the caramelization of sugars happens at temperatures below that (especially fructose, the sugar in bananas and cherries, which caramelizes at around 230 degrees), I think it’s a little glib to say that the flambé is just showmanship.

Especially since, when you actually look at the research, it doesn’t quite say that. It says that there may be safer ways to achieve the somewhat higher levels of evaporation achieved by a flambé. (The methodology has all kinds of other problems, but even with those problems, it didn’t reach the conclusion people claim it does.)

Anyhow, this recipe reminds me of something Robert Frost said.

Compare this version from the September 15, 1960 edition of the Oshkosh (Wisconsin) Daily Northwestern:

Flaming Ice Cream Sauce

1/2 brandied peach, sliced
1/2 brandied apricot, sliced
4 brandied pitted cherries
1/4 teaspoon curaçao liqueur
Sugar to taste
1-1/2 teaspoons brandy
1 small round of sponge cake cut the size of a biscuit
1 scoop vanilla ice cream

Heat the combined brandied fruits in a frying pan. Add curaçao, then sprinkle with sugar. Stir gently, but do not allow to boil, simply heat. Then pour brandy over mixture and touch it with a match. Place round of sponge cake or any other kind of cake, cut the size of a biscuit, using biscuit cutter, on dessert plate; top with ice cream and pour the fruit over it. Serve at once. This may be prepared right on the table, if desired. Variations to the above may be made by using any kind of canned or fresh fruit.

If you’re looking for one, we saw a recipe for brandied fruit in the box from Sun City, Arizona.

From a box sold in Nampa, Idaho.

Flaming Ice Cream Sauce

1/2 c. sugar
1 c. orange juice
2 c. pared and cubed fresh pineapple
2 bananas, sliced
1/3 c. light rum
Vanilla ice cream

Caramelize sugar; heat and stir until sugar is melted over low heat in large heavy skillet. When mixture is golden, remove from heat and add orange juice slowly.

Heat; stir constantly till caramelized sugar is dissolved. Simmer uncovered 8 to 10 minutes. Gently stir in pineapple and banana; heat till warm.

In a small saucepan or ladle, heat rum; flame. Pour flaming rum over pineapple mixture. Serve immediately over scoops of ice cream.

8 to 10 servings.

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