Posts Tagged With: Auguste Escoffier

267/365: National Cherries Jubilee Day

Hope you’re in the mood for a celebration. September 24 is National Cherries Jubilee Day!

Cherries Jubilee is a dessert made with cherries and liqueur (usually cherry brandy) that is flambéed and served atop vanilla ice cream. It was created by  none other than Auguste Escoffier, who has been responsible for several of our dessert-themed food holidays this year (Peach Melba, Pears Helene, Melba Toast). He prepared the dish for one of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee celebrations, though it’s unclear whether it was her Golden Jubilee (1887) or Diamond Jubilee (1897). The dessert became a very fashionable menu item, and began appearing on the menus of fine restaurants everywhere. Its popularity peaked in the 1950s and ’60s, falling out of favor when those same fine dining establishments began serving a new dessert sensation, Oreos dunked in milk. 

To celebrate, we made Cherries Jubilee using Rachael Ray’s recipe. This uses far less sugar than other recipes I looked at, relying instead on the juice from the canned cherries to act as a natural sweetener.


2 (15-ounce) cans whole Bing cherries in juice, drained and juice reserved
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup kirsch or cognac, warmed
2 pints vanilla ice cream


In a small dish, combine a little cherry juice with sugar and cornstarch. In a skillet, heat juice from cherries over moderate heat. Add cornstarch mixture. When juice thickens, add cherries to warm through. Pour in warmed liqueur, then flame the pan to burn off alcohol. Remove cherries from heat. Scoop vanilla ice cream into large cocktail glasses or dessert dishes and spoon cherries down over ice cream.

It turned out delicious! Then again, anytime you get to set your food on fire – on purpose – it tastes better!

National Cherries Jubilee Day

Categories: Desserts | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

111/365: National Chocolate Covered Cashew Truffle Day*

April 21 is one of those oddly specific food holidays that give us a headache. Cashews? Cool. Chocolate truffles? Love ’em. But do you have any idea how difficult it is to find a chocolate covered cashew truffle? Has anybody in history ever actually made one?! They simply do not exist. Or if they do, they are impossible to find. But we weren’t going to let a little thing like that stop us from successfully completing this challenge!

Cashews are the seeds of a tropical evergreen plant native to Brazil. Related to the mango, pistachio, and poison ivy (yikes!), cashews are kidney-shaped seeds that grow on the outside of their fruit, the cashew apple. Cashew apples are sweet, flavorful, and a highly prized delicacy, but are not marketable because their flesh is extremely perishable, and they begin to ferment the moment they are picked, barely lasting 24 hours. In their immediate growing locale they are often found canned, and are used to make jams and liqueurs. Most of us will never get to try a cashew apple in our lifetimes. Sniff. Cashews, on the other hand, are readily available. They are never sold in the shell, however, because they contain a black substance called cardol, a toxic skin irritant that can only be properly destroyed through roasting. Even then, it must be done outdoors, as the fumes from the smoke can cause life-threatening complications. Again: yikes! Sure seems like a lot of trouble for a mere nut.

Chocolate truffles, on the other hand, won’t kill you. Unless you eat too many in one sitting, of course. They were created in the kitchen of our good friend, renowned French chef Auguste Escoffier (Peach Melba, Pears Helene, Melba toast) in the 1920s – by accident. An apprentice inadvertently poured hot cream into a bowl of chocolate chunks instead of the sugared egg his pastry cream recipe called for. As the mixture hardened, he found he was able to shape it into a ball. He then rolled it in cocoa powder and realized it resembled a truffle, the prized fungus found in France and Italy. Hence the name.

Because we couldn’t find chocolate covered cashew truffles, we had to get creative, much like when we celebrated Heavenly Hash. So we bought cashews, and had some chocolate truffles left over from Christmas. A little knife work, and voila! Instant chocolate covered cashew truffles.

"Homemade" chocolate covered cashew truffles.

“Homemade” chocolate covered cashew truffles.

Categories: Candy | Tags: , , , | 8 Comments

82/365: National Melba Toast Day*

Feeling all warm and toasty inside? Perfect! It’s National Melba Toast Day!

It’s also National Chips and Dip Day, and as tempting as it is to celebrate that one, Melba Toast seems more exotic. Besides, we’ve got a story to finish here! Remember our old friend, Auguste Escoffier? Famed French chef who created both Pears Helene and Peach Melba? Well, the Melba is no coincidence. If you’ll recall the story posted way back on January 13, Escoffier was enamored with opera singer Dame Nellie Melba, and attempted to woo her with a fancy dessert served in an ice sculpture, only that backfired when she was afraid the cold would wreak havoc with her vocal cords. The French are a romantic lot though, and ol’ Auguste was bound and determined to woo his lady, so he tried again five years later. It was 1897, and the famous soprano (Ms. Melba, not Tony) had taken ill. Some say she got what she deserved; Nellie was quite the diva, and had the kind of personality only a mother (or a famous French chef) would find endearing. When Escoffier learned that her diet at the time consisted largely of toast, and (DIVA ALERT!) she would complain that it was never sliced thin enough, he took a piece of toast, sliced it in half, and toasted it again. The result? A super thin and crispy toast, which he consequently named…Toast Marie! It’s no wonder this guy never did get his girl. Marie was the wife of his boss Cesar Ritz. Talk about kissing ass! But Cesar said “yo dude, you got the hots for this honey, so name it after her – chicks dig that shit.” Or something to that effect. So, Toast Marie became Melba Toast. Sadly, the two never did hook up. Although, it should be noted, this was probably a good thing, as Auguste’s wife Delphine might have disapproved.

Ironic that there is no Delphine Toast…

So, what became of them? Nellie got better, toured the world, raised all kinds of money for charity during World War I, was the first Australian to appear on the cover of Time Magazine (1927), and her face now appears on the Australian hundred dollar bill. As for Escoffier, in 1898 both he and Cesar Ritz abruptly left the Savoy Hotel amidst a scandal; £3400 of wine and spirits went missing, and while the duo were suspected of making off with the booze, this was never proven. They did alright, though – Ritz opened both the  Ritz Hotel in Paris and the Carlton Hotel in London, and hired Escoffier to run his kitchens. Auguste managed the hotels until his retirement in 1920, and passed away in 1935, a few years after Dame Nellie Melba.

Nellie Melba: the face that launched two desserts.

Nellie Melba: the face that launched two desserts.

And thus concludes our trilogy on Auguste Escoffier and the desserts he created for famous women.

I had only ever tried Melba Toast once or twice in my life, and in fact, had no idea where to find it in the grocery store. I checked the baby food aisle first, having remembered seeing it there years ago, which makes sense considering that Melba Toast used to be given to infants who were teething, but maybe times have changed as it was not there. Tara finally found it in the cracker aisle sandwiched between Cheez-Its and graham crackers. I guess that makes sense. We ate ours with a variety of toppings – peanut butter, cheese, Nutella – as an afternoon snack. It was pretty good – like a really crisp cracker. I liked mine with cheese best, while Tara preferred the Nutella-covered one.

Melba Toast

Categories: Bread | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

74/365: National Pears Helene Day

Today we celebrate a dessert with all kinds of weird grammar symbols in the name. It’s National Pears Hélène Day! Seriously, what are those weird slash mark thingies over the letter e? And, for that matter, what is Pears Hélène?

An old-fashioned dessert that is rarely seen anymore, that’s what. The dish was created by esteemed French chef and restaurateur Georges Auguste Escoffier, the same fella responsible for Peach Melba, in 1864. (The guy was all over the food map, inventing dishes left and right. We’ll be talking about him again when we celebrate Melba toast). The dessert was inspired by the opera La Belle Hélène, a historical reconstruction of the love triangle between Helen of Troy (“the face that launched a thousand ships and a Brad Pitt movie”), Paris, and Menelas. Escoffier decided that pears poached in sugar syrup and served with vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, and crystallized violets would perfectly represent the opera. Over the years the dessert was simplified, with sliced pears replacing the poached ones and slivered almonds standing in for the crystallized violets. Whew! I’d have hated to try and find that ingredient.

Pears Hélène looked, and sounded, complicated when I first read about it, but in reality the simplified version is pretty easy. If we didn’t have plans tonight I might have considered poaching a whole pear, but we decided instead to go the simple route. Sliced pears, vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, and slivered almonds. A little bowl at lunchtime. It was decent, though I’m sure using a real poached pear instead of a generic brand of pear halves in lite syrup would have upped the wow quotient.


Categories: Desserts | Tags: , , , , , | 11 Comments

13/365: National Peach Melba Day

Today is National Peach Melba Day! When I saw this on the calendar I was a little worried. It sounds like one of those fancy, complicated desserts that entails a lot of time and effort. Fortunately, it’s pretty simple: a scoop of vanilla ice cream, topped with half a peach, and drizzled in raspberry puree. Now, that is do-able!

Peach Melba was created in 1892 by French chef Auguste Escoffier at the Savoy Hotel in London. Auguste apparently had the hots for a famous Australian opera singer, Dame Nellie Melba, who was a real diva. The type of gal whose rider stipulates she must have a bowl full of green M&Ms before every performance of Figaro. In an effort to impress her, the chef created a dessert in her honor. Most guys would’ve settled for a bunch of flowers or a schmaltzy card, but not this dude. His creation was served in an ice sculpture shaped like a swan, an ode to Wagner’s Lohengrin, the opera in which Nellie was performing. In one scene, the knight Lohengrin arrives in a boat pulled by swans. Escoffier’s swan carried ice cream topped with peaches and spun sugar, and was served at a dinner party in Nellie’s honor. This ploy might have gotten him to second base and beyond, but rumor has it Nellie shied away from eating anything cold for fear that it would damage her delicate vocal cords. Poor Auguste. This is what we call a FAIL. No word on whether she indulged in the treat named after her, but her career continued until 1930, so it’s safe to say her voice suffered no ill effects from eating ice cream served in ice.

Peach MelbaBy the way, five years later, Escoffier again attempted to impress Nellie by creating Melba toast for her. There happens to be a National Melba Toast Day coming up on March 23rd, so we’ll be revisiting this fascinating tale in a couple of months. Hang tight until then…you’ll just have to wait and see if Auguste ever did woo his lady!

Mr. Escoffier wisely realized it would be a real pain in the ass to carve an ice sculpture into the shape of a swan every time he served Peach Melba, so he changed it up a little and began serving it in a regular bowl, topped with a raspberry beret. The kind you find in a secondhand store. Err, sorry – Prince on the brain. He topped it with a raspberry puree! Good thing for us, too. My ice-carving skills leave much to be desired.

Since fresh peaches weren’t in season, we were forced to use canned. And of course raspberries are also more readily available in the summer months so we substituted frozen. None of this mattered, though. The dessert was easy to assemble, and tasted pretty good considering nothing was fresh!

Categories: Desserts | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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