Poires Belle Hèléne


I recently spent two weeks travelling through California, experiencing the hot desert of Barstow, the majestic Redwoods of Northern California and the nearby beaches that were serene but also somehow a little unsettling. I hadn’t posted anything on my blog for three weeks and I couldn’t decide what to do next. I wanted to create some food that reflected my recent California experience – somehow another spicy Mexican dish didn’t seem quite right just yet – and decided that the dessert Poires Belle Hèléne was just right for me now. No, these poached pears covered in chocolate sauce cannot match the majesty of the California Redwoods, but  somehow the inner serenity and simplicity of this dish connected with my recent travels.


 Poires (Pears) Belle Hèléne was developed in 1864 by the famous chef, Auguste Escoffier, as a tribute to the opera, La Belle Hèléne by Offenbach. It is a simple dish – pears poached in a sugar syrup, and topped with chocolate sauce and a side of vanilla ice cream. I used three types of pears, Red Anjou, Bartlett and Bosc pears. The Bosc pears (brownish color) hold their shape the best when cooking; the Bartlett pears are the juiciest and tend to soften more when cooked. But to be honest, after I poached them altogether in the pot, I couldn’t tell the difference when I took them out to be coated in chocolate!


 Some recipes only call for water, sugar, lemon juice and vanilla flavouring for the pear poaching liquid, but I added a cinnamon stick which rounded out the flavour nicely. You could also be creative and add a dash of Cointreau or Grand Marnier to the poaching liquid.

 This is a very simple recipe but your dinner guests should be very happy if you ended your meal with this delicious dessert.


5.0 from 3 reviews
Poires Belle Hèléne
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: French
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6 - 8
A simple but elegant dessert, consisting of poached pears covered in chocolate sauce and served with a side of ice cream
  • 6 - 8 fresh pears
  • Large pot or Dutch oven filled ¾ with water
  • 450 - 675 grams of caster sugar (2 - 3 cups)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • Juice and zest from one lemon
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla flavouring (or 1 vanilla bean pod)
  • 340 grams (12 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate
  • 180 mls (3/4 cup) heavy cream
  • ice cream for garnish
  1. To prepare the poaching liquid, fill a large pot or Dutch oven ¾ full with water. Add the sugar, lemon zest and juice, cinnamon stick and vanilla flavouring to the water. (The amount of sugar you use depends on how large your pot is). Bring to a boil until the sugar is dissolved.
  2. While the water is coming to a boil, peel the pears using a vegetable peeler or paring knife. Using a paring knife, cut a small hole on the bottom of each pear to remove a part of the core (cutting up into the core about 1 inch).
  3. Slice off a small amount of the bottom of each pear so that they will lie flat when you finally serve them on the plate.
  4. Place the pears in the poaching liquid and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit over the top of the pot and simmer for 12 - 15 minutes- a knife should cut smoothly into the pear when done.
  5. Remove the pears from the liquid and place on a serving dish to cool.
  6. Heat the chocolate in a microwave for several minutes or over a double boiler on the stove, until melted. Add the heavy cream and stir until thoroughly combined.
  7. Spoon the chocolate sauce over each pear and serve with a scoop of ice cream on the side.


Maryland Crab Cakes – Paris Style!



How to improve the world-famous Maryland crab cake recipe? It might not be possible, but I decided to give it a go by adding a slight Parisian twist to the dish. The whole idea started after Len and I returned from a recent trip to Baltimore and Annapolis, Maryland, cities located on the Chesapeake Bay – which is about 200 miles long and filled with crabs, oysters and rockfish.

Because the Chesapeake Bay is teeming with seafood, Marylanders have developed their own trademark crab cake recipe, typically made from blue crabs and seasoned with mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, bread crumbs and Old Bay seasoning mix.

Old Bay is made of celery salt, ground dried bay leaves, smoked paprika, red pepper flakes and other spices. It gives a nice spicy, smoky flavour and is ideal for sea food and chicken recipes. Old Bay was purchased by McCormick & Co in 1990, but you can make your own mixture if you cannot find it in your local supermarket.*


Old Bay

Maryland Crab Cakes are usually formed into large round cakes and are either fried or broiled. We recently ate crab cakes and onion rings at ‘Chick and Ruth’s Delly’ in Annapolis, Maryland and their crab cakes were absolutely HUMONGOUS:

Crab Cakes at ‘Chick and Ruth’s Delly’ (Annapolis)

Chick and Ruth's photo (3)

For my own style of crab cakes though, I decided to steer away from the HUMONGOUS, instead going for a more ‘delicate’ presentation – one you might perhaps find in Paris (or maybe that’s in my imagination), while still retaining some of the traditional flavors of the Maryland crab cake. Plus I added a few more herbs such as chives and basil.

So, here is my own recipe for Crab Cakes. You can use any kind of crab meat – I decided to use fresh Dungeness crabs since they are found on the west coast of the USA, where I am now based. But you could also use canned crab although I find that fresh crab is best.

Rather than using store-bought mayonnaise, it’s best to make your own mayonnaise from scratch – very easy to do if you have your own food processor (I used a mini-processor). You will use the mayonnaise as a binding agent for your crab cakes, but set aside a little to use later as garnish for your crab cakes. AND go easy on the Old Bay or else your cakes will taste too salty.

 Crab Cakes


  • 750 g (3/4 lb) crab meat
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 2 tbsp. chopped shallots
  • 2 tbsp. finely chopped chives
  • 1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh basil leaves
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 2 egg yolks whisked with 1 tbsp. water
  • 2 cups dried bread crumbs, finely chopped

For the Mayonnaise

  •  1 large egg yolk
  • 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 tbsp. Old Bay seasoning
  • 1 shallot, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) peanut or canola oil


  1. To remove the meat from the crab, first lift the back from the crab. You will see some entrails and ‘lungs’ – remove these from the crab.
  2. Turn the crab so that the legs are placed on either side of you; grasp the body and pull the crab in half, then remove the meat.
  3. Use pliers or a ‘nut cracker’ to crack the legs open and pick out the meat.

IMG_5790 IMG_5791 IMG_5794

4. Place the crab meat into a bowl; add the garlic, shallots, basil, chives and black pepper and mix well; set aside.

5. To make the mayonnaise, place the following ingredients into a food processor: egg yolk, Dijon mustard, lemon juice and zest, Old Bay and shallots . Pulse on ‘high’ until all ingredients and processed until smooth.

6. With the motor running, gradually add the oil a little at a time until the mixture emulsifies into a mayonnaise.



7. Using a spatula, fold the mayonnaise into the crab mixture, but reserve a small amount to serve later as extra sauce for the crab cakes.

8. Firmly pack the crab meat into each pastry ring. Prepare the egg wash by mixing the 2 egg yolks with 1 tbsp. water in a small bowl; brush the egg wash onto the top of each pastry ring, packed with the crab meat (this is to help the bread crumbs stick to the crab meat).

9. Place the dried bread crumbs onto a large plate. Transfer each pastry ring to the plate and sprinkle bread crumbs on top of the crab meat mixture. Using a spatula, turn over the ring, brush the other side with the egg wash and sprinkle it generously with bread crumbs.


10. Heat 2 tbsp. oil in a fry pan over medium high heat. Place one crab meat/pastry ring at a time over the heat and cook for about 2 minutes, until the bottom becomes golden brown. Using a spatula, turn the ring over and brown the other side.

11. Transfer the crab cake to a serving plate and then gently remove the ring- your crab cake should have a nice round shape. To garnish, sprinkle each cake with finely died chives and red bell pepper. Serve a dollop of the reserved mayonnaise on the side for extra sauce.

* To make your own Old Bay seasoning, refer to: http://busycooks.about.com/od/homemademixes/r/oldbaymix.htm



Canelés Baked in Copper Molds: the Experiment



I thought I was going mad when I ordered 6 Canelé molds from Amazon at $26 each. After doing my recent post on how to make Canelés using a silicone mold (‘French Canelés with Blood Orange Cadamon Sauce’), I just had to know if using copper molds was worth the extra investment. Copper molds are traditionally used in making these French Canelés de Bordeaux and some people swear this is the only way you can achieve the delicate fluted lines and crisp exterior of this wonderful pastry.

After placing my order for the copper molds, there was no turning back; money had changed hands, my reputation was on the line. When the molds and bee’s wax arrived from Amazon one week later, my nervous hands unwrapped each mold individually, not knowing what lay ahead.

After plowing through the various steps for baking Canelés in copper molds, I found that more work is required because you need to first coat them in a mixture of melted bee’s wax and butter. This can be a bit messy as the wax can end up stuck to your stovetop and even in your hair (just kidding!).

But, in the end was it worth it? My final conclusion was that the Canelés did not taste any better with the copper molds but the texture was much better. The combination of the bee’s wax and copper mold together produced that wonderful crispy exterior that was superior to the silicone molds. I felt I had almost arrived at the artisan level of the Canelé baker in Bordeaux!

However, if you don’t want to spend the money and the extra effort required for the copper molds, you can produce perfectly acceptable (and delicious) Canelés using the silicone ones.

If you are game (and I hope you are), here are the steps required for baking the Canelés in copper molds:

Step # 1-  Seasoning the Molds

Before using your new molds, you need to ‘season’ them: first wash your molds in soapy water and then coat the inside of each one with either Crisco or vegetable oil, bake on a foil-lined tray for 1 hour at 360 F  (180 C) with the open end facing up, turn the molds over and bake for another 15 minutes, then turn off the oven and let the molds remain inside the oven for another 15 minutes.

Step # 2 – Prepare the batter for the Canelés – (please refer to my blog ‘French Canelés with Blood Orange Cadamon Sauce’)


 Place the batter in the fridge for at least 24 hours to let it rest. This recipe makes about 12 Canelés.

Step # 3 – Coat the inside of each copper mold with bee’s wax and butter mixture

Bee's Wax ordered from Amazon

Bee’s Wax ordered from Amazon

Coating the inside of your molds with bee’s wax and butter will allow your Canelés to form a nice crisp exterior with fluted edges. You can do this step 1 – 2 hours before you plan on baking your Canelés.

Mix together your bee’s wax and butter using a 1:1 ratio. First, melt the wax either in the microwave oven or on the stove top. I melted one stick of wax (30 grams) in the microwave on a 3-minute setting. I then removed the wax and added 30 grams of butter and let it melt in the residual heat of the wax and then poured the mixture into a saucepan. You will periodically need to re-warm the mixture since the wax can very quickly start to solidify.

Now coat the inside of each mold with this mixture – be sure your molds are at room temperature (not cold) or the wax will adhere to your mold too quickly and not coat evenly.

Pour the warmed wax/butter mixture into one mold, filling it to the top, then quickly pour the mixture back into your saucepan. You should now have an even wax coating on the inside of your mold. Now let any excess wax drain from the mold by placing it upside down on a wire rack placed over a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Repeat this procedure with each mold.

Letting the wax from the molds drain over parchment paper

Letting the wax from the molds drain over parchment paper

Copper Molds coated with bee's wax and butter

Copper Molds coated with bee’s wax and butter

 Step # 4: Place the molds inside the freezer for 30 minutes to chill them

This will help to produce the contrast between the crisp exterior while keeping the inside of the Canelé soft and spongy.

Pre-heat your oven to 460 F (235 C) along with a foil-lined baking sheet. Before placing the pastries in the oven, I use an oven thermomidor to ensure the temperature has reached the desired level. (Note: if using a fan-forced oven, reduce your oven temperatures accordingly to 440 F (225 C).

Step # 5: Fill the molds with the batter and bake


Remove the molds from the freezer and the batter from the fridge. Stir the batter before filling each mold about 3/4 full. Place the molds on the pre-heated baking sheet and bake at 460 F (235 C) for the first 15 minutes then reduce to 375 F (190 C) for the remaining 45 minutes. The outside of the Canelés should be crisp and brown while the inside is soft and spongy. If the inside of the pastries are still a bit uncooked, then bake for longer.

While the pastries are baking, open the oven door briefly to check on them. If they have puffed up too much and risen over the edge of the copper mold, remove them briefly from the oven to ‘de-puff’ and then place back in oven. If the pastries continue to puff up, you can simply remove them from the oven at the end and slice off the end so that it is flush with the edge of the copper mold.

When the Canelés are cooked, remove from oven; using an oven mit, tip each mold oven and ‘coax’ the pastry out of the mold (I used the end of a spoon to coax mine out – they should come out easily). Let cool on a wire wrack and then serve – they can be stored in the freezer prior to serving for up to one month.

I’d love to hear your comments about this recipe – what sort of experiences you have had with making Canelés and any questions you may have!