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.
- 6 – 8 fresh pears
- Large pot or Dutch oven filled 3/4 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
- To prepare the poaching liquid, fill a large pot or Dutch oven 3/4 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- Remove the pears from the liquid and place on a serving dish to cool.
- 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.
- Spoon the chocolate sauce over each pear and serve with a scoop of ice cream on the side.