If you read this from France or are an expat anywhere in the world, you're probably looking at this picture and thinking "Oh! Helene made Poire Belle Helene!" and move on to the rest of the post. If you had never had such a dessert and read a title like this, you'd think I'd blown a fuse by naming a dessert after myself. And as if that weren't enough, adding the adjective "belle" to describe it all. Hmmmm....No.
I did not come up with name, heck I did not even liked the dessert this much until in my late twenties! Auguste Escoffier created the Poire Belle Helene in 1870, naming it after one of Offenbach's operette, La Belle Helene. Yes. 1870. Makes me wish Escoffier had had a blog in 1870. Or a twitter account. I bet his updates would be of the most delectable kind. Seriously.
This is probably one of the core desserts of French cuisine. At least of bistros and restaurants when I was growing up. Funny thing is that I never did make much of it though because it bears only half my name. Indeed, I was born and baptized Marie-Helene like some are named Marie-Louise or Jean-Luc. However computers here in the States don't seem to recognize hyphens and cut my first name in half. If I was going to be halved somehow, at least I'd get to pick which one, darn it. So I'm Helene. Except when I am in trouble, ehehe!
So, there is part of the little story. Or at least part of the reason why I never really appreciated Poires Belle Helene until well into my twenties. Why this late? I have an aversion for fruits and chocolate combined. There, I said it! I love nuts and chocolate. I love lemon and chocolate. I used to hate all fruits with chocolate. My most least favorite pairing was orange and chocolate. My less least favorite (!) was pear and chocolate.
There is something about the soft fragrance of pears that plays well with chocolate and either brings it forth and mellows it just so. Poached pears and hot chocolate sauce especially. They like each other, it's obvious. They're not sure on who should lead though and artfully play that up. And much like two people attracted to each other, poached pears and hot chocolate sauce are kind of the ultimate in sexy when it comes to dessert.
It's the only fruit - chocolate pairing that enthused me this much. Add a good scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and the combination hot chocolate, cold vanilla, soft fruit just has me weak in the knees. There are indeed moments of bliss to be experienced with the simplicity of certain flavors, textures and temperatures. Poire Belle Helene is just that. Hot and cold, creamy, crunchy, soft. We did a few "hmmmm" and "aaaahhhs" with the first spoonfuls. I even caught one of my friends sashaying her hips around the living room the night we shared these for dinner.
Poire Belle Helene won't bring on World Peace but I guarantee it'll make everyone at your dinner table a tad bit happier inside...It won't cure whatever ails you but it won't give you a brain freeze. It will just super activate all your senses...
Tiny Forelle pears make it remarkably easy to plate and portion out but you can use any of your favorite pear variety. As I have three major deadlines all coming to a clash for November 1st, this dessert has been the easiest thing to fix myself for a little midnight reward. That's my sly way of saying "I know I suck big time at posting right now and wait, you ain't seen nothing yet. It might get worse!..."
Please send chocolate...
Poires Belle Helene - Spiced Poached Pears with Chocolate Sauce and Vanilla Ice Cream
For the poached pears:
6 Forelle pears (or other small-ish pears)
2 tablespoon mulling cider spice mix
juice of one lemon
For the chocolate sauce:
4 oz semisweet best quality chocolate
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon honey
For the ice cream:
2 cups (500ml) heavy cream
1 cup (250ml) whole milk
1 cup (200gr) granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean
Prepare the pears:
Place the pears, spice mix, lemon juice and enough water to cover them in a tall saucepan and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Lower the heat and let them simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the pears are just soft (poke with a toothpick to check).
Remove from the water using a slotted spoon and allow to cool on paper towel or baking rack.
Prepare the sauce:
Place the chocolate in a non reactive bowl and set aside.
In a heavy saucepan set over medium high heat, bring the cream and honey to a strong simmer. Remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate. Let sit for 5 minutes then slowly stir until the mixture comes together.
Prepare the ice cream:
In a large saucepan, stir together the cream, milk, and sugar. Cut the vanilla bean in half and scrape the inside with the tip of a knife. Add that pulp (the seeds) to the pot. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium low heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and let steep as it cools to room temperature. Refrigerate, preferably overnight. Strain if desired.
Process the mixture into your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's intructions.
To plate: ice cream + poached pear + warm chocolate sauce.