Friday, January 24, 2014

Pears Belle Helene

Whenever you're in the mood for a classic dessert, this pairing of poached pear and chocolate is a delicious answer.  It's simple, satisfying and a great reminder of how good this kind of basic preparation can be.  It doesn't require that you turn on your mixer or oven and it's a wonderful dessert for those who are looking for something gluten free.

Pears Belle Helene have an interesting little story.  It starts with the great August Escoffier in the era of the late 1800s - early 1900s. A French chef and restauranteur, he was among the first to take the lead in culinary writing and cookbook development, the modernization and accessibility of French cuisine and the professionalization of kitchen organization and management.  His work to interpret and simplify Marie-Antoine Careme's methods and technique is legendary.  He was also instrumental in the creation and partnership of the professional kitchens of the Ritz-Carlton in 1898-1899.

Escoffier created Poires Belle Helene in 1864 in celebration of the popularity of the operetta, La Belle Helene, which was based on the life and times of Helen of Troy.  Escoffier served the poached pears with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream and embellished them with crystallized violets.  Later versions replaced the violets with sliced almonds.

I chose to simplify the plating with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream along with the note of color and tartness of some fresh raspberries.  I've changed up the chocolate sauce only ever so slightly by adding a touch of cardamom and allspice just to introduce some intrigue.  These are easily omitted if you care to stay with the classical approach.

Bench notes:
- Fresh pears should be ripe but firm.  Bosc pears hold up best for poaching but I've also used d'Anjous.
Poaching pears is fairly simple.  Make sure your poaching liquid covers your pears by about an inch or so.  The ratio for the liquid is roughly 4 parts liquid to 1 part sugar.  You can replace some of the poaching water with wine.  Flavorings can be thyme or rosemary, cinnamon sticks, star anise, clove, peppercorn or sliced ginger, with various combinations therein.
- When poaching pears, cut out a circle of parchment to fit the diameter of your saucepan.  Place it directly on the surface of the liquid to keep the moisture on the fruit.  This will ensure slow, even poaching and help to keep the pears from turning brown.
- Pears can be stored submerged in their poaching liquid in the refrigerator for about 4 - 5 days.  Bring to room temperature to serve.
- Keep the poaching liquid at a low and gentle simmer to preserve the flavor and structure of the fruit.  How long it takes to poach pears depends on their ripeness.  They should be tender and easily pierced with a knife but not mushy.  Turn off the heat when you think the pears are nearly done.  They will continue to soften slightly as they cool in the liquid.  Undercooked pears may turn brown.
- You can reduce the poaching liquid until slightly thickened and syrupy.  Use it to flavor drinks or to serve over cake, yogurt or ice cream.

Pears Belle Helene
Serve 4

4 cups (1 quart) water
1 1/3 cups (9 1/2 oz) sugar
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 bay leaf
1 vanilla bean, split and seeded
4 pears

3 1/2 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (62% - 72%)
1/2 cup (4 oz) heavy cream
1 tablespoon (3/4 oz) corn syrup
scant 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
pinch allspice

1/2 cup (4 oz) heavy cream
1 teaspoon sugar
1 pint fresh raspberries

Combine the water, sugar, lemon, bay leaf and vanilla bean in a saucepan over medium heat.  Bring to a boil until the sugar is dissolved.  Lower the heat so the liquid is at a low simmer.

Peel and core the pears.  Slice just a bit off the bottom so they can stand upright on a plate.  Add them to the poaching liquid and place a circle of parchment directly on top of them.  Poach at a low simmer until tender, about 25 - 30 minutes.  Remove from the heat and cool the pears in the liquid.

For the chocolate sauce, finely chop the chocolate and place in a heatproof bowl.  Add the cream, corn syrup and spice and place over a pan with about 2" of barely simmering water.  Stir gently until the chocolate is melted and glossy.  Remove from the heat.

To serve, drain the pears on a paper towel.  Whip the cream with the sugar until soft peaks form.  Place each pear on a serving plate and pour warm sauce over them.  Garnish with raspberries and whipped cream.


A Plum By Any Other Name said...

Gorgeous picture. I love poached pears, but never make them enough. Thanks for posting this recipe; it's a nice reminder. I shall try to do right by Escoffier.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful and so impressive. I so admire you. :) I also love pastries, please check my blog if you have time. Thanks. :)

pastry studio said...

Plum, I love poached pears, too, and I also don't seem to make them enough. They're easy to do and can be an element of so many great desserts.

Pau, thanks so much for stopping by. Pastry is an incredibly fun and constant learning process. I wish you the best on your new blog!

Elly McCausland said...

Absolutely stunning photos - you make something so simple look just beautiful. One of my favourite desserts, I had it in France a couple of weeks ago, but these pictures make me want to revisit it!

pastry studio said...

Thank you, Elly. I love simple fruit desserts.