I did a very risky thing. I made what I thought would be a very beautiful, delicious French dessert for a beautiful, modern French girl. I figured, “There’s no way she’ll be familiar with this dessert. It’s so old-fashioned!”
As it turns out, this modern French girl’s grandmother used to make Pears Belle Helene often when she was a child. She conveyed that little tidbit of information to me while I began steeping the pears in the hot sugar-vanilla water. I had no idea I was making her favorite childhood sweet. I freaked. Who is silly enough to attempt a favorite recipe that your guest’s grandmother lovingly prepared often, very often? Me, that’s who. I freaked, moved on and focused on doing at least a touch of justice to this infamous dessert.
This very beautiful, delicious French dessert actually turned out to indeed be very delicious. It may not have tasted exactly like that of her grand-mere, but it at least resurrected good childhood thoughts. We talked about her grandmother, all the different ways her grandmother prepped this dish and vowed to do it again. Next time, with loads of vanilla bean seeds in the pear broth and roasted hazelnuts on top.
Pears Belle Helene
For the pears:
- 4 to 6 firm Bartlett pears or other dessert variety
- 1 1/4 cup water
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 1/2 cup superfine sugar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the chocolate sauce:
- 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
- 1/2 cup superfine sugar
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
Chopped pistachios, optional
Nigella’s recipe is fairly involved; mine is not. Peel, core and slice the pears in half. Place them in a shallow pan with the water, lemon juice, sugar and vanilla extract. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the pears are soft and firm (not soft and mushy). Pull the pears out of the juice and let them cool on a pretty plate.
In a separate small saucier pan, melt the chocolate and sugar on low heat. Once melted, add the heavy cream while stirring. After the pears have cooled, pour the chocolate sauce all over them, and then sprinkle the pistachios on top.
Place the plate in the center of the dinner table with four forks. If your company is not so inclined to share, serve two pears per person with a short glass of champagne. French, of course!
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