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Pears Belle Helene

by . Featured in HOW TO EAT
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Introduction

My grandmother used to make these for me when I was a child. But they’re not nursery food and it isn’t just nostalgia that makes me dredge them up. Pears are so rarely edible when raw. When they’re good, they’re wonderful, but I am beginning to think Ralph Waldo Emerson was being optimistic when he wrote, “There are only ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat”: most pears go from hard to woolly without ever passing through the luscious ripe stage. Poaching pears is one way of dealing with all those hard unyielding fruits in the shops: somehow, however wooden they felt raw, poached they become infused with a juice-bursting plumpness. Indeed, when poaching, you actually don’t want the pears to be ripe.

I have to say, though, that I have a real fondness for tinned pears here. I find their particular grainy softness comforting, and they make this a near-instant pud. If I’m just eating this with the family at home, I often go this route.

For US cup measures, use the toggle at the top of the ingredients list.

My grandmother used to make these for me when I was a child. But they’re not nursery food and it isn’t just nostalgia that makes me dredge them up. Pears are so rarely edible when raw. When they’re good, they’re wonderful, but I am beginning to think Ralph Waldo Emerson was being optimistic when he wrote, “There are only ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat”: most pears go from hard to woolly without ever passing through the luscious ripe stage. Poaching pears is one way of dealing with all those hard unyielding fruits in the shops: somehow, however wooden they felt raw, poached they become infused with a juice-bursting plumpness. Indeed, when poaching, you actually don’t want the pears to be ripe.

I have to say, though, that I have a real fondness for tinned pears here. I find their particular grainy softness comforting, and they make this a near-instant pud. If I’m just eating this with the family at home, I often go this route.

For US cup measures, use the toggle at the top of the ingredients list.

Image of Nigella's Pears Belle Helene
Photo by Lis Parsons

Ingredients

Serves: 4-6

Metric Cups

For the poached pears

  • 4 firm pears such as Williams or 1 - 2 x 415 grams tin of pear halves in juice
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 100 grams caster sugar
  • 1 vanilla pod (split in half lengthways) or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the chocolate sauce

  • 200 grams dark chocolate (broken into pieces)
  • 120 ml strong black coffee or 1 teaspoon instant coffee made up with 120ml / ½ cup water from a freshly boiled kettle
  • 90 grams caster sugar
  • 120 millilitres double cream
  • 1 tub vanilla ice cream
  • crystallised violets (optional)

For the poached pears

  • 4 firm pears such as Barlett or 1 - 2 x 15 ounces tin of pear halves in juice
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • ½ cup superfine sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean (split in half lengthways) or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the chocolate sauce

  • 7 ounces bittersweet chocolate (broken into pieces)
  • ½ cup strong black coffee or 1 teaspoon instant coffee made up with 120ml / ½ cup water from a freshly boiled kettle
  • 7 tablespoons superfine sugar
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 1 tub vanilla ice cream
  • candied violets (optional)

Method

  1. If using fresh pears, peel, halve and core the pears and sprinkle the lemon juice over them to stop them from discolouring. In a wide shallow pan (in which the pears will fit in one layer – otherwise cook them in batches) put 300ml water, the sugar and split vanilla pod if using. Bring to the boil, stirring every now and again to make sure the sugar dissolves, then lower the heat slightly and simmer for 5 minutes. Now is the time to add vanilla extract if you are using that.
  2. Put the pears into the liquid, cut side down, and raise the heat again so that the syrup boils up and the pears are covered by it. You may need to spoon the syrup over. After half a minute or so, lower the heat, then cover the pan and simmer for 10 minutes. Turn the pears, cover the pan again and simmer for another 10 minutes. Carry on until the pears are cooked and translucent: they should feel tender (but not soggy) when pierced with the tip of a knife. Take off the heat, keep covered, and leave to cool.
  3. If, however, you are using canned pears (no shame) simply remove them from the tin and drain them, and leave to one side.
  4. To make the chocolate sauce, place the chocolate pieces in a heavy based saucepan with the coffee and sugar and melt over a low heat, stirring occasionally.
  5. Once it has nearly melted stir in the cream, and once it has made a smooth sauce take off the heat and pour into a jug.
  6. You can just take all components to the table for people to eat as they like or, to make each serving, scoop some ice cream into a sundae glass or a bowl, and then place a pear half (or two) on top.
  7. Pour over some chocolate sauce, and then sprinkle over the crystallised violets if you are using them.
  1. If using fresh pears, peel, halve and core the pears and sprinkle the lemon juice over them to stop them from discolouring. In a wide shallow pan (in which the pears will fit in one layer – otherwise cook them in batches) put 300ml water, the sugar and split vanilla bean if using. Bring to the boil, stirring every now and again to make sure the sugar dissolves, then lower the heat slightly and simmer for 5 minutes. Now is the time to add vanilla extract if you are using that.
  2. Put the pears into the liquid, cut side down, and raise the heat again so that the syrup boils up and the pears are covered by it. You may need to spoon the syrup over. After half a minute or so, lower the heat, then cover the pan and simmer for 10 minutes. Turn the pears, cover the pan again and simmer for another 10 minutes. Carry on until the pears are cooked and translucent: they should feel tender (but not soggy) when pierced with the tip of a knife. Take off the heat, keep covered, and leave to cool.
  3. If, however, you are using canned pears (no shame) simply remove them from the tin and drain them, and leave to one side.
  4. To make the chocolate sauce, place the chocolate pieces in a heavy based saucepan with the coffee and sugar and melt over a low heat, stirring occasionally.
  5. Once it has nearly melted stir in the cream, and once it has made a smooth sauce take off the heat and pour into a jug.
  6. You can just take all components to the table for people to eat as they like or, to make each serving, scoop some ice cream into a sundae glass or a bowl, and then place a pear half (or two) on top.
  7. Pour over some chocolate sauce, and then sprinkle over the candied violets if you are using them.

Additional Information

MAKE AHEAD:
The pears can be poached ahead – put them in an airtight container and cover with the syrup. Refrigerate as soon as they are cool and store in the fridge for up to 3 days. Leftover syrup can be kept in the fridge to use for a second batch of pear poaching. Strain it through a fine meshed sieve and keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. It can also be frozen in an airtight container for up to 6 months. Defrost overnight in the fridge and then heat in a saucepan and continue with the recipe to poach the pears. Only re-use once.

The chocolate sauce will keep in the fridge for 3 days. Reheat gently in a saucepan over a low heat, stirring regularly, until smooth and liquid. It can also be frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge and heat as above.

This recipe from HOW TO EAT has been adapted for online purposes.

MAKE AHEAD:
The pears can be poached ahead – put them in an airtight container and cover with the syrup. Refrigerate as soon as they are cool and store in the fridge for up to 3 days. Leftover syrup can be kept in the fridge to use for a second batch of pear poaching. Strain it through a fine meshed sieve and keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. It can also be frozen in an airtight container for up to 6 months. Defrost overnight in the fridge and then heat in a saucepan and continue with the recipe to poach the pears. Only re-use once.

The chocolate sauce will keep in the fridge for 3 days. Reheat gently in a saucepan over a low heat, stirring regularly, until smooth and liquid. It can also be frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge and heat as above.

This recipe from HOW TO EAT has been adapted for online purposes.

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