Monday, April 23, 2007
"Beautiful Helen pears" were invented in Paris in the 19th century and were named after an opera by Offenbach. What a romantic introduction for this French dessert par excellence, a true classic, found in at least (this is a guess) half of the restaurants of the Hexagone. It only takes a few minutes (maybe seconds!) to assemble this dish if you use ready-made ingredients; it is actually not much longer to prepare half of them from scratch (the poached pears and the melted chocolate). You can even make ice cream and cookies from scratch for a deluxe version (but this probably won't taste like in restaurants, because I am pretty sure they go for the fast and easy way in most cases...).
- 1 whole pear per person, poached (or 2 canned half pears)
- 1 or 2 scoops vanilla bean ice cream
- chocolate melt
- a few almond cookies (thin and crisp, no matter what shape you choose)
The combination of temperatures (ice cream, warm chocolate), textures (soft pear, crispy cookie) and flavors (all of them!) is simply out of this world. There is even a little bonus: although this dessert looks very fancy, it is very easy to prepare.
I usually poach the pears in the morning to let them cool down and eat them the same evening. They should be at room temperature when you serve them (they won't taste as good if they just came out of the fridge). Either leave them out all day, in a closed dish, or allow them to warm up if you store them in the fridge. Bosc pears are my favorite, both for taste and "handling" (they hold well, even after being cooked).
All quantities below are for 6 pears.
To poach the pears:
Peel them, keeping them whole (leave the stem for decorative purposes). Place them upright in a deep pot. Sprinkle 1/4 cup (50 g or 4 tbsp) sugar and pour 1 cup (20 cl) water over the pears. Simmer/steam (lid on) for 20 minutes on medium heat. Drain the pears but keep the juice. Let both cool down.
Just before serving, prepare the chocolate melt as follows:
Bring the pear juice to a boil in a small pot and allow it to evaporate until only half of the volume is left. Place this small pot in a bigger one, half full of water ("Bain Marie") and place over medium heat (water should never boil).
Cut 4 1/2 oz (125 g) high quality* dark chocolate (for example Le Noir Gastronomique 61% cacao by Valrhona...) into small pieces. Melt chocolate in the warm pear syrup, stirring until smooth and shiny. Add 2 tbsp (30 g or 1/4 stick) butter and let it melt, stirring continuously.
Place one pear in each dish, upright. Add 1 or 2 scoops vanilla ice cream. Pour warm chocolate on the pear and ice cream. Stick 1 or 2 almond thins (or even more authentic: "tuiles aux amandes") in the ice cream. Serve immediately.
* good rule of thumb for quality chocolate: the list of ingredients should start with cocoa beans rather than sugar!