Because I am heedlessly whimsical and waggishly adorable, when the notion strikes me to make a classic French dessert for my lunch in its entirety, I indulge that whim. Hard. Some might describe that as not providing one’s body with enough necessary nutrients or a lot of work for a small result or even simply annoying, but I’ve said the magic word – whimsical – and as such am exonerated from all such opinions. For what it’s worth though, later that day I was later horribly ill and had to go home from work but I refuse to blame this poached pear in chocolate sauce. I don’t actually know what I’m blaming – it was all very mysterious and came out of nowhere, but I’ve eaten both pears and chocolate since and been utterly fine, so who knows. I hate going home sick from work – firstly when you’re a bartender you have to try and find someone to cover you at the last minute, secondly you miss out on hours, thirdly there’s this sense I have with hospo instilled from my ballet days where like, you can be coughing up blood and yet the show must go on – but maaaaan I was sick. Fortunately I have a marvelous girlfriend who was able to immediately administer panadol and cold flannels and such, but wow it was horrible. Um, anyway, this recipe is really delicious and you should definitely make it without fear of incapacitation. Definitely.
There’s this scene in the musical Company where the lead character, Robert, is recounting a story to a woman that he’s trying to sleep with, about another woman whom he tried to sleep with – in this story they had just met and were thoroughly into each other and rented a motel for the night, she then suggested that he go buy champagne, he drove to the nearest shop and bought all the champagne he could carry, sped back to the motel and – he says devastatingly – I could not find it. He then drove around for three hours looking for the motel before leaving. This was me, but with a block of Lindt dark chocolate that my mum had sent me. I was like, this would be perfect for the Poire Belle Helene whim that I’ve been taken with, and then I could not find it. I then ransacked my bedroom for twenty minutes. I don’t know how a person loses a block of chocolate in their room but I’m sure I’ll find it somewhere ridiculous when I least expect it, like in my sock drawer or on my head or melted and dripping down the mirror. I wanted some damn Poire Belle Helene though, so scooted to the corner dairy and bought some milk chocolate to use instead. A fascinating story, I know!
Honestly poached pears have never appealed to me that much as a dessert – if I wanted a damp fruit I could just open a can of them, thank you, don’t insult me with this pretense of a pudding – but cover them in chocolate sauce and suddenly I get it. Poire Belle Helene was a dessert invented by that clever man Escoffier in the late 1800s in honour of an opera (that was what people did for fun back then, I guess, and I’m all for it) and it’s a fetching combination – fragrant, sweet pear with creamy, rich chocolate sauce, the gritty yet yielding fruit against the silky, warm chocolate. It’s blatantly a good idea for lunch. My recipe here is for one person (hence the flighty name) but the quantities are easy enough to increase.
poire belle helene seulement pour vous (poire belle helene for you only)
a recipe by myself. Serves one.
one firm pear
four tablespoons sugar
two cups of water
a tablespoon or so of riesling or sweet white wine, if you have it
one teaspoon vanilla extract
75g milk chocolate
half a cup of cream
a tablespoon of butter
a pinch of salt
Peel the pear, leaving the stalk intact. If it’s a bit wobbly and won’t sit upright, cut a small slice out of the base so it’s steady, otherwise leave as is. Put the sugar, water, riesling and vanilla in a small pot and lower the pear into it – it probably won’t be submerged but this is okay. Bring the pan to the boil and then lower to a simmer, turning the pear over occasionally so that all sides spend time submerged by the hot syrup. Stick a skewer into the pear after about ten minutes, and if it’s soft and yielding then you’re good to go. Remove it from the syrup and place in the bowl that you’re going to serve it in.
In a small pan, heat the cream till the surface is wobbly and it seems like it’s just about to bubble. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate, and allow it to sit for a minute – the heat of the cream will melt the chocolate instantly. Stir briskly till all the chocolate is melted and you have a smooth, shiny sauce. Stir in the butter and the salt and then pour lavishly over the pear. Drink the rest of the sauce or save it for something else, up to you.
Obviously this makes a fairly gorgeous pudding to be had at the usual time of after dinner, but honestly, in the middle of the day, eaten contemplatively and reverently at the kitchen table while wearing stretchy pants and a large, soft hoodie and wooly socks…it was sublime. Milk chocolate brings a different vibe than 80% cocoa dark chocolate but I’m such a fan of its friendly, vaguely caramelly flavour. Whatever chocolate you use, try to make sure it’s good, that is, that it’s actually going to impart some kind of chocolate flavour at all, you know? The pears can be any old trash but the quality of the chocolate is really going to make or break this thing. That said, I used the fakest, cheapest vanilla essence in the syrup because it’s all I had, and I manage to sleep at night (that’s not true, I’m a terrible sleeper, but it’s not from synthetic vanilla guilt at least!)