Poires Belle Hélène
Poached Pears with Ice Cream and Chocolate Sauce
I’m standing in the warm Kitchen, looking out the window. There’s a rabbit on a patch of grass that lays just before the west garden. While the snow’s melted, it’s still winter outside. Still cold. But that rabbit is persistent and happily finding the few shoots of green in a carpet of brown.
Pears, Glorious Pears
Our food can be like that sometimes. My childhood home had several fruit trees in the yard – four sorts of apples, two types of cherries, a cursed peach which suffered numerous collisions with the lawn mower. And a beautiful pear tree. Fragrant white flowers in the spring and gorgeous, juicy pears in the autumn. The tree bore an astonishing, nearly unbelievable amount of fruit each year. They were transformed into pear pie, frozen pears, pear butter. You get it – we had a lot of pears. The thing with such abundance is that it can become pedestrian. The largesse of the pear tress was lost on me and my brother. As a child, and as a young adult, I thought little of pears – the oddly shaped cousins of apples.
That is, until I discovered poached pears. These are not the limp, beige “things” in syrup that plague supermarket shelves and school cafeterias. These are luscious, firm, pear-y, extravagant things. And shockingly easy to prepare. My favorite version is the Poires Belle Hélène from La Bonne Soupe. It’s the vanilla that makes the difference here. While the recipe calls for ice cream to be served over the fruit, I personally find that a bit much – although I will confess to occasionally topping the pears with a bit of whipped cream and chocolate sauce for an extra bit of decadence. But honestly, these are so incredible good that you’ll relish eating the pear all by itself.
Poires Belle Hélène
- 4 firm, ripe pears, such as Comice or Anjou
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- 2 C water
- 1 C sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 4 scoops rich vanilla ice cream
- 1/2 C chocolate sauce, warmed
- Peel the pears, cut them in half, and cut out the cores. Place the pears in a small bowl, cover with water, and add the lemon juice.
- Bring the water, sugar and vanilla extract to a boil in a heavy, nonreactive 2-quart saucepan, stirring, over high heat. Continue to cook over high heat until the sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes.
- Reduce the heat to medium. Drain the pears and slip them into the poaching liquid. Cook the pears until tender, 10 to 12 minutes, depending on the pear. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the pears to cool in the poaching liquid. This can be done ahead of time, and the pears can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
- To serve, place a pear half, cut side up, in each compote dish. Place a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top of the pear half and spoon the chocolate sauce liberally over the ice cream.