Recently, I bought myself a copy of Nigel Slater's 'Ripe'. For someone who has increasingly found herself enjoying baking with the fruit of the season, I thought this book would be a valuable addition to my tiny cookbook collection. And for once, I got it right!!
To call this book a cookbook would be doing it gross injustice. This book is much much more. Divided into chapters, with one chapter being dedicated to one fruit, this book celebrates the world of fruit like none other. With his characteristic, evocative style, Slater draws you into the magical world of fruit trees that grow in his backyard, jostling with each other for space. And then as the seasons change, he introduces you to each fruit tree as an unique personality.
From the tree to its blossoms to its fruit, from its shape to its colour to its taste, he describes the appeal of each fruit, almost as if it were a person. Elaborating on the appropriate pairings for each fruit, he shares recipes that celebrate the fruit. Along with rustic photographs, this book engrosses and enchants you so completely in its world, that you can't help long for a little patch of fruit trees to call your own!!
I was keen on giving one of the recipes from the book a shot. I was looking for something easy and fuss-free and it had to be with pears - the one fruit along with apples that is dominating the market right now. Nigel talks about the pairing of pears and chocolate as a "marriage made in heaven"!! And that's how I zeroed in on this recipe of poached pears along with warm chocolate sauce that has a hint of coffee in it.
As it turns out, this recipe of poached pears with chocolate sauce is a classic French bistro dessert. Created in 1864 by the legendary Auguste Escoffier, this dessert was inspired by the operetta, La belle Hélène by Jacques Offenbach. The operetta parodied the story of the infamous Helen whose face launched a thousand ships and set off the Trojan war!! And so in French, this dessert is called 'Poires Belle Hélène'!!
Don't you just love these French names?!!? They make something simple sound so elegant and classy, that it makes you want to pull out your high heels and pearls for the occasion!!!
The dessert is nothing too elaborate. The recipe in the book poaches the pears in a simple sugar syrup with vanilla. I took it further and added some spices - star anise, cinnamon and cloves. The chocolate sauce is more of a chocolate ganache with a hint of coffee. I love coffee but if it's not to your liking, you can leave it out.
As you poach the pears, the gentle waft of those spices, namely the star anise and cinnamon, will invade your kitchen and soothe the senses. So delicate is the aroma of the poached pears, that I did wonder, while making the chocolate sauce, if it would overpower and dominate the pears.
And that's where I was surprised. The dessert is something of a 'tango' between the two components. If initially your taste buds are led by the more powerful chocolate sauce, the delicate pear follows with the spices and a certain freshness of the fruit that stands up quite effortlessly to the chocolate. Much like the classical dance, the components embrace each other to create a dessert that is elegant and captivating!
You can have it with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream but the opinion at home was that it could easily be done away with.. the choice is, of course, yours!! Either way, the simplicity and elegance of this dessert asks that you try it at least once and you won't be disappointed!!
Poires Belle Hélène : Spice-Poached Pears with Warm Chocolate Sauce
Adapted from the recipe in the book, Ripe by Nigel Slater
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2.5 cups water
- a vanilla pod
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- 1 star anise
- 1 stick of cinnamon
- 4 cloves
- 2 plump pears
- 80 gms dark chocolate, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon, strong black coffee (optional)
- 90 mls double cream
- 1 1/2 tsp butter
- In a large saucepan, bring the water, vanilla, lemon juice, sugar and the whole spices to a boil, then turn down the heat and leave to simmer gently.
- Peel the pears, cut them in half lengthwise and remove the cores with a spoon and a sharp knife. If you find them turning brown, squeeze some lemon juice over them. That will stop them from browning on account of oxidisation.
- Put the pears in the pan and let them simmer gently until they are tender to the point a knife can be put through them without any resistance. This could take up to 40 minutes
- To understand the process better, read the following post by David Leibovitz: http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2009/11/how-to-make-poached-pears/
- Leave the pears to cool in the syrup.
- On a double boiler, add the coffee to the cream. Then add the dark chocolate and keep stirring till the chocolate is completely melted and smooth.
- Then stir in the butter.
- Pour the chocolate sauce into a pitcher.
- To serve, drain the pears, put it on a dish. Pour over the warm chocolate sauce and serve with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream (optional).