Absolutely decadent, melting warm chocolate sauce dripping over flavorful poached pears and yummy vanilla ice cream is my idea of what the French call “gourmandise”.
I give you this wonderful classic French dessert Poires belle Hélène recipe, both simple and elegant that will definitely please your family or your guests, and the story behind as you know that I love to explain where traditional French recipes come from.
A few tips to master poires belle hélène like a real French
- Poached pears
For this recipe, it is highly recommended to choose organic pears and citrus as we use the skin (pear peels and citrus zests) for the poaching syrup.
Choose ripe but firm pears. If you don’t have time, use canned pears if you find this in your country as we do in France, but homemade poached pears are much tastier!
As for Melba peaches (see the recipe here), do not throw away the juice. We need a little bit of this juice to flavor chocolate sauce. There will be quite a lot of syrup remaining. Pour it in a bottle, store it in the refrigerator and drink it as a juice, eventually with water if you find it too sweet, it’s delicious!
Now that you know how to make poached pears, make this recipe your own and use the poached pears as a base for other desserts, such as for example my chocolate pear yogurt cake.
- Chocolate sauce
Dripping warm chocolate over room temperature smooth pears and cold ice cream is definitely part of the magic of this dessert. Maybe a bit like a sundae actually. I highly recommend serving pears and ice cream in individual plates or bowls, and let your guests, family or the kids pour over the chocolate sauce, soooo yummy. I guarantee they’ll love it. You can even double the chocolate sauce quantities, the more you’ll have, the less will be remaining! In my recipe I pour a bit of pear poaching syrup in the chocolate sauce, it gives a wonderful taste. However, if you want a clinging thick coat of chocolate sauce, just melt chocolate with a bit of milk.
- Vanilla ice cream
Choose a good quality ice-cream, if possible with natural vanilla flavors.
- Almonds to garnish
You can sprinkle slivered almonds over melted chocolate, ideally lightly toasted. Heat them in a pan or in the oven (on a tray covered with aluminum foil or baking paper) and stop when a nice golden light brown colour. I don’t do this here, a priori as in the original recipe. Hazelnut could work as well don’t you think so?
The story behind Pear Belle Helene
Do you know where this recipe comes from? The French name of this recipe is poires belle Hélène. Literally, poire means pear, belle means beautiful, Hélène is a woman’s first name.Thus beautiful Hélène’s pears. Now, can you guess who is this pretty lady Hélène who gave her name to this delicious chocolate dessert?
Some say this dessert was named poire belle Hélène to celebrate the premiere of Jacques Offenbach’s Operetta La Belle Hélène. The opera actually dates from 1864 (the premiere took place on December 17, 1864 at the Parisian Théâtre des Variétés). However, it is more likely that renowned French Chef Auguste Escoffier, the godfather of haute cuisine, created this dessert during the long life of the operetta which was performed 500 times, which was huge at the time. Extravagant costumes, joyful but splendid music, frenzied rhythms, humor, light lyrics, breathtaking mezzo soprano voices… Offecbach’s operettas are indeed fascinating.
Chef Auguste Escoffier was then working at the Petit Moulin Rouge, a cabaret near the Champs-Elysées, at walking distance from Bouffes-Parisiens, the first theater owned by Offenbach. It is said that Escoffier was very sensitive to human beings and to ladies’ beauty. He must have found both in the singer interpreting the title role of Helen of Troy (or Sparta), la belle Hélène, Hortense Schneider. Maybe it was her silky smooth voice. How and where he met her and decided to dedicate this dessert to her is not clear.
At that time, hot and cold desserts were very popular, ice cream was popular but a technique difficult to master and hot chocolate dizzeling of the most beautiful effect.
Be that as it may, Auguste Escoffier is said to have invented this recipe in honor of Hortense Schneider, the Belle Hélène in the eponymous Offenbach opera. And very quickly several chefs from the restaurants of the Grands Boulevards in Paris began to serve dishes called Belle Hélène. For example: Tournedos Belle Hélène (beef served with crispy potatoes, watercress leaves, artichoke hearts and béarnaise sauce), Belle Hélène poultry suprèmes (chicken breasts with asparagus and truffle ), Belle Hélène eggs (soft-boiled or poached eggs laid out on crumbled chicken garnished with asparagus tips) or meat with tomatoes, peas, carrots and potato, Belle Hélène sole fillets, Belle Hélène stew…
French food words of this recipe
poire = pear ; belle = beautiful (for a man: beau) ; poché = poached ; glace = ice-cream ; vanille = vanilla ; sirop = syrup
Poires Belle Hélène - French classic Poached pears & chocolate dessert
- 6 pears medium size
- 6 scoops vanilla ice cream
- 30 gr silvered lmonds optional
- 1 liter water
- 140 gr sugar
- 1 vanilla pod or powdered vanilla extract
- ½ lemon for zest
- ½ orange orange for zest
- 1 star anise
- 70 gr pear cooking syrup
- 30 gr milk
- 70 gr dark chocolate
- Peel pears but do not throw away the peelings.
- In a saucepan put pear peelings, water, sugar, vanilla bean split in half and scraped, star anise and the very thin citrus zests.
- Bring to a boil, add whole pears and let simmer for about 20 minutes, covered (more or less time depending on the size of your pears). Stop the heat and let the syrup cool down, leaving the pears in the syrup.
- Gently remove pears. When they are at room temperature and cut them in half to be able to remove the inside core.
- Drain the syrup to filter the juice by pouring it through a sieve. You will use part of this syrup for the chocolate sauce.
- Just before dessert (you can prepare ingredients in advance), make the chocolate sauce. Roughly mince chocolate, place it in a saucepan with 70 g of the pear cooking syrup and the milk. Heat over low heat, stirring occasionally until you get a smooth sauce.
Dress in individual plates
- Reform the shape of pears by assembling each two halves, in individual plates or bowls, add a scoop of vanilla ice cream in each plate. Pour the warm chocolate sauce in a pot to let your guests help themselves and pour the chocolate sauce over pears and ice cream.
- Voilà, that’s all.
Bon appétit !