Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Poires Belle Hélène

Adapted from How to Eat by Nigella Lawson

You probably already know how I feel about Nigella Lawson. She is my number one living- person-I-don’t-know that I’d like to have lunch (and dinner) with. How to Eat is a book that will nourish you all by itself. It is a tome as voluptuous as Nigella herself. I keep daydreaming about taking a flat in London for two weeks, armed only with this book, trolling around town buying things like double cream and self-rising flour and caster sugar and Cumberland sausages and coming home to cook, of course with the occasional foray to the River Café and Sally Clarke’s in between.

This is a good recipe and a fabulous way to eat pears, especially considering the truth of what Nigella says about them. "When they’re good, they’re wonderful, but I am beginning to think Ralph Waldo Emerson was being optimistic when he wrote, 'There are only ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat.' ” So give this one a go. You’ll like it.

For the Pears

4 – 6 firm pears, Bartlett work well here
Juice of 1 lemon
½ cup superfine sugar or vanilla sugar*
1 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract if not using vanilla sugar

Peel, halve, and core the pears and sprinkle them with the lemon juice to stop them from discoloring. Put 1¼ cups water, the sugar, and the vanilla bean, if using, in a wide shallow pan that can hold the pears in one layer. Bring the water the boil, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves, then lower the heat, and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the vanilla extract now if you are not using the vanilla bean or vanilla sugar. Put the pears into the liquid, cut side down, and raise the heat so the liquid boils up and covers the pears. Spoon the syrupy liquid over the pears if necessary. After about 30 seconds, lower the heat, cover the pan, and simmer for 10 minutes; turn the pears, cover the pan again, and simmer for another 10 minutes. Continue simmering the pears until they are cooked and translucent; they should feel tender but not mushy when pierced with a cake tester. The amount of time it takes to cook them depends upon the pears. Remove the pan from the heat, keep covered, and cool.

For the Chocolate Sauce

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
½ cup strong black coffee or 1 teaspoon instant coffee dissolved in ½ cup boiling water
½ cup superfine sugar
½ cup heavy cream

Break the chocolate into small pieces and put into the top of a double boiler with the coffee and sugar, and melt over low heat, stirring occasionally. Add the cream, and keep stirring until the sauce is very hot.

Serve the pears with best-quality vanilla ice cream (your own or Haagen-Dazs) and the chocolate sauce.

*Vanilla Sugar

This is easy to do and worth the little effort it requires as you end up with gloriously scented sugar to use in desserts.

Chop a couple of high-quality, moist vanilla beans into 2-inch pieces, and put into a screw-top jar. Fill the jar with a cup of superfine sugar. Let it sit at least a week. As you use it up, pour fresh superfine sugar over the pieces of vanilla beans. Stop using the same beans once they no longer give out their sweet scent.


  1. Just last night I added Nigella's books to my library list after watching her Chefography on the Food Network. Did you see it? It made me view her in such a new light, what an amazingly kind, strong and interesting woman.

    Ari (Baking and Books)

  2. Delicieux !

    I chanced upon your blog after a search for Poies Belle Helene.

    I love the velvety chocolate sauce from this recipe. I had to use a high quality decaf the second time since couldn't sleep after my first try.


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