You can leave out the ice cream for a parve kosher or vegan dessert. The result is still exciting. Photo by Teresa Kasprzycka | Dreamstime.
Last Updated March 2012
Recipe: Pears Hélène, Pears Belle-Hélène or Poire Belle-Hélène
Poached Pears With Ice Cream In Chocolate Sauce
Overview & History
This recipe, Pears Hélène or Pears Belle-Hélène, is of French origin. It does not carry the American pronunciation, hel-LEEN, but el-ENN, the French version of the name. It’s original name is Poire Belle-Hélène.
The dessert owes its origin to the opera La belle Hélène by composer Jacques Offenbach. It’s a comedic take on the elopement of Queen Helen, wife of King Menelaus of Sparta, with Prince Paris of Troy. This act of l’amour started the Trojan War, as the Greeks sailed to Troy to retrieve their queen. The opera debuted on December 17, 1864, was a big success, and the dessert was developed by Auguste Escoffier as a tribute.
The dessert is composed of pears poached in sugar syrup, topped with vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce and crystallized violets (today sliced almonds are more commonly used).
A Parisian menu staple and a favorite dessert for dinner parties, Pears Hélène offers the lightness of fruit with the richness of chocolate sauce. Pears Hélène has its own designated “food holiday”: March 15th is National Pears Hélène Day.
Recipe serves 4.
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 4 firm Bartlett or Bosc pears, peeled, halved and cored (leave stem intact)
and sprinkled with lemon juice to prevent discoloration
- 1/2 cup sugar or vanilla sugar
- 2-1/2 cups water
- 1 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, if not using vanilla sugar
(buy vanilla sugar or see recipe)
- 1 cinnamon stick, optional
- 1-2 pints vanilla ice cream
- 1 cup chocolate sauce (make your own or try a gourmet sauce like
The King’s Cupboard, also available in a No Sugar Added version)
- Candied violets or 1/4 cup toasted slivered almonds
- Optional mint leaves for garnish.
- Lay the pear halves cut side down in one layer in a wide shallow pan. (If you double the recipe, make two batches—don’t pile the pears on top of each other.)
- In a medium saucepan, make the syrup: Combine sugar, vanilla bean and optional cinnamon stick with 1/2 cup water. (If using vanilla extract instead, add it in the next step.) Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar.
- Lower heat and simmer for 2-5 minutes, until it thickens and turns golden brown. Turn the heat to its lowest setting and gently whisk in the remaining water.
- Pour the poaching liquid over the pears; then cover the pan and simmer for 10 minutes; turn the pears, cover the pan again, and simmer for another 10 minutes. Continue poaching until the pears are translucent, but not completely soft. Test by inserting a sharp knife point in the thickest part of the pear.
- Remove from heat and cool, covered.
- Plate two pear halves with a scoop of ice cream, drizzled with chocolate sauce. Garnish with candied violets/toasted almonds and a mint leaf.
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