I really enjoyed watching Marcus Waring prepare his modern version of a classic “Poire belle Hélène” as a skills test on BBC’s MasterChef this week. I learnt to make it at culinary school may years ago but It’s still such a cracking dessert. Made by poaching pears in a sugar syrup and served with vanilla ice cream and a chocolate sauce, it is so simple but utterly delicious!

It was first created by Escoffier around 1864 and named after the operetta La belle Hélène by Jacques Offenbach. The name Escoffier is still synonymous with classical French cuisine. Much of his culinary technique was a simplified and modernized version of Marie-Antoine Carême’s elaborate style and Escoffier’s 1903 text Le Guide Culinaire is still used as both a cookbook and a textbook of classic food today. It’s a treasure-trove of over 5,000 recipes but it’s also a fascinating read for any foodie, offering an insight into the history and development of modern cookery and the route of French culinary art from the Victorian age to our own kitchens today. The lineage of finely trained chefs throughout culinary history can be traced to Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935) and in a world where most young chefs are almost cooking by numbers, it’s so important that we cook’s never forget our heritage and ignore the classic techniques of the kitchen that have served us so well down the years. As for “Poire belle Hélène” …it’s difficult to beat poached pears in warm chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream.

There is, perhaps, no ingredient more representative of autumn than a crisp, sweet-acidic, juicy pear and I really think that they come into their own when cooked – in both sweet and savoury dishes. Choose pears that are firm and unblemished. They have a natural affinity with pork, cabbage, cinnamon, almonds, hazelnuts, saffron, blackberries, cloves and sage. They are also perfect partners for beetroot, hard cheese and rhubarb. A fantastic way to enjoy all the freshness and vitality of pears is also to eat them straight from the fruit basket or simply juice them. They are a perfect way to kick start any autumn day, but I can’t resist them with a little dark chocolate. Here’s how to make the most of this season’s harvest!

Roasted pears in pistachio crumbs, chocolate ganache & a ginger carmel sauce

Serves 4

  • 4 large pears (comice, conference and packhams)
  • 12 tbsp finely chopped pistachio or almond nuts
  • 4 tbsp brown sugar

Poaching liquid

  • 1.2l water
  • 500g sugar
  • Juice of 3 lemons
  • 1 Cinnamon stick
  • 2 star anise
  • Caramel sauce
  • 400ml poaching liquid from the pears
  • 100ml brandy
  • 200ml cream
  • 1tbsp chopped ginger

Chocolate “ganache”

  • 150ml cream
  • 115g dark chocolate coverture (chopped)
  • 65g unsalted butter (cold and diced)
  • 80ml brandy

Bring the cream to the boil, remove from the heat and gently stir in the chocolate and butter. Add the brandy, pour into a plastic container and refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours

With a potato peeler, peel the pears very carefully removing only the skin but leaving the stalk on. Using a small, pointed knife or a melon-baller, scope out and remove the core from each pear forming a small cavity to place the ganache inside. In a stainless steel saucepan, bring the poaching liquid to the boil, add the pears and poach gently for 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave the pears to cool in their own liquid. When cool drain and put to one side.

Bring to the boil the poaching liquid and reduce until it starts to caramelise. Add the fresh ginger and remove from the heat. Carefully add the calvados and cream, mix well and strain through a fine sieve.

Roll each pear in the mixed pistachio crumbs and brown sugar, covering evenly and place them on a greased baking sheet. Roast the pears in a hot oven (180ºc/350ºf) for 6-8 minutes. Remove and carefully fill the cavity of each pear with a spoonful of chocolate ganache. Place in the middle of 4 serving plates. Serve with ginger caramel sauce and a big spoonful vanilla ice cream.

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Pear and chocolate frangipane tart

You could also prepare beautiful, individual tartlets from this recipe!

Serves 8

  • 4 pears (peeled, cored and cut in half)
  • 20 flaked almonds
  • a little icing sugar

For the pastry:

  • 450g flour
  • a pinch of salt
  • 150 g icing sugar
  • 200 g cold butter (diced)
  • 3 egg yolks

Chocolate and almond frangipane:

  • 100g dark chocolate
  • 150g butter
  • 50g self-rising flour
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 150g ground almonds
  • 150g Sugar
  • 50g flour

For the pastry:

Place the butter, flour and salt in a food processor and blend until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolks and sugar and continue mixing to incorporate the eggs. Form a ball of dough, wrap in clingfilm and rest in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to about 3mm thick. Line a 20-22cm tart tin, pressing firmly into the corners and sides. Prick the base lightly with a fork and let it rest in the refrigerator for another 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180˚C, gas mark 6. Line the tart with baking parchment, fill with baking beans and blind bake on a baking tray for 20 minutes. Remove the parchment paper and beans and bake for 5 minutes until the tart case is golden.

For the chocolate frangipane:

Put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl and place it over a saucepan of simmering water, without letting the bowl touch the water, until the chocolate is almost completely melted.

Place the butter, ground almonds, flour and sugar in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Incorporate the beaten eggs a little at a time and fold in the melted chocolate.
Place the chocolate and almond cream in the mold and using a spatula, level the surface. Place the pears on top and press lightly into the filling, spread the flaked almonds on top and sprinkle with icing sugar.

Place in the hot oven for 35-40 minutes until the mixture is cooked and the top is slightly caramelized. The filling should also feel almost firm to the touch. Let cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes and then carefully transfer to a board or serving plate. Sift a little cocoa powder over the tart and serve in slices with vanilla ice cream or crème fraîche.