Thursday, 5 April 2012

Poires Belle Helene

Sometimes the plate is empty. Sometimes it feels like you've got nothing left to give.

The last few weeks have been a wild tumble of brilliant and bad news, huge life decisions, multiple lifelong medical diagnoses and many hours at the doctors, almost constant house guests - all in the midst of plenty of work. Last night I got back from a 38hr round trip to the UK. It's been bone-achingly exhausting.

On Saturday this blog turned three. I had this post planned - the dish was made, photographed and eaten. I wanted to write something cheery and celebratory. I typed and typed but I couldn't find the words.

Usually the kitchen is a solace - a calming, healing environment. At the moment I'm finding cooking stressful. Hopefully this will ease as we settle into our new lives, irrevocably changed by these past few weeks. The horizon is very bright - but different.

The many hours of journeying in the past two days were useful. I had time to just sit and think. Process. To mourn what is lost and get excited about the new. To make lists, imagine how things will work out. To adjust to change.

Though blogging is usually something I really enjoy and find rewarding, sometimes it can be frustrating and dispiriting. An exciting new recipe doesn't work. Testing takes time, ingredients you might not have. You get an iffy comment that makes your heart sink. It's ok to acknowledge that.

But when I look back over these three years to the things I've learnt, the people I've met, the opportunities that have arisen, I'm amazed. Every time I've got frustrated and lost heart but not quit I've learnt something - even if it's just that I can keep going and that it is worth it.

So here is a true 'poires au chocolat' recipe for everybody - as healthy as I get and gluten and dairy free.

The sweetness of the pears is tempered by the lemon and the spices. The sauce still feels creamy and rich despite being made with the poaching juices.

You can jazz it up with ice cream - as in the classic French recipe - or leave it plain. I think I prefer it simple.

Poires Belle Helene
(a Poires au Chocolat original, based on the classic French dessert)

4 small pears - I used conference
water to cover (approx 2 ltrs)
2 strips of lemon zest + juice of whole lemon
1 cm fresh ginger, cut into 2 rounds
2-3 whole cloves
4 cardamon pods
1/2 stick of cinnamon, crushed
1/2 vanilla pod, split
1 tsp mild runny honey
100g dark chocolate (70%)
vanilla ice cream to serve (optional)

Select your pears carefully - though a few scratches won't matter, you don't want them to be badly bruised. They should still be firm to the touch - any riper and they'll disintegrate.

Fill a big pan with water and add the lemon zest, lemon juice, ginger, cloves, cardamon, cinnamon and vanilla pod. Fold a square of baking paper bigger than the pan into 2, then 4, then 8. Place the pointy tip in the middle of the pan and cut the bottom off so that it fits into the pan. Cut a cm or so off the pointy tip then unfold - it should look like a doughnut with a tiny hole in the middle. This is your cartouche.

Bring the water up to a boil then reduce to a gentle simmer. While the water is heating up, prepare the pears. Use your peeler/a corer/a knife to take out the bottom crown and the seeds inside - leave the stem. Peel the pears from the stem down in strips (this keeps the pretty shape). As you peel, dip them into the lemony water to reduce browning. Immerse in the simmering water. Repeat with the others. You need to work fairly quickly so the cooking time isn't staggered- if you'd rather go slowly (or have increased the number of pears), get a bowl of cold water and add some more lemon and leave them in there until you're ready to add them to the pan.

Top the water with the cartouche (so the pears don't poke out of the water and brown). Leave on a gentle simmer for roughly 15 minutes or until the pear gives to a toothpick but still firmly keeps shape. Remove the pears to a bowl then tip some of the water in so they're covered. Leave to cool while you make the sauce (if you're making them ahead, keep in the fridge once cool then reheat gently so they're not icy cold).

Chop the chocolate into small chunks and place into a medium bowl. Strain the remaining poaching water into a jug and measure out 150ml. Return to the pan and add the honey. Reduce by half over high heat - you can check it is about 75ml by pouring it back into the measuring jug. Leave to cool for a minute (it'll be boiling hot and would scorch the chocolate - but don't let it cool too far), then pour over the chocolate. Leave for a few minutes then whisk until smooth. Leave to thicken and cool for 10 minutes or so.

When you're ready to serve, remove the pears from the poaching liquid. Cut a slither off the bottom of each one so that it has a flat surface to stand on. Serve with the chocolate sauce in a jug and an optional scoop of ice cream.

(Serves 4)


  1. Great post! Happy birthday to your blog!

    Hope your life is going in the way you're dreaming of! :) Keep up the good work!

  2. Things have a way of working themselves out in the end :) keep faith x x

  3. Congratulations lady. Change for good or for bad has to be taken in good spirit, and in the end it all churns out just fine. Many more years of blogging and a happy life my friend!

  4. My very best wishes to you and happy blog birthday!
    I hope you will find peace in the kitchen soon again.

  5. An appropriate recipe. Congratulations on three years of blogging. I hope things are looking up after the tough time it sounds like you've had.

  6. Sounds like a tumultuous time indeed and you have my condolences about the losses and poor health. I hope the good news balances some of the sadness out.

    And it seems we are almost twins, as my 3rd blog birthday was on the 2nd April.

    Here's to the next three, or ten, or thirty...!

  7. My day becomes brighter when I see a new post from your blog in my inbox. Your recipes and stories are a source of inspiration to many, including me. Keep up and hope things get better soon

  8. Happy blogaversary! Sorry to hear you've been through some hard times - just seen the Saveur blog nominations...hopefully that will bring a smile to your face :-) congratulations!

  9. Happy 3 years! Pretty neat that we started out blogs at nearly the same time :) And a Saveur nomination as your blog's birthday present, how awesome is that?! I had some serious second-hand excitement for you, congratulations Emma!!! xx

  10. Yay for the 3 years club! :) Happy Bloggy Birthday and here's to many many more years of sweetness xx

  11. These photographs are gorgeous!

  12. Zita - Thanks Zita. Life is definitely following a good path, just some scenery I wasn't expecting!

    Liz B - That's a lovely thing to say, thank you :)

    Kulsum - Exactly - you never know what is around the corner! I'm so incredibly blessed in many ways, I have nothing to complain about.

    Kirsten - Thank you! I'm already feeling better in the kitchen :)

    Sara - I thought it would be appropriate! Thanks for your support.

    Kavey - The good news definitely does now :) Thirty years sounds like an awfully long time, but why not! Happy blog birthday to you too.

    Anon - What a wonderful comment, thank you. I'm so glad I can bring a little brightness!

    thelittleloaf - It had me grinning from ear to ear! Thanks for the congrats Kate (!).

    Steph - It is pretty neat. Very awesome birthday present indeed!! xx

    Karen - It's a good club! Thanks for the sweet wishes xx

    Anon - Thank you! I struggled with this one so I'm really glad you like them.

  13. Thank you for continuing to share with us, your blog brings beauty and light and the promise of delicious smells in my kitchen. Life is filled with ups and is what makes life, well life. May yours have more ups than downs.

  14. These photos are so gorgeous. I love the honesty in them.
    And congrats again on your nomination! so well deserved.

  15. Happiness comes to them who opens their door for small treats that life provides to them. So be happy and live longer!


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