Make-ahead desserts are the savior of many a dinner party; cakes, pies and cookies can all be made ahead and served at the appropriate time with a minimum of fuss. It's hard to make a cake look beautiful on a plate, though. As delicious as it might be, it's still a wedge of sweet bready cake on a plate.
Enter poires belle Hélène, a very traditional French recipe that looks arresting when served in a clear cocktail glass. There are many variations on the recipe: some use sabayon (egg yolks, sugar and wine), crème anglaise (pourable custard) or crème Chantilly (sweetened vanilla whipped cream) instead of ice cream; some have flavors cooked into the ganache; some poach pears in simple syrup or red wine instead of white wine.
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You can--and should--make the components for this ahead of time. The pears can be cooked and refrigerated, and so can the chocolate. Just make sure you remove them from the refrigerator a little ahead of when you need them, so the chocolate will pour smoothly.
Poires Belle Hélène
4 Bosc pears with stem firmly attached
1/4 cup plus 1 tsp. sugar, divided
1 cup white wine (don't buy expensive wine, it's getting mixed with sugar)
1/2 vanilla bean (or 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract)
3 oz. good dark chocolate
6 Tbsp. heavy cream, divided
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 pint French vanilla ice cream
1. Peel the pears, leaving the stem on, and cut a small disc off the bottom for stability.
2. Put the pears in a deep saucepan, then add 1/4 cup of sugar and the wine.
3. Slice the vanilla bean lengthwise, scrape the seeds, and put seeds and pod in the pan.
4. Cover and boil for 20 minutes, then remove from the liquid and let cool.
5. Bring water to a simmer in the bottom of a double boiler (or in a saucepan that will fit a metal or Pyrex bowl without the bowl's bottom touching the water).
6. In the top of the double boiler or bowl, mix the chocolate and 3 Tbsp. of cream.
7. Heat the chocolate mixture until the chocolate melts, then remove from the heat.
8. Add the remaining cream, the vanilla extract, the sugar and the salt and stir to combine, which will cool the mixture.
9. Place the mixture back over the simmering water and add the butter. When the butter has melted completely, remove from the heat and let cool.
10. Pour a bit of the pear poaching syrup into the bottom of a decently sturdy cocktail glass, then set the pear in the glass, drizzle with the chocolate sauce, and garnish with a small spoonful of French vanilla ice cream.