Meringues, poached pears, chocolate sauce: looks heavenly, tastes divine

Most of this dessert can be done in advance, then brought together at the last minute

Meringues with poached pears and warm chocolate sauce. Photograph: Harry Weir

Meringues with poached pears and warm chocolate sauce. Photograph: Harry Weir

 

This is a statement dessert fit for any celebration. It both looks and tastes heavenly. The pears are poached until beautifully tender and served with meringue, chocolate sauce, softly whipped cream and flaked almonds.

The classic combination of poached pears and chocolate sauce is inspired by the French dessert, poires belle Hélène. The dish is attributed to 19th century French chef Escoffier, who named it after the operetta La belle Hélène. Poires belle Hélène are served with vanilla ice-cream, but I love the extra crunch and texture of the meringues and almonds. The whipped cream brings all the elements together without overwhelming them.

Although there are a few different parts to this dish, many can be done in advance, then brought together at the last minute. In fact, this quick assembly makes it a fantastic candidate for Valentine’s dessert chez-soi. Poached pears always look so attractive, standing proudly in their dish. It is worth taking the time to slice a little off the bottom of each pear so they reliably stay upright when they are served. Slightly underripe fruit work best here, so they keep their shape when cooked.

If you are planning to make this recipe for two, the extra meringues will store for up to 10 days in an airtight container. Bathed in the syrupy jus, the pears freeze excellently.

Dim the lights and present them on your prettiest tableware. Listening to a 19th century operetta is entirely optional, but is a fitting musical choice.

Variation: To make a tasty syrup, use wine instead of water, add aromatic spices such as cinnamon or star anise and boil the liquid to reduce it.

Meringues with poached pears and warm chocolate sauce

Serves 4

Meringues with poached pears and warm chocolate sauce. Photograph: Harry Weir
Meringues with poached pears and warm chocolate sauce. Photograph: Harry Weir

Ingredients
For meringues:
2 egg whites, room temperature
Pinch salt
110g caster sugar
For poached pears:
4 firm Conference pears
Juice of half a lemon
750ml water (or 350ml white wine and 300ml water)
175g caster sugar
For the chocolate sauce:
75g dark chocolate
50ml cream
To serve:
75ml cream, freshly whipped 
25g flaked almonds, toasted
Method
1
 Preheat fan oven to 100 degrees Celsius. Grease and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2 Using an electric whisk and a spotlessly clean bowl, whisk egg whites and salt to stiff peaks (when whisking, start on a low speed, increasing to high as soon as the eggs start to froth).

3 Add the sugar in two to three batches while continuously whisking on a medium-high speed, ensuring the sugar is fully incorporated between batches. Whisk for another five minutes until the sugar has fully dissolved and the mixture is stiff and holds its shape.

4 To create four to six meringues without using a piping bag, use two clean dessert spoons, and pile large mounds of stiff meringue mixture on to the parchment paper, leaving a half width between them (keeping the mound high, rather than wide will make it is easier to shape).

5 Shape from the base using the back of a clean spoon, working upwards to a peaked top.

6 Place in the middle shelf of the preheated oven. Bake for 1¾-2 hours. Once baked, turn off the oven and leave the meringues inside to cool fully.

7 For poached pears: peel the pears, keeping their stalks intact. Squeeze lemon juice over them to prevent their skin discolouring.

8 Place the pears in a small saucepan and pour in the water and sugar. Bring the liquid to a simmer over a medium heat to ensure the sugar has dissolved, then reduce to a very low heat, cover with a lid and continue to cook the pears for 1 hour (or until tender).

Once tender, remove the pears from the hot liquid and set them aside to cool completely.

10 For warm chocolate sauce: chop the chocolate into small pieces and place in a bowl. Heat the cream to just below boiling point before pouring it over the chocolate pieces. Leave to sit for 60 seconds then stir the hot cream through the chocolate to make a smooth glossy sauce.

11 Slice across the base of each pear so they stand upright. Serve with meringues, warm chocolate sauce, flaked almonds and whipped cream.

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