I mentioned that next month I am making dessert for one hundred people at a farm to table brunch. For the last few weeks I have been bringing a few dessert samples to the Sunday market to have our favorite shoppers sample them and for Raquel and I to evaluate. This weekend, I’m bringing two of my family’s favorite holiday desserts. Well there are actually a few more favorites than these two, but these are high on the list! These are made from a recipe book I received one day in Beaune with the Sunday newspaper.
This poached pear has a fancy name for being such a simple dessert. But it is a perfect holiday season dessert, with the whole fruit and chocolate, as well as a lovely presentation.
PEARS BELLE HELENE
For this recipe you will need:
6 fresh pears, firm and not overly ripe with as little bruising as possible
1 cup less two tablespoons sugar
Juice of one lemon
175 grams of dark chocolate (I use Valrhonna 70% from Trader Joes; 100g per bar)
1 cup less two tablespoons heavy cream
Start with the best pears you can find. I love d’Anjou, but today I used a pair of Comice pears from the market. You can also find pears by the box at Costco at a very good price.
Put a pot large enough to hold all six pears on the stove and bring to moderate simmer but not a boil; add the sugar to the water. White the water is heating, juice the lemon into a small bowl and slice the the uneven bottom off each pear; just enough so that the pear will sit flat.
Peel the pears, leaving the stem intact, and immediately roll them one by one in the lemon juice, right after peeling. This will prevent the pears from oxidizing (or turning brown). If there are any brown spots on the pear, peel them off so that the pear is free of blemishes~
Drop the pears into the boiling water. Over moderate heat (but not boiling), let the pears cook, rotating them if you need to so that they all cook evenly. Today I’m just making two pears~
Carefully remove the pears after about 15 minutes. Use a large spoon and lift the pears from below so that you leave the pear intact. Set on a paper towel briefly to drain.
While the pears cool off, break the chocolate into small pieces (I tap the bar against the counter a dozen times while still in the foil) and place the pieces in a small bowl with a tablespoon of the water you used to boil the pears and set aside. Heat the cream but don’t let it boil; pour the hot cream over the chocolate and stir until the chocolate is melted. If the chocolate does not completely melt, you can place the bowl over the hot water you used to poach the pears. You will end up with a nice, smooth chocolate sauce. You can also infuse this sauce with vanilla extract or various liqueurs~
Place each pear on a saucer, berry bowl or small plate. I put a paper doily under each pear; pour the sauce over each pear. Use a small spoon so that you can get as much of a lace-y or drip-ey look to the chocolate on top. You will see various versions of this dessert; add ice cream, nuts or pistachios. I like the simple version~
The other great thing about this dessert is that you can make it well ahead of time. Ideally one day ahead of time so that the pears don’t look tired, but I have left these on the table for two or three days and they still seem fine. I’ll make them the day before the farm to table. A small pointed French tea spoon is set out alongside; a small knife is also a great idea sometimes~
A second great and easy dessert, especially for the chocolate lovers, is pots de crème. Sometimes this is confused with a mousse, but it’s far easier than the mousse to prepare, and also easy to adapt with infused flavors and garnish. The butter in this dessert gives it a nice smooth yet substantial taste versus the fluffy mousse.
PETITS POTS DE CRÈME au CHOCOLAT
I love chocolate, but for dessert I usually like just a tiny bite of it. I usually use porcelain egg cups and include them in the dessert table for individual portions.
You will need:
1 1/2 cups whole milk
400 grams of dark chocolate (I use Valrhonna 70%)
200 grams (a little less than 2 sticks) butter (I used Kerry Gold from Costco)
In a saucepan, bring the milk to a boil then immediately remove from heat. While the milk is heating, break the chocolate into pieces and put it in a bowl. Tapping the bar against the counter while it’s still in the foil is much better than chopping it and will result in no wasted chocolate. Pour the boiling milk over the chocolate pieces, and stir until smooth and blended. Then add the butter, cut into pieces, stirring until smooth. If the butter is not melting, you can put the bowl over a pan of very hot water. Pour into cups and refrigerate for two hours or more~
Get creative about how to serve these cute little pots. Think tiny….think variety….small tea cups, ramekins, demitasse cups…I love these little cordial glasses, and couples sometimes like to share one glass~
You can dress up your little pots in a variety of ways. I like a caramel doodle, or raspberries and a mint leaf. In summer, a few tiny slivers of basil might be nice with the fruit; or else ultra-thin lemon or orange zest slices. I had blackberries on hand today. You need to let them sit in the fridge to set a little before you put fruit on top. I added the blackberries to the glass at right too soon, so here you see them sinking…oops~
This is the best look; let the pots sit in the fridge for about 15 minutes; you will see the chocolate darken when it starts to set. You want it to be starting to set but not too firm. Press the fruit down just a little so that it sits in the chocolate. A perfect little bite of chocolate, and one of my favorites for a dessert tray~
As I mentioned, you can infuse these pots with a number of flavors. Infuse the milk with the flavor of your choice by adding to the milk as it heats then letting steep for 15 minutes: cinnamon sticks, fresh vanilla beans, coffee or other spices; in summer, just a tiny hint or rosemary, lavender or other summer herbs. Liquid flavors such as alcohols or liqueurs can be added at the end of preparation. Also try different chocolates if you like….white or milk chocolate, as long as it’s good quality.
As as for the topper, I can think of 20 other different ideas that would give a hint as to what is inside, or else simply look pretty: a small flower like edible nasturtium in season; coffee bean; half a pecan or other nut on top; lavender sprig; candied or fresh orange or lemon zest; candied rose or violet flowers. See what you can find in your garden or at your market that will be delicious, interesting or pretty.
Hope you will try these for your holiday meals or party dessert trays~