Poires Belle Helene
This is a classic French dessert. sometimes plain cake is used in conjunction with ice cream or pastry cream, but the essential elements of pears and chocolate sauce remain constant.
6 to 8 ripe Bartlett, Bosc, or d'Anjou pears (buy them green, ripen at room temperature, and then chill when they have turned yellow. Otherwise, you risk buying a too ripe pear with a dark center)
1 cup sugar and 2 cups water
2" piece of stock cinnamon and 3 to 4 whole cloves
Bring the sugar, water, and spices to a boil and simmer 10 - 15 minutes.
Peel pears with vegetable peeler, leaving stems intact. Immerse in cold water mixed with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to keep from darkening.
Cook pears in syrup, turning once with wooden spoons to avoid cutting up. After 15 to 30 minutes depending on size and ripeness, test for doneness by piercing with a skewer. They should be tender. Cool in syrup and then chill. (Save syrup for cooking squash or sweet potatoes or cooking more pears).
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter (important in chocolate and liqueur combinations)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 cup cold water
1/4 cup commercial chocolate syrup
1/4 cup Creme de Menthe, Brandy or Triple Sec
Dissolve cocoa by slowly adding milk, stirring until smooth. Melt butter in a heavy saucepan and then add sugar, cooking until it turns golden. Stir frequently. Add the milk and do not be badly frightened by the lumps. They will disappear if you use a whisk on them. When smooth, add the cornstarch and cook to thicken, stirring. Move to a cool bowl (you will find the pan very hot and apt to stick if you don't) and when tepid add chocolate syrup and liqueur. Serve at room
Assembling the dessert.
Drain the pears and trim the bottoms so they will stand upright on a dessert plate or shallow bowl. Place a scoop of vanilla ice cream next to the pear. Spoon chocolate sauce over the pear and top the ice cream off with a chocolate leaf.
To make chocolate leaves, gather some rose or ivy leaves, wash and dry them. Melt, gently, 1 2 tablespoons chocolate chips in a heavy saucepan and stir until smooth (can also use microwave to melt). Let cool a bit to thicken up so you get a heavy layer on the leaf. Then neatly dip the shiny side into the chocolate, making sure it is well coated, but not collecting underneath. That makes peeling off later difficult. Place on a plate, chocolate side up, and chill until firm. Then, using the stem and a knife point as an aid, peel real leaf away from the chocolate one. Store in refrigerator until needed.
Variations: A raspberry puree is also nice with the pears.