Poires belle-Hélène: an elegant dessert for a special occasion

poires belle helene

In a season filled with buttery cakes and cookies a fruit-based dessert can be a welcome alternative. Poires belle- Hélène—poached pears, draped in chocolate sauce, set atop a mound of vanilla ice cream—was invented in 1870 by the great Auguste Escoffier, the pioneer of modern French cuisine.

He named his creation after Hélène, a character in Jacques Offenbach’s opera bouffe, “La belle Hélène,” which premiered on 17 December 1864 at the Théâtre des Variétés in Paris. It parodies the story of (the beautiful) Helen abandoning her husband and running off with Paris, which set off the Trojan War.

A simple preparation, an elegant dessert…

The elegance of Poires belle-Hélène belies how simple it is to assemble the final plate at the last minute. Pears, poached in a simple syrup, can be prepared a day in advance. (See David Lebovitz on How to Poach Pears here).

For the chocolate sauce you can make a simple ganache, but we prefer a sauce made with dark chocolate and water. Unlike hot chocolate sauces that are made with milk or cream, water doesn’t dilute the bitterness of the chocolate, which plays well against the sweet pears. The chocolate sauce recipe here employs cornstarch so the sauce will coat the pears, and a smidge of butter to add a beautiful sheen. It can be made in the microwave in about 5 minutes.

…with a beautiful presentation

When ready to serve scoop some vanilla ice cream into a shallow bowl, place a pear on top and pour chocolate sauce in a thin stream to whatever effect you want—completely covered or dripping down the sides. Finally, garnish the pear with toasted sliced almonds, which are traditional, or use your imagination: dust them with shredded coconut, sprinkle with julienned candied ginger—more ideas are listed below the recipe.

Your guests will delight in this dessert. It’s exquisite, refreshing, and decadent at the same time.

Poires belle-Hélène


  • 6 Bosc pears, peeled and cored
  • 1 C. sugar
  • 2 ½ C. water or 1 C water + 1 ½ C. dry white wine
  • 1 T. lemon juice
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • 1 pint vanilla ice cream
  • ½ C. sliced almonds
  • For the chocolate sauce:
  • ½ lb. dark chocolate, broken into small chunks
  • ½ water
  • 1 T. cornstarch dissolved in 2 T. cold water
  • 1 T. butter, softened


Poach the pears

  1. Place sugar, water, and lemon juice in a heavy saucepan. Bring to boiling point and simmer for 5 minutes. Lower the pears into the syrup and cover with a circle of parchment paper. The syrup must cover the pears.
  2. Poach for 15 minutes, then test for doneness by inserting a thin knife or cake tester into the widest part. It should slip in easily but the pear should not be soft.
  3. Remove from the heat and allow pears to cool in the syrup. Add the vanilla extract to the syrup.

Make the chocolate sauce in the microwave

  1. Place the chocolate and water in a microwave-proof bowl. Heat on high setting for 30 seconds. Remove and stir. Cook for another 30 seconds, remove.
  2. Add the cornstarch mixture and stir. Repeat heating at 20 second intervals until chunks are almost, but not quite, melted. Stir vigorously until the mixture is smooth. Add the butter and stir to incorporate.

Complete the dish

  1. Put a scoop of ice cream into six individual serving dishes.
  2. Place a pear on top of the ice cream in each dish and press gently to partially embed the pear. Pour warm chocolate sauce over the pears.
  3. Sprinkle with sliced almonds and serve at once.

Serves 6

Variations for garnishing the pears

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