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Poires Belle Hélène with hazelnut meringue


Prep time: 30 minutes, plus overnight resting Cook time: 1 hour 30 minutes

Serves 8

A very 1970s dessert, due a revival. You can’t go wrong with poached pears and chocolate, especially if meringue is also involved. When you grind the nuts in a food processor, do it in short bursts, or they will become oily and unusable.

INGREDIENT­S For the meringues

– 5 large egg whites

– 250g golden caster


– 75g blanched hazelnuts, roughly ground

– 1 tsp cornflour

– 1 tsp cider vinegar

For the pears

– 8 pears

– juice of 2 lemons, plus 2 broad strips of lemon zest

– 550ml white wine

– 200g caster sugar

– 1 tsp vanilla extract

– 2 tbsp kirsch (optional)

For the chocolate sauce

– 175g dark chocolate (70 per cent), broken into pieces

– 100ml double cream – 50ml very strong


– 175g soft light-brown


To serve

– 1 litre vanilla ice cream – 25g blanched hazelnuts, toasted and very roughly chopped


Heat the oven to 130C / 120C fan/gas mark 1.

Draw eight circles – 9-10cm in diameter – on baking parchment, four on one sheet and four on another.

Put the egg whites in a scrupulous­ly clean bowl and beat them with a pinch of salt. Once the whites are forming soft peaks, add the caster sugar a tablespoon at a time, continuing to beat. You should end up with a stiff, glossy mixture. Stir in the nuts, cornflour and vinegar.

Use a few small dabs of meringue to stick the baking parchment, pencil-side down, on two large baking sheets.

Divide the meringue between the eight circles. Bake in the centre of the oven for an hour and 20 minutes; swap the baking sheets round halfway through.

Turn the oven off and leave the meringues in there overnight. The next day, carefully peel off the paper. Put the meringues somewhere safe until you want to serve them. They will keep in an airtight container for a week.

To cook the pears, peel them, leaving on the stalks. Immediatel­y put them in a bowl with the lemon juice. Turn them over in it so they don’t go brown.

Put the wine, 100ml water, the lemon zest and the sugar in a pan big enough to hold all the pears in a single layer. Bring slowly to the boil, stirring to help the sugar dissolve.

Turn the heat down, stir in the vanilla, add the pears with the lemon juice, and poach the fruit. You need to turn the pears over every so often to ensure even cooking. Ripe ones can take 15 minutes, firm ones can take 45. Keep checking by testing for doneness with the point of a small sharp knife. The flesh should be tender but the pears should hold their shape.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pears to a broad, shallow bowl where they can lie without touching each other. Otherwise they will continue to cook and become too soft.

Remove the zest from the cooking liquor and bring it to the boil. Keep reducing until it’s a syrup (it will also thicken as it cools). Add the kirsch, if using, and allow to cool. Pour the syrup over the pears.

They will taste even better if they sit in it for aday.keepthemin­the fridge, covered.

To make the sauce, put the chocolate in a bowl. Put the cream, coffee and sugar in a heavy-based saucepan and heat until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is really hot. Pour this over the chocolate. Leave to sit for two minutes, then stir until smooth. It will get thicker as it gets cooler. If a skin forms on top, just stir again.

Serve one meringue per person, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top and a pear beside it. I like some syrup spooned over the ice cream. Drizzle some chocolate sauce over the top, sprinkle on toasted hazelnuts and serve.

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