When you entertain important guest at home, you must remember how important the dessert is. People often remember what happens last. My advice is to offer a choice of at least two desserts.
Some people love chocolate, others can leave it. Some appreciate rich desserts, while others would prefer something fruity.
Offering a choice will please everyone, and here's another Chef's Secret -- most people will like something from both.
Our all-nut tortes, made from finely ground nutmeats without any flour, quickly became famous and extremely popular. The only contender was perhaps our own Fresh Banana Eclairs.
Our most popular fruit dessert has always been our Pears Helene, a classic recipe made from fresh pears poached in their own light syrup.
Blueberries are another very American delicacy that is enjoyed and praised by foreign visitors. Whenever we serve a mixture of fruits we always include blueberries. They give a beautiful appearance and a very different and pleasant added texture and flavor. Pears Helene 8 firm pears, preferably d'Anjou or Wilhelm 1 quart water, or enough to cover 6 whole cloves 2-inch piece cinnamon stick 1 cup sugar Juice of 1 lemon 4 teaspoons tart jelly, such as red currant 8 small pieces spongecake, or any leftover cake 1 recipe Basic Vanilla Cream Chocolate Sauce
Peel pears, leaving stems on. Cut a slice from bottom of each, so that pears will stand on flat surface. Remove core from bottom, leaving a hole large enough to turn a teaspoon in.
Combine water, cloves, cinnamon stick, sugar, and lemon juice, and bring mixture to a boil. Add pears to liquid, return mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer under cover until pears are fork-tender, about 1 hour. Remove pan from heat and let pears cool in liquid until lukewarm. Then remove with slotted spoon, place on tray, and chill in refrigerator.
When pears have chilled, stuff bottom of each with 1/2 teaspoon jelly and a piece of cake.
Place each pear in individual glass dish with about 1/2 cup of Vanilla Cream. Spoon chocolate sauce over each and serve.
Chef's Secret: If you try to make this dessert from overripe, soft pears, they will fall apart before they finish cooking.
To speed the cooking of the pears, with a small paring knife gently make small incisions about 1/2-inch deep on the inside of the cavity, but be careful not to cut through the pears. To test for doneness, pierce the pears with a cooking needle, above the cavity. If the needle goes in easily, the pears are ready. It is most important not to cook the pears over high heat. Basic Vanilla Cream 8 tablespoons cornstarch 4 cups milk 3 egg yolks 1/2 cup sugar 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon vanilla 6 tablespoons butter
Dissolve cornstarch in 1 cup milk. Beat egg yolks lightly with fork and add them to the cornstarch mixture.
Place remaining 3 cups milk in medium-size saucepan. Add sugar, salt, vanilla, and butter. Heat stirring to dissolve sugar. Once mixture begins to boil, stir with a wire whip and pour in cornstarch-egg mixture. You will have to beat this mixture vigorously with wire whip, as it will become very stiff. It will not be necessary to cook more than 5 minutes; the mixture will thicken almost immediately. Remove from heat as soon as cream is smooth and thick. Cool. if cream is too stiff, dilute with a few tablespoonfuls of cooking syrup from pears. Makes 4 cups. Chocolate Sauce 1/4 cup unsalted butter 1 cup sugar 1/2 cup good-quality cocoa 1 cup milk 1 tablespoon cornstarch 1/4 cup cold water 1/2 cup chocolate syrup, preferably Hershey's 1 teaspoon vanilla
In a very heavy saucepan, melt butter with sugar and cocoa until mixture starts to caramelize. Immediately add milk, stirring constantly. The hard lumps will dissolve as liquid comes to a boil.
Dilute cornstarch with water. Pour this in a slow stream into boiling syrup, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Add chocolate syrup and vanilla. Refrigerate.
Chef's Secret: The saucepan must be very heavy in order to melt the butter and chocolate with the sugar until the sugar starts to caramelize. This mixture not only browns but begins to harden. The caramelized sugar will "toast" the cocoa somewhat, and the butter will get a "burned butter" taste. These are the secret flavor components of the sauce.
You can double or quadruple this recipe without changing the proportion of the ingredients, but it will take a little longer. However, if the family like chocolate sauce, it is worthwhile. The sauce may be kept, refrigerated, up to 2 weeks.