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Getting saucy with chocolate and pears

Vanilla-poached pears with chocolate Kahlua sauce

Sometimes a recipe invents mitself. I had planned to make a chocolate sauce using dark chocolate, butter, sugar, cream and a liqueur. But cream was also going into the potatoes Dauphinoise, and when preparing that for the oven, well, I kind of got a bit carried away.

So, inadvertently, this becomes a rather odd column on a theme of potatoes and hot chocolate sauce. Not together, obviously.

I had earmarked 300ml cream for the potatoes, and they come in 200ml tubs, but having poured in half of the second one, one of those ‘oh what the heck” moments came upon me and I tipped the rest in, deciding that I would go to the shop on my way home from work later in the day and pick up another tub. Which I forgot to do.

The potatoes turned out beautifully, by the way – there was a hint of garlic and thyme in it, and after about an hour-and-a-half of baking at 180° they were just wonderful.

By the time I had popped the potatoes into the oven it was too late to go out again and buy more cream, as our guests were about to arrive, so I checked my ingredients and decided I’d have to make a sauce using only butter, sugar, chocolate and Kahlua, that dreamy coffee liqueur that everyone was drinking in the Eighties and which became the second choice for an Irish coffee if you ran out of whisky.

And that, if you’re old (or sober) enough to remember, was just before everyone took to drinking Sambucca as if it were an alcoholic’s mother’s milk, but you really don’t want to know about the time a friend and I devoured an entire bottle of it in a series of flaming Sambucca shot dares. Nor would you be wanting to ask me whether I’ve tasted Sambucca ever since then, which I haven’t. I can barely look at the stuff to this day, and if I so much as get a whiff of it from somebody else’s glass my liver palpitates alarmingly.

But that chocolate Kahlua sauce turned out brilliantly, and it’s so easy to make. This was to go with pears that I had poached in a vanilla syrup.

Vanilla-Poached Pears with Chocolate Kahlua Sauce

Serves 4

4 pears

1 stick vanilla

1 cup (250ml) water

1 cup sugar

100g 70% cocoa solids chocolate

4 Tbsp butter

4 Tbsp (60ml) Kahlua

For this you need one pear for each guest. Make a syrup by mixing one part each of cold water and sugar in a pot and bringing to a simmer, stirring now and then for the sugar to dissolve. Before applying it to the heat, split two vanilla pods end to end with a knife and scrape the seeds into the pot. Throw in the pods as well, to be discarded and strained later.

Peel the pears, leaving the stems on (they look good and it’s useful when plopping them in bowls before serving) and lower into the simmering syrup, and simmer very gently for about 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and bring to room temperature. You can refrigerate this (in the syrup) or leave it on a shelf to heat through gently before serving, if only a few hours before serving.

To make this particular chocolate sauce, I melted the butter and chocolate chunks in a stainless steel saucepan over a bigger pot of mildly simmering water, stirring until it melted and melded together, then stirred in the Kahlua. You could dissolve some sugar into this, but quite honestly the Kahlua gave it all the sweetness it needed, even though this was relatively bitter chocolate. Pour it immediately over the pears in individual bowls, or you could fan the pears on plates as you would an avocado, leaving the stem end intact while pressing down with a small, sharp and non-serrated knife to make concertina slices while leaving the top end intact. A couple of maraschino cherries on their stems make a pretty garnish.

For a classic bake of potatoes Dauphinoise, peel large potatos and slice into slim rounds. Keep them in cold water until needed, then drain, pat dry with kitchen paper and layer in a baking dish, pouring cream over each layer as well as seasoning each layer with salt and ground black pepper and sprinkling with very finely chopped garlic. If you like, sprinkle some thyme leaves (not stems) between the layers as well. Top with finely grated Parmesan and bake at 180 or 190degrees for an hour-and-a-quarter or more. Bake it mid-oven and keep an eye – if the Parmesan is browning too soon, either lower the heat a little and/or cover with foil for some of the cooking time.

Don’t serve them together, Daisy.

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