Pears Hélène, or Pears Belle-Hélène, is of French origin. It does not carry the American pronunciation, hel-LEEN, but el-ENN, the French version of the name. It’s original name is Poire Belle-Hélène.
The dessert owes its origin to the opera La belle Hélène by composer Jacques Offenbach. It’s a comedic take on the elopement of Queen Helen, wife of King Menelaus of Sparta, with Prince Paris of Troy. This act of l’amour started the Trojan War, as the Greeks sailed to Troy to retrieve their queen. The opera debuted on December 17, 1864, was a big success, and the dessert was developed by Auguste Escoffier as a tribute.
The dessert is composed of pears poached in sugar syrup, topped with vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce and crystallized violets (today sliced almonds are more commonly used).
A Parisian menu staple and a favorite dessert for dinner parties, Pears Hélène offers the lightness of fruit with the richness of chocolate sauce. In America, March 15 is National “Pears Helene” Day.