When I was little, we used to love a dessert called Poire Belle Helene. Scoops of vanilly ice cream piled up high in a tall glass, light as cloud chantilly cream, decadent chocolate sauce, soft juicy pears and crunchy almonds. I do love chocolate cakes in case you haven’t realised yet. I have such fond memories of this dessert that I recreated it as a chocolate cake recipe when I set up Pudding Fairy. It’s a fantastic treat, perfect as a birthday cake, or for a glamorous pic nic dessert idea!
Chocolate cake recipe: Poire Belle Helene Sponge cake
How do you make a genoese sponge
The key to a great genoese sponge is….air. You don’t want to knock all the air out of it whilst you’re preparing it. So patience and a minimum of mixing and folding are always best. That’s why I tart my genoese sponge by making a meringue mix. It gives a stable airy base to gently fold in the other ingredients in. It’s a method I have learnt from a recipe by French chef Raymond Blanc.
Tips to make a perfect genoese sponge
- Make sure all your ingredients are at room temperature
- Make sure all your ingredients are weighted and ready in front of you
- Oven pre heated and tin lined with baking parchment so you can divide your mixture and bake it as soon as the mix is ready. The more you wait the more the air bubbles pop, giving you less rise.
- I use my stand up mixer to make the meringue and fold in the egg yolks (on a low speed). I do however fold it the flour and butter by hand as I find letting the mixer do it deflates it too much.
- I cheat a little (but then it’s a trick I learnt from watching Marry Berry so if she does it….) I use self raising flour. Traditionally, genoese sponge is made with plain flour and it’s only the volume of air trapped in the eggs that provides the rise. Oh well.
Making meringue buttercream
To make meringue buttercream using the Swiss meringue method, you’ll need to heat up your egg whites and sugar unti lthey turn into liquid marshmallow (if you have a kitchen thermometre it needs to reach 73 degrees C).
You’ll also need all your butter cut in small squares (about 20g) and at room temperature so it’s really soft. Otherwise you might ned up with clumps of butter in your buttercream.
A stan up mixer really does help with this job – the meringue mix needs to cool down for about 10 minutes wth constant whisking. Saying that I have made it with a hand held mixer in the past….just make sure you have someone to chat with to pass the time!
Tips to make chocolate ganache
Chocolate ganache is a mixture of chocolate and cream (of fruit puree if you make a dairy free ganache). Chocolate doesn’t like sudden changes in temperature. I find warming it a little in the microwave (30 seconds, half power) before pouring the cream on top makes for a smoother result.
Always use the best quality of chocolate you can afford. Avoid confectionary brands as they often have added sugar or fat. If you buy your chocolate at the supermarket, Lindt, Meunier, Waitrose cooking chocolate and of vourse Valrhona are all great to use. If you buy it online, I’d buy Callebaut callets. They are already “chopped” into small chocolate chips which will same you time too.
Poire Belle Helene chocolate cake recipe
Ingredients for vanilla genoese sponge (3 x 8 inch round tins)
- 8 free range eggs – separated
- 250g of self raising flour -sifted
- 250g caster sugar
- 50g unsalted butter – melted
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Ingredients for vanilla meringue buttercream
- 4 large egg whites
- 300g caster sugar
- 400 to 500g of unsalted butter
- 1 heaped tea spoon vanilla bean paste
Ingredients for the dark chocolate ganache
- 400g dark chocolate (54% approximately. I like to use Lindt or Waitrose cooking chocolate)
- 600g double cream
- a pinch of salt
- 200g slivered almonds
- 2 canned of pear halves in syrup (or you can poach fresh pears in a syrup made from equal quantities of water and caster sugar + 1 vanilla pod)
- the syrup of the pears
- To make the sponge, line all tins with baking parchment +heat up your oven at 180 degree C.
- Separate your eggs and whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks
- add the caster sugar 1 tablespoon at the time, mixing well between spoons until you get a glossy shiny meringue mix.
- Fold in your egg yolks+vanilla extract
- Fold in the sieved flour.
- Last, fold in (gently) the melted butter
- Divide between the 3 tins and bake 15 minutes until lightly brown, set but still springy. Leave to cool completely in the tin before removing.
- To make the swiss meringue meringue buttercream, use this great video and method from Cupcake Jemma.
- To make your chocolate ganache, simply boil your cream and pour it over the chocolate. Leave it 20-30 seconds then gently stir to combine into a rich glossy cream. Leave to cool to room temperature. It will thicken naturally to a spread consistency.
- cut your pears into thin slices and keep the syrup!
- toast your almonds in a dry non stick pan for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- To assemble: Brush the top of each sponge with 1/3 of the pear syrup.
- Place the first of the 3 sponges on a cake board or a large flat plate. Top with a thin layer of chocolate ganache. You might want to use a cranked paletted knife to help you spread it evenly.
- spread a layer of meringue buttercream on top, and arrange pieces of pears all around. Scatted 1/3 of the slivered almonds.
- repeat the same process with the second sponge then place the last sponge on top.
- Cover your top sponge with a layer of buttercream . There are plenty of buttercream pattern ideas you can use to finish your cake. You can apply just a thin layer of buttercream to the sides or create a full rustic buttercream wave effect. (ignore the bit about using vegetable shortening instead of butter).
- Finally, drizzle your cake with a little warmed up chocolate ganache (so it’ runny), and scattered almonds.