Pears with Chocolate Sauce

Serves 4

250g caster sugar
4 dessert pears
Juice of 1 lemon
1 vanilla pod
100ml single cream
100g plain chocolate, broken into pieces
2 tbsp Grand Marnier or brandy (optional)

1.Put the sugar in a large, deep saucepan with 1 litre of water and dissolve over a low heat, stirring.
2.Peel the pears and remove the cores by cutting in through the base using a paring knife. Leave the stalk attached to the fruit. Sprinkle lemon juice over the pears as soon as they are peeled, to prevent them from browning.
3.Split the vanilla pod in half, scrape out the pulp into the sugar syrup and add the pod. Bring the syrup to the boil and add the pears. Reduce heat and poach the pears gently for 15 minutes or until they are just tender. Leave to cool in the syrup.
4.Shortly before serving, put the cream in a heatproof bowl with the chocolate and liqueur, if using, and heat over a pan of simmering water, stirring from time to time, until the chocolate has melted. (Alternatively, heat gently in the microwave.)
5.Divide the hot sauce among serving bowls and sit a pear in each one. Serve immediately.

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