Poached pears are a simple but stunning dessert, especially when served upright on a plate and drizzled with a luscious caramel sauce. The beautiful pear is infused with the warmth of wine and spices, and beckons you to dig in with a spoon.
Where Do Poached Pears Come From?
Pears were widely available in Europe during the Middle Ages, particularly in Britain, France and Italy. Ruth Binney, in the book Wise Words and Country Ways for Cooks, notes that as early as medieval times, pears were poached in a wine-based syrup with spices. Cooking the fruit helped to hide imperfections and give the fruit longevity. Some physicians at the time also thought it was healthier to eat pears cooked rather than fresh, observes Melitta Weiss Adamson, author of Food in Medieval Times.
How to Poach Pears
Preparing the Pears
Soft pears fall apart while cooking, so choose a firm variety such as Bosc, and be sure it’s not too ripe. Remove the skin with a vegetable peeler to help keep the pear’s shape.
To ensure the pear stands upright when serving, create a flat base by slicing a bit off the bottom. For faster cooking, cut the pears in half, although a whole pear makes a more impressive presentation.
While you’re preparing the pears, place the peeled ones in a bowl of cool water mixed with lemon juice to prevent browning.
Choose Your Poaching Liquid
Pears can be poached in red or white wine. Classic French recipes use red wine, which gives the fruit a deep, rich hue. Try a cabernet sauvignon or merlot for these recipes. For a white wine, a pinot gris or chardonnay pairs well with fruit.
Sugar or honey is added to the wine for sweetness, along with spices such as cinnamon, cloves, star anise and ginger. Vanilla, orange and lemon help to give depth of flavor.
Make sure that the pears are fully submerged in the liquid and simmer gently for 20-30 minutes until you can pierce them easily with a knife. To ensure even cooking, occasionally baste and rotate the pears. It also helps to cut a hole in a piece of parchment paper and drape it over the pot.
Make the Sauce
After the pears are cooked, remove them from the pot and refrigerate. Meanwhile, reduce the liquid to a glaze or prepare another sauce to accompany the pears.
Serve a single pear on each plate, garnish and enjoy.
Recipes and Variations to Try
A buttery, golden caramel sauce is a classic way to dress up a poached pear. If you prefer red wine, try this Red Wine Poached Pears with Red Wine Caramel Sauce for a warming combination of cloves, star anise, cinnamon and vanilla. White Wine Poached Pears with White Wine Caramel offers a lighter flavor profile.
For extra decadence, try dipping the pears in chocolate, adding a dollop of mascarpone cream, or piping mascarpone filling into the center of the pear. You can also bake the pears in puff pastry for added texture.
If you prefer not to use wine, other liquids can be substituted to poach the pears. Cinnamon Poached Pears with Caramel uses water, sugar, cinnamon and ginger.
Served warm or chilled, poached pears are easy to customize to suit your tastes, and make a festive and sophisticated dessert that will impress your guests.