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How to Poach Pears for an Easy, Elegant Autumn Dessert

poached pears with spices on a white plate

Poached pears are a dessert worthy of linen tablecloths and fine French wines, but don’t assume that makes them hard to re-create. Learn how easy it is to turn humble pears into a stunning sweet treat with just a few ingredients and a minimal amount of time.

Poached pears are one of the easiest desserts to make a good impression with. You can make them in advance of any dinner party or holiday gathering because they’ll only get sweeter as they soak in their syrup. Plus, they take minimal time and minimal effort. This is a host’s or hostess’s dream dessert.

But don’t feel like you have to save them for a fancy dinner party. Make these anytime you’re craving something sweet and seasonal. With the variety of poaching liquids and flavorings available, we think you’ll find you never get tired of this not-so-fussy but oh-so-stunning dessert.

How to Poach Pears

woman peeling pears with a vegetable peeler
Vesna Danity/Shutterstock

Poaching pears is very simple. You’ll need a poaching liquid, sugar or a sweetener of choice, and whatever spices or flavorings you choose to add. The amount of poaching liquid and sweetener you begin with depends on the size of your pears and the sweetener you use.

As a general guide, you’ll need about two cups of liquid for every four pears. You’ll need 1.5 cups of sugar, or sugar equivalent, per 2 cups of liquid. We’ll go over how to choose your specific ingredients below, but first, let’s look at how easy it is to poach pears.

Step 1: Combine the liquid and sweetener in a large saucepan or stockpot. Bring to a boil and stir until the sweetener is dissolved. Then, remove the pot from the stove.

Step 2: Peel your pears. Any vegetable peeler will do but a y-shape peeler can make it easier to work the curves of the pear. Cut them in half or quarters, and remove the core. A melon baller makes for quick and easy core removal.

OXO Good Grips Melon Baller

A melon baller has so many more uses in the kitchen than making melon balls.

Step 3: Add any desired spices or flavorings to the stockpot.

Step 4: Finally, add the pears, making sure the poaching liquid completely covers them. Place the pot back on the stove and simmer until the pears are tender, about twenty minutes. Once done, let the pears come to room temperature while sitting in the syrup to ensure they absorb all that sugary sweetness.

Poached pears are traditionally enjoyed at room temperature with their own syrup and a scoop of ice cream, but whipped cream works, too. If you find your syrup isn’t thick enough to coat the pears, you can further reduce it.

To do so, remove the pears from the saucepan. Then, bring the syrup to a simmer. Stir frequently until it’s reached your desired thickness. The pears can then go back in the syrup until you’re ready to serve dessert.

Of course, if you prefer to follow a detailed recipe rather than these general guidelines, you have many to choose from. We like Giada’s Poached Pears in Honey, Ginger and Cinnamon Syrup.

Choosing Your Ingredients

Given the simplicity of this dessert, there are a surprising number of ingredient variations. The first decision to make is what type of pears to use. Some varieties lend themselves better to poaching than other ones.

Bosc pears are the most popular for any type of cooking because they hold their shape well. Anjou works well, too. Bartlett pears are softer and will work in a pinch, but their tendency to lose their shape when cooked makes them a poor candidate for poaching. Leave the Asian pears for snacking and salads; they’re far too tart and crisp for this dessert.

When it comes to the poaching liquid, water works well. For more flavor, many recipes use a sweet, dessert wine as all or part of the poaching liquid. Other options include apple cider, white table wines, or spiced red wines. Note that with red wine, your pears will come out red in color rather than their typical gold-green hue. The effect of using dark wines, seen below, is quite dramatic.

a pear poached in red wine resulting in a very dramatic and rich red color change

Finally, when it comes to flavorings, you can add any number of things. Vanilla is the most popular, but cinnamon, ginger, and star anise are often used as well. For a fresh and citrusy take, try using white table wine for the poaching liquid and sliced lemon as a flavoring addition. Garnish with mint and whipped cream to get the full effect.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Poaching Pears

When poaching pears, there are a few key points to keep in mind. First, pears oxidize very quickly after they’re peeled. That’s why we don’t recommend peeling them until your poaching liquid is ready to go. It’s also why it’s vital to ensure the pears are completely covered by the poaching liquid.

If the fruit sticks above the waterline, it will oxidize and turn brown. Not only is this unappetizing, but if the pears aren’t covered in full, they won’t cook evenly. You’ll find that the resulting dessert is tender in some spots and crunchy in others.

You’ll also want to ensure the pears you’re using are ripe but not overripe. An overripe pear will be too mushy for poaching. At the same time, an underripe pear won’t turn tender or sweet. This dessert is incredibly simple, but that means each ingredient’s quality is crucial. Don’t attempt to make this with pears you wouldn’t want to eat straight out of the produce bin.

Poaching pears is easy, but it will still impress your friends. It’s a dessert with minimal ingredients, minimal hands-on time, and no oven is necessary. You can make it ahead of any event or gathering, and it works within most people’s dietary restrictions as there’s typically no gluten and no dairy involved.

That makes poached pears a party thrower’s dream come true, but we think it’s just as good on a random Tuesday night. So, don’t wait to try this simple and elegant dessert. Pear season comes only once a year, and you don’t want to miss it!

Lauren Sakiyama Lauren Sakiyama
Lauren Sakiyama is a freelance writer with over a decade of experience in the hospitality industry. She has managed restaurants, country clubs, and large-scale event operations, but her passion has always been about the food. Read Full Bio »
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