How to make poached pears - a full and complete guide. What variety of pears to use, how to prepare them, the basics of poaching liquid and how to adapt it to your tastes, and how to make a cartouche, the chef's way.
Read on for my definitive guide on how to make poached pears.
Easy poached pears are a simple dessert that you can serve at any time of year as it is so versatile. As dinner party desserts go, this classic French dessert is popular for a reason! You can make poached pears ahead of time and plate them at the last minute the next day, and they look so impressive that you don't need to do anything extravagant to make a beautiful and elegant dessert.
What are the best pears for poaching?
The key point to consider when buying pears for poaching is to use the right pear that will remain sweet and juicy yet firm and won't disintegrate as it cooks.
Here are the best varieties of pears for poaching:
- Bartlett pears: If you are in the US or Canada, you can find Bartlett pears, which are excellent for poaching. They are medium size with a juicy and sweet pear taste and retain their firmness when poached whilst still being super tender.
- Williams pears: If you are in Europe, Bartlett pears are known as a Williams pear. So Williams pears and Bartlett pears are the same thing. They are my favorite, and, in my opinion, Bartlett pears, AKA Williams pears, are the best pears for poaching. They have a delicious buttery texture when poached.
- Bosc pears: I like Bosc pears because they have a pretty curved stem and look great on the plate. They are a similar variety to Williams pears/Bartlett pears, but can be tasteless unless ripe. They have a crisper texture, so do not go as tender when poached or cooked.
- Anjou pears: Anjou pears have a buttery yet slightly gritty texture, so they are not my favorite for poaching. However, they are very juicy!
- Packham pears: These pears are also firm enough to hold their shape and have a great taste.
- Conference pears: These pears are taller and have slightly firmer flesh whilst still being sweet and tasty. When poached, they will not go as tender as other varieties like Bartlet/Williams pears, so will still have a slight bite.
It is better to poach pears when they are slightly underripe as if they are too ripe, they will be harder to peel and are more likely to go mushy in the poaching syrup.
The basic formula for pear poaching liquid is a sugar syrup, normally flavored further with wine. Then, you can add more warm spices and flavors to suit you and the occasion. I tend to use lighter flavors and citrus for summer poached pears and then deeper and more fragrant spices in winter.
The best thing about making homemade poached pears is how much flexibility there is for you to play around and find the right flavor profile to suit you.
Basic poaching liquid for pears
- Pears: The main event! They must be peeled and cored (see below for a how-to).
- Wine: You can use red wine, white wine, or rose wine for poaching pears. In this post, I have used rose wine as I was working as a private chef in the South of France, and rose was the most readily available. In winter, I prefer using red wine for different flavors and that deeper flavor profile. Red wine will give your pears a deep purple/red color, whereas white or rose wine will not affect their color. Sadly, using rose wine will not make the pears pink. I tried and tried to get pretty pink pears and failed.
- Water: We also need to top up the poaching liquid with water.
- Sugar: You can use any sugar, but I prefer white granulated sugar or caster sugar. Alternatively, you could use honey, agave, or maple syrup.
Additional flavors and spices for poached pears
- Citrus zest: Orange peel, lemon zest, or lime zest can really lift the flavor of your poaching liquid. I personally prefer to use orange in winter and lemon in summer. When peeling zest from citrus, ensure you don't go too deep and take the white pith, which will taste bitter. You can also squeeze in the lemon juice and orange juice.
- Vanilla: I often buy whole vanilla pods, scrape the vanilla paste into my accompanying sauce, and put the pods into the poaching liquid. You can also use vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract, but avoid vanilla essence as it is not natural and will taste synthetic.
- Cinnamon: You can use ground cinnamon or whole cinnamon sticks. Cinnamon will add a deep warmth and subtle spice to your poaching liquid.
- Cardamom: This strong and aromatic spice can be overpowering, but it pairs beautifully with pears and other pear-friendly flavors like chocolate, fresh whipped cream, and caramel. I split the cardamom pods open using a paring knife, but then I throw them in whole to get as much flavor as possible. (PS try my fig and cardamom macarons).
- Star Anise: This beautiful star-shaped spice will add a strong anise seed or licorice taste to your poached pears.
- Whole cloves: If you're making poached pears in winter, cloves will add a delicious deep and warm flavor that is reminiscent of mulled wine.
- Nutmeg: Nutmeg has a mild flavor that is more synonymous with winter and Christmas / the holiday season.
- Allspice: You can use allspice to evoke the same flavors as nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves.
See the recipe card at the bottom of this post for full quantities and step-by-step instructions on how to make poached pears and my poached pear recipe.
How to make poached pears
- Make a cartouche out of baking parchment paper/greaseproof paper. It needs to cover the whole surface of the liquid to keep the pears from bobbing to the top and becoming uncovered. This helps them to poach evenly and prevents the poaching liquid from reducing too much through evaporation.
- Prepare your poaching liquid. Measure the water, wine, and sugar into a saucepan and place on the stove over medium-high heat, stirring so that the sugar dissolves into the water and wine.
- Add the other flavors and spices, like vanilla, lemon peel, and cinnamon, and bring the pear poaching syrup to a very gentle simmer. Do not boil.
- Peel and core the pears and add them to the poaching liquid, then cover with the cartouche and allow them to cook at a very gentle simmer, turning the heat down. A few strains of bubbles coming up through the liquid are all we want, as anything more aggressive will risk damaging the pears if they are disrupted too much.
- Poach pears for 20-30 minutes until they are tender when you poke the base with a sharp knife. Be governed by tenderness rather than by time, as this will depend on the ripeness and variety of the pears.
- Remove pears with a slotted spoon to a clean tray lined with kitchen paper and allow them to cool completely, or serve warm.
- Store poached pears covered in the fridge or in an airtight container; they will last for 3-4 days.
- Don't overcook the pears, as it makes it more likely that they'll start to go mushy and won't keep their shape. Overripe pears will not poach well.
- If you are not poaching your pears immediately after peeling, place them into cold water with lemon juice to keep pears from discoloring.
How to core pears
Use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin from the pears, but leave the stalks on for effect and ease of transporting them.
Slice 1 inch from the bottom of the pear to give it a flat base, and use the tip of the peeler, a spoon, or a melon baller to scoop out the core of the pear and any seeds.
How to make a cartouche
Cut a large square piece of parchment paper around the same size or smaller than your saucepan.
Fold the piece of parchment paper into a triangle, and repeat until you have a narrow triangle of folded paper.
Measure the cartouche against the saucepan you use for poaching pears and cut it to the right size.
Unfold the cartouche before pressing it over the surface of the liquid and pears.
You can slice the pears in half after coring and peeling them or even cut them into quarters. Sometimes whole pears on a plate can look great, but if they are big pears, it can be too large a portion.
I like to leave the stalks on as they look fun and pretty, but sometimes I'll trim them and shave them with the vegetable peeler to neaten them up.
Wondering what to do with the leftover poaching liquid? I will sometimes boil it right down to make a sweet and thick syrup and use it as a sauce.
Wine pairing for poached pears dessert
A beautiful Sauternes with honey and stone fruit notes will taste delicious with poached pears, or try a Demi-Sec (semi-sweet) rose champagne if using rose wine. If you are serving red wine poached pears, I'd serve a Muscat or a Vin Santo.
There are so many ways to serve poached pears. And that's why they make such a great dinner party dessert, as you can be creative and really put your own twist on things. I like to think about texture, as the pears are tender, so adding a bit of crunch is (to me) important.
- Vanilla ice cream - A scoop of vanilla ice cream goes especially with warm poached pears.
- Crème Anglaise - The rich and velvety French sauce is essentially a custard made with egg yolks and flavored with vanilla. An effort to make, but well worth it!
- Chantilly cream - is double cream or heavy cream whipped with powdered sugar and a touch of vanilla.
- Crème Fraîche - A lighter option with more acidity.
- Yogurt - Serving yogurt with poached pears makes for a healthier and lower-fat dessert option, or it can be delicious with granola at breakfast time!
- Mascarpone - Mascarpone is a rich, smooth, soft cheese with light sweetness that works well with dessert dishes.
- Crumbled biscuits or cookies - I like amaretti cookies, almond biscuits, or even ladyfingers.
- Nuts - toasted flaked almonds taste delicious on top of poached pears, and roasted hazelnuts or pecans do, too.
- Salted caramel sauce - I often buy this by the jar to make my life easier, but it is also very easy to make yourself.
- Chocolate ganache sauce - Heat cream in a saucepan and then remove from the heat and add good quality chocolate chips. Allow the chocolate to melt into the cream whilst stirring, and you have a delicious chocolate sauce to serve with poached pears.
- Honey - Just a drizzle of honey can make a deliciously sweet garnish to finish off a poached pears dessert.
- Cheese - Pears and cheese courses work remarkably well together. I personally prefer strong cheeses like blue cheese with pears.
A good vegetable peeler is worth its weight in gold! You will also need a large saucepan to poach pears in, one that is wide as well as deep enough to fit all the pears submerged in the liquid.
You will also need baking paper/parchment paper for the cartouche and a slotted spoon.
Store poached pears in an airtight container in the fridge or covered with plastic food wrap. They will keep fresh for 3-4 days. I recommend allowing the pears to come up to room temperature before serving.
I do not recommend freezing poached pears as they will disintegrate upon defrosting.
Bartlett or Williams pears are the best for poaching as they are sweet and firm enough to hold their shape but have a delicious buttery texture when cooked.
Yes. Whilst you can eat the skins of pears when raw, they are better removed before poaching to allow the pears to absorb the flavors of the poaching liquid.
Pears will take 20-30 minutes to poach, depending on their size.
Peel and core pears, then poach in a solution of sugar, water, and other flavorings like wine and vanilla for 20-30 minutes until tender.
Yes, especially if you add wine and other flavorings like lemon peel, vanilla pods, and spices.
Other dessert recipes
Looking for other easy dessert recipes like this? Try these:
How To Make Poached Pears In Wine
- 1 vegetable peeler
- 1 knife
- 1 Saucepan
- 1 Baking paper
- 1 slotted spoon
- 4 Pears
- 300 grams Sugar
- 750 ml Wine (one bottle)
- 250 ml Water (top up as needed to cover pears)
- 1 Vanilla pod
- 1 Lemon (peel and juice)
- 1 stick cinnamon
- Prepare your poaching liquid. Measure the water, wine, and sugar into a saucepan and place on the stove over medium-high heat, stirring so that the sugar dissolves into the liquid.
- Add flavors and spices, like vanilla, lemon peel, and cinnamon, and bring the pear poaching syrup to a very gentle simmer. Do not boil.
- Peel and core the pears and add them to the poaching liquid. Cover with a cartouche and cook at a very gentle simmer, monitoring the heat as necessarey.
- Poach pears for 20-30 minutes until they are tender when you test the base with a sharp knife.
- Remove pears from liquid with a slotted spoon to a clean tray lined with kitchen paper and allow them to cool completely, or serve warm.
- Store poached pears covered in the fridge or in an airtight container.