Pears Poached in Red Wine Sauce: A Recipe

This dessert is my new favorite thing.  I’m writing this post and my stomach is rumbling thinking about eating it after dinner tonight.

I know, I know, everyone does pears poached in wine sauce, it’s the “healthy” dessert from circa 1992.  It’s boring, it’s cliche, it usually doesn’t even taste good.

With all due respect, if that’s what you think of poached pears, you obviously didn’t eat the same ones I did at dinner last night.

At the same dinner we made hand cut pasta, ragu, roasted peppers and a limoncello tiramisu, we also had these pears.

Yes I made two desserts to serve a grand total of 4 people.  All I can say is that I was still a little insecure about my tiramisu and my reputation was on the line.

I ended up having no reason to worry about the tiramisu but I must say, these pears were the real show stopper.  The flavor was sweet, spicy and complex.  I love foods that hold, in just one bite, 2 or 3 or even 4 different flavors, textures, and temperatures that somehow complement one another as they roll over your tongue.  That was this dessert.  The wine, the cinnamon, even the crumbled amaretti cookies added up to some serious flavor.

This dish is proof that it’s possible to  serve fruit for dessert in a totally rich and satisfying feeling way.  Must have something to do with pouring in an entire bottle of wine.  Hmmm.

I think the secret was the sheer amount of time I let these pears cook and then soak in the sauce (8 hours in the fridge).  That and some copious amounts of cinnamon, orange zest, cardamom, etc

I based my recipe off of this one from a 1997 issue of Bon Appetit but I ended up straying a fair amount so below is my attempt at a re-creation:

Pears Poached in Red Wine Sauce

Serves up to 8


1 large orange (for zest and juice)

1/2 C orange juice

1 750mL bottle of red wine (3 buck Chuck seems to work just fine)

2 cups of water

2 cups sugar (add an extra 1/4 cup if you like it a little sweeter)

10-20 cardamom pods or 1 tsp ground cardamom (whatever you have on hand)

2 cinnamon sticks

1 vanilla bean

4 moderately firm pears, peeled and quartered  (People like to talk about how some pears are better than others, I think that as long as the pears are firm-ish when you start, they are all fine vehicles for this delicious sauce)

1 pint or more of vanilla ice cream

amaretti cookies (or some other crunchy cookie you like but the amaretti is a fun flavor contrast)

Optional: some fresh ginger, cloves, anything else that sounds good to you


(NOTE: I think a few hours of chilling really amps up the flavor intensity of this dish.  For best results make these in the morning to serve later in the evening.)

1. Dump the entire contents of 1 750mL red wine bottle into a large sauce pan.  Add 1/2 cup orange juice, 2 cups of sugar, 2 cups of water, 2 cinnamon sticks and as much cardamom as you like.

2. Zest an entire orange into the sauce pan and bring the whole mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat.

3. While the sauce is coming to a boil, peel and quarter your pears, removing seeds and any other tough parts.

4. As soon as your sauce has come to a simmer, add your pears and bring the mixture to a simmer.

5. Simmer the pears in the sauce for about 20-30 minutes or until they yield softly when pierced with a knife.  I personally like softer pears that you can later cut with a spoon in your bowl but to each his own.

6. Transfer the pears to a shallow saucepan that will fit with a lid in your fridge if you can, or just put in a tupperware container temporarily.

7. Bring the remaining sauce to a boil and continue boiling your sauce for another 20 minutes-ish.  At this point you will have a liquid that is just slightly thicker than water.  This is good or you can keep boiling until you have more of a syrup-like consistency-about 30-40 minutes.

8.  After boiling sauce to desired consistency, pour over poached pears and let chill in the refrigerator until meal time.

9.  Warm sauce and pears over low-medium heat until pears are warmed through.  Place 2-3 pieces of pears in each bowl, top with vanilla ice cream and crushed cookies.  Drizzle sauce over the top and serve.


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