These Cider Masala Poached Pears are fragrant and elegant, but simple. A light not-too-sweet dessert, they take just a few ingredients and a bit of time to let the spices steep. Although I first made them for an Indian-themed meal, they would go well at the end of just about any dinner.
When pears are in season, like now, I can’t resist them. Bosc pears are particularly nice because they stay crisp. I use them for salads and, of course, for poaching.
This particular adventure began when I saw a grocery display of lovely Bosc pears. I bought a few and poached them, using a mish-mash of various “American” recipes. They were good, but too plain for my taste. So I went back to the drawing board.
My second try was dessert for previously-mentioned Indian-themed meal. The main course was grilled tuna, With it I served a cilantro-mint-dill sauce boosted with homemade malvani masala from my friend Ansh/ Spice Roots. The side dishes were grilled asparagus, chile peanut rice from Indian-ish author Priya Krishna, and a simple salad, mainly lettuces and a bit of radicchio for color and crunch.
Cider masala poached pears were a perfect, light end to the meal. And taking a cue from Priya, they were Indian-style. While not authentically Indian, the pears have an aroma and taste that is definitely Indian-ish.
As I learned from making Masala Chai Tea Madeleines, Indian cooks typically makes their own masala. The word masala simply means a blend of ground spices, and each cook creates a unique blend. It can be spicy, sweet, or a combination. Check my post on the difference between garam masala and curry powder for an explanation of one type of masala – loosely translated as “hot (as in body-warming, not spicy) spices.”
For this masala, I wanted a sweet taste, suitable for dessert. So I chose cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and star anise. Then I added some fresh ginger for tang.
Finally, I added sweetness to the poaching liquid, with cider and honey.
After crushing the spices, you simply bring the cider and honey to a simmer, then add the spices and let them steep. While they are steeping, you prepare the pears.
This recipe does not take skill beyond scraping off the pear skin and scooping out the seeds. You can do the scooping with a melon baller or small spoon. A grapefruit spoon (with ridges on the top of the spoon, intended to cut separate the fruit from the surrounding membrane, works great.
Then gently add the pear halves to the mixture.
Cover the pears with water, bring the liquid back to a simmer and cook.
Once you can poke the pear halves gently with a fork and get it almost all the way through, move them to a container.
Raise the heat on the liquid to a low boil and continue cooking it down for 10-15 minutes. Then pour it over the pear halves and refrigerate them until you begin dinner.
Take the container out of the refrigerator and bring it up to room temperature for serving. Serve them with the sauce on the side or spooned over the pear halves. Served like this, they are gluten-free and vegan.
I am not vegan so I often add Greek-style yogurt as an accompaniment, sweetened with a bit of honey and a spoonful or 2 of the concentrated liquid.
Cider Masala Poached Pears
These simple, yet elegant poached pear halves are slightly sweet and spicy . They are perfect for any meal, Indian-inspired or not.
- 4-5 ripe but still firm Bosc pears (see note below)
- 2 cups apple cider
- 1/3 cup honey
- a 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into 4 chunks
- 6 cardamom pods, crushed just to open them
- a 3-4 inch cinnamon stick broken in 2 pieces
- 6 whole cloves
- 1 pinch of nutmeg, preferably freshly ground
- 1 star anise pod, broken in half
Put the cider and honey in a large pan. Bring to a simmer, stirring until the honey dissolves. Add the spices and bring back to a simmer. Turn off the heat and let the spices steep while you prepare the pears
Peel the pears, cut them in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with a small spoon or melon baller.
Set the pear halves in the liquid and add enough water (about 2 cups if your pan just fits the pear halves) to barely cover the pear halves with liquid.
Bring the (cider/honey/spice/water) liquid back to a simmer and partially cover the pan with its lid. Simmer the pears for 20-30 minutes, turning them once or twice, until you can pierce the pear halves with a fork. They should be tender to the touch but not mushy. If some halves are done before others, take out the ones that are ready while leaving the others to continue cooking.
Once all the pear halves are cooked, gently take them out of the liquid with a slotted spoon and put them in a large container with a lid. Raise the heat on the liquid to a low boil and continue cooking it for 10-15 minutes.
Once you have reduced the liquid to about 1 cup, pour it (with spices) over the pear halves and refrigerate them for at least 2 hours.
To serve, take the pears and liquid out of the refrigerator with enough time to bring them to room temperature. Gently remove the pears from the liquid and put them in a serving dish or on plates. Strain the spices out of the sauce and either serve the sauce on the side or pour it over the pear halves. Optional - serve Greek-style yogurt slightly sweetened with a touch of honey and a spoonful or two of the sauce.
Bosc pears are the best ones for poaching because they hold their shape well during cooking. To choose firm but ripe ones, look for pears with brown, rather than green-tinged, skin. Check that they are firm by gently squeezing. They should not feel soft.
Breaking the spices should release their aroma. If your spices are not fragrant when you crush them, they may be old. In that case, consider buying fresher ones.
You can make this dish the day ahead and refrigerate it overnight. Take the container out of the refrigerator before sitting down to eat to give the fruit and sauce adequate time to come back to room temperature. While the pears are delicious eaten cool, they are more fragrant at room temperature.