Marsala Poached Pears

Don’t you just love it when you put something together on a whim, and it works out the first time? My friend Garrett had a few extra pears from a baking adventure which I decided to poach in Marsala wine, with some sugar, star anise, cinnamon, and cloves. Star anise has a strong licorice flavor, so I was a little worried my poached pears would end up tasting like Good-n-Plenty. Fortunately, the other spices rose to the occasion and along with the Marsala infused the pears with a happy, spicy, delicious aroma.

Marsala Poached Pears Recipe

  • Yield: Makes 4 servings.

Firm, just ripe pears should be used. If overly ripe, the pears will cook up mushy. If Bosc pears are not available, Bartlett or Anjou can be substituted. You can core the pears if you wish, from the bottom, but it really is not necessary.



  • 4 bosc pears, peeled, stem still attached, 1/4-inch of bottom sliced off so pears can easily sit upright
  • 1 cup dry Marsala wine (or Madeira)
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 star anise
  • 4 cloves
  • 1/2 stick cinnamon


1 In a saucepan just large enough to fit all of the pears, place the Marsala wine, sugar, lemon juice, star anise, cloves, and cinnamon. Bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to medium and place the pears in the pan, standing upright. Cover the pan and cook for 10 to 15 minutes (if you want, baste with the liquid a couple of times during the cooking), until the pears can easily be pierced with a fork. Very firm pears make need to cook for up to 20 minutes.

2 Remove the pears to a serving dish. Keeping the pan uncovered, let the Marsala syrup boil down for a few minutes until it is a thick syrup. (If it begins to caramelize, remove pan from the heat and add a little water to the pan to stop the cooking.) Pour syrup over pears and serve.

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Poached pears in balsamic reduction
Poached pears in vanilla from Lydia of The Perfect Pantry
Try poaching pears with Italian Lambrusco, a favorite of our local Sacramento chef Biba.

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  1. Garrett

    Let me just add that these are, by far the best poached pears ever. We literally devoured those pears to the stem and seed in record time. This is a food that, like a divine touch, has the ability to sooth and comfort. =)

  2. ghanima

    I’m very much NOT a fan of licorice or licorice flavers (don’t like tarragon, etc.) Is there something you can recommend as a substitution for the star anise, or would that change the feel of the dish too much?

    You could leave it out entirely. Or try adding a pod or two of cardamom. ~Elise

  3. Gary in Massena

    Dyslexia is a terrible thing.

    When I first read the header for this post I thought to myself why would anyone want to ‘poach bears in Marseilles?’.

    Luckily, I reread the post.

    I have done a similar recipe with apples which was phenomenal. With the subtler taste of the pear this sound dynamite!

  4. Lydia (The Perfect Pantry)

    There is always something so sexy about a naked poached pear! They make such a dramatic presentation at the end of a dinner party, on their own or drizzled with a bit of caramel or honey.

  5. anya

    Elise –
    I’ve got sweet Marsala wine. Could I substitute that with less sugar?

    Sure, try it! Don’t know how much less sugar though, not that much less. ~Elise

  6. Lillianne

    I’ve always been confused about cooking with Marsala. Do recipes always specify if “sweet” Marsala is the ingredient, as opposed to just plain Marsala?

    Wiki has further confused me with secco, semi-secco and sweet. When to use which?

  7. Melissa

    How lovely that they turned out so well, Elise. This past winter I tried a recipe with strawberries and Marasala, finished with creme fraiche and… something else. ;P Anyway, it definitely convinced me on Marsala and fruit. Nice job.

  8. Leio

    What kind of Marsala did you use? The cheap grocery store kind? I’m thinking about replace the marsala with some ruby port or tawny port.

    If it’s good enough to drink, it’s good enough to cook with. ~Elise

  9. Adam

    I had a bunch of pears sitting around so I just made this.

    “Cleanup on aisle delicious!”

  10. Nate

    I recently poached some Asian pears in sake with ume (Japanese pickled plum) for flavoring. Poached pears are a great dessert!

  11. Anton

    Could you substitute anise seeds for star anise? They differ in flavor, so how much would you recommend to use in this case?

    I haven’t tried that substitute, so wouldn’t know what to tell you. If you do try it, please let us know how it turns out for you. ~Elise

  12. kmiffy

    I made this with cardamom instead of star anise as suggested by Elise in the comments section, and it turned out great! A lovely alternative for those of us who aren’t fans of anise.

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