Dive into dessert elegance with my easy Vanilla Poached Pears. Inspired by a Michelin-starred chef, this gluten-free treat is my twist on a French classic. Learn how to keep it light and chic – perfect for entertaining or satisfying that sweet tooth without the guilt. Discover its bold coffee syrup with a secret spice bonus.
French Feasts and the Art of Not Overdoing It
Let me spill some tea. When I first started entertaining the French (ho-hum around 1994 when Antoine thought I was ready), I learned the hard way. Heavy finales to meals are a big no-no.
Picture this: a mountain of British-style pudding (although good!) on a French plate after a cheese platter. That just didn't win them over. Politeness was appreciated with a novice cook, but a crise cardiaque (heart attack) is not the goal. I've been there, done that, and since then, I'm more about the light and chic.
French Poached Pears - Michelin Star Inspiration
So, my dessert game got a serious upgrade when I discovered Anne-Sophie Pic's French cookbook, Recettes Pour Recevoir (Recipes to Entertain). This Michelin-starred chef knows her stuff when it comes to entertaining.
Her poached pears in blackcurrant and vanilla caught my eye, especially the genius move of using a ton of poaching liquid. This step eliminates any pear bits sticking out, promising a flawless outcome.
My Take on Poached Pears – Easy, Breezy and Gluten-Free
To make life easy, I put my easy, breezy spin on it – enter Vanilla Poached Pears with Coffee.
I swapped out more lengthy steps of making a coffee fondant cake as a base and added my own twist by simply adding coffee to the poaching liquid. First try, and boom – gluten-free dessert magic.
Coffee makes this an original take, since traditional vanilla syrup or red wine are more commonly used in French recipes. If you love poaching in red wine, then try these Mulled Wine Prunes, particularly festive and fruity.
Easy-to-Follow Poached Pears Recipe
With just a few ingredients – sugar, water, vanilla, coffee, and firm-to-ripe pears – and a simple process, you can create an impressive dessert in under an hour. Boil, poach, chill, and enjoy.
First, prepare the poaching syrup in a large pan with a lid, big enough to hold the pears.
Stir the sugar, coffee and water together until the sugar dissolves then boil together on a medium heat. Meanwhile prepare the pears. Ensure they're not too ripe/soft and not too hard either. Aim for somewhere in between: firm-to-medium.
For more on varieties, recipes (even French expressions), see the market guide to pears (poires).
Do You Peel and Core Pears Before Poaching?
You need to peel pears for them to absorb the syrup and show off their glazed look in the plate. Either use a peeler or thinly slice off the skin with a sharp knife.
As we don't eat the core, we remove them - directly at the dessert table.
Anne-Sophie Pic instructs us to core the pears (either use a melon scooper or little spoon to hollow out) but the finished photos still contain the cores. Personally, I prefer keeping them in: it's easier to prepare! If you prefer not to see the core, poach pears whole.
To Soften the Pears
Carefully place them completely in the syrup and poach them gently with lid on for 20 minutes. The pears will soften when cooked in the poaching liquid.
Drain the pears by lifting them out carefully using a slotted spoon into a large bowl. Set aside.
Boil up the coffee syrup for about 10 minutes until concentrated and thickened. Pour half of the syrup over the pears, cool then chill and pour the rest of the syrup in a little jug.
Spice Them Up - Cardamom Style
Feeling a bit adventurous? Spice things up by adding bruised seeds from 4 cardamom pods to the coffee poaching liquid. Take it from me – poached pears served with chocolate, cardamom & ginger macarons (recipe in Mad About Macarons) is heaven.
I may have invented a new coffee capsule flavour for next Christmas! I jest but tell George Clooney I thought of it first.
What to Serve with Poached Pears
Poached pears are delicious served with almond tuile cookies.
Or, if you prefer to keep this dessert totally gluten-free, serve with French mendiants -traditional chocolate disks topped with dried fruits and toasted nuts - or macarons.
Macarons are the unsung heroes of desserts. Make them ahead, freeze them, and stay zen while you prep.
Choose from a variety of flavours, including tutti frutti blackcurrant (check p.83 of my 1st book, Mad About Macarons) or chocolate macarons (there's a whole chapter of them in this book!) for a French treat.
Store the leftover coffee syrup in a little jug in the fridge. This adds extra chic for a quick drizzle at the table. It's also great poured over ice cream in the coming days - try it over chestnut vanilla ice cream for something special.
How Long Will They Keep?
This is a handy recipe to meal prep in advance, ideally on the day - but they can keep overnight.
So there you have it. Indulge without the guilt.
Vanilla Poached Pears with Coffee
- heavy casserole dish with lid or large saucepan with a lid, large enough to fit 4 pears together in one layer
- 150 g (5oz/ ¾ cup) sugar
- 1 litre/ 4¼ cups water
- 1 vanilla pod/bean cut lengthways
- 2 tbsps powdered coffee or Decaffeinated/2 small Espresso shots
- 4 large firm-ripe pears Conference, Williams, Comice or Bosc
- In the large pan, boil the sugar with the water, vanilla and coffee for about 10 minutes. Once boiling, turn down the heat.
- Peel the pears. Either keep them whole or cut them in half vertically. Carefully place them completely in the syrup and poach them gently with lid on for 20 minutes.
- Drain the pears by lifting them out carefully using a slotted spoon into a large bowl. Set aside.
- Boil up the coffee syrup for about 10 minutes until concentrated and thickened. Pour half of the syrup over the pears, cool then chill and pour the rest of the syrup in a little jug.
This recipe was first published 30 December 2011, but is now completely updated.