Pears with anise and ginger

A bit of simple simmering in a gently spiced syrup turns ripe pears into a luscious, elegant dessert.


Pears teach patience. I bring them home from the market, still hard and unyielding, and park them on the windowsill. They get a gentle squeeze in the morning while I’m waiting for the kettle to boil. Not today. Not today. Then it happens: a little give, a sign that they’ll soon be ready to eat. Plans need to be made, because once they achieve their perfection of ripeness, they won’t hang around long. Pears decide when to be eaten, not you.

It’s no great bother, however, to transform them into this easy, elegant dessert. Stripped of their skins and gently poached, soft enough to be cut with a spoon. Rather than swamp them in sugar syrup – they are sweet enough already – I complement them with ginger and the beguiling flavour of a single, beautiful star anise. A little lemon juice brightens everything up (as well as stopping them going brown) and sometimes, not always, a splash of maple syrup, whose faint smokiness sits politely without intruding too much.

Alongside, either some cream, softly whipped with a few drops of vanilla extract, or a scoop of very good, very vanilla-y ice cream. Patience rewarded.

Pears with anise and ginger


For 2.

2 pears
1 star anise
3cm (1 inch) piece ginger
1 lemon
1 tablespoon maple syrup

Choose a saucepan which will snuggly accommodate the pears in a single layer. Pour in about 1 litre (4 cups) of water, add the star anise, the juice of half the lemon and the ginger, sliced. Set it over high heat to bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, peel and halve the pears. (There’s no need to core them at this stage; the core will slip out easily with a teaspoon once they’re cooked.) As you peel them, wipe them with the cut side of the remaining half of the lemon to prevent them browning. If you need to peel them in advance, or are making a large number of pears, keep them in a bowl of cold water and squeeze the lemon into it.

Once the water has boiled, lower the heat to a simmer. Slide in the pears and add the maple syrup. Add a little more water, if necessary, to cover the pears. Simmer for 20 minutes and remove from the heat.

The pears can be kept in their syrup until served – they are much nicer warm or at room temperature than piping hot. Alternatively, they can be refrigerated in their syrup until required. Take them out of the fridge 30 minutes before serving to take the chill off.