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Warm baked pears oven-roasted in Marsala wine - a perfect, no-effort winter dessert recipe!

marsala baked pears recipe-

Because it’s one of my common pantry items, shortly after I’d moved to Paris, I went to the supermarket to get Marsala, to stock my larder. Much to my surprise, the supermarket didn’t have it. So I went to another, then another. Then another. Then I went to some liquor stores, where I thought for sure it would be on the shelf, but no one had ever heard of it. They kept trying to sell me Madeira, which is kind of like comparing Champagne to crémant. Both can appear to be similar, but are world’s apart – although I like them both.

I was pretty perplexed because Marsala is something that is sold in almost any American grocery store and since we shared a border with our Italian neighbors, I figured it’d be something easy to find here in France. (Perhaps because of the prevalence of Chicken Marsala in the U.S., one of those sure-fire dishes that has become so popular in red-checkered tableclothed Italian-American restaurants, and with home cooks?)

Marsala-Baked Pears

Marsala is made in Sicily, in the city of Marsala. It’s a naturally sweet, fortified wine with woody, subtle molasses-like flavors, which come from being aged in oak casks. Interestingly, Marsala is a wine perpetuo (perpetual), meaning that as wine is taken out of the casks, more is added. So the wine goes through a natural oxidation process. (You can read more about it here and here.)

Marsala-Baked Pears

Marsala lends sweets a unique Italian flavor. I’ve plumped raisins in it to add them to biscotti, and it’s the classic wine to use when whisking up a batch of zabaglione, that dreamy, warm, foamy sauce that is often spooned over fresh strawberries, and is one of the best things you’ll ever eat. So although I was Marsala-less for a while, a hat-tip from some locals told me to check in one of the many Italian épiceries (specialty food shops) around Paris, of which there are many. And lo and behold, on the shelves were bottles of Marsala, ripe ‘n ready to use.

Marsala-Baked Pears

The woodsy flavor of Marsala also goes very well with pears. I picked up some Conference pears, the French version of Boscs, and after admiring them for a few days as they ripened – pears ripen better once picked from the tree – once they were ripe ‘n ready, I doused them with Marsala, sugar, and a bit of honey, then baked them for about an hour, basting them with the wine syrup as it reduced to a sweet stickiness.

Marsala-Baked Pears

Once done, as they cool a bit, the pears wrinkle a bit near the stem end, indicating that they’ve concentrated not just in size, but in flavor as well. The pears are actually better served not too hot from the oven, after they’d had a moment to relax and reflect on their time in the oven.

Marsala-Baked Pears

Ice cream, of course, is a great accompaniment when serving them for dessert, or a dollop of crème fraîche. I could also imagine them served with roasted meat as they’re not overly sweet, since the Marsala adds a bit of a roasty, savory quality to the baked pears.

Marsala-Baked Pears

Baked Marsala Pears

If you can’t find Marsala, Madeira makes a decent substitute, or sherry. I use dry marsala, although you can use sweet or dry. Bosc or Conference pears are good for baking as they hold their shape. Other pears that are firm when ripe are Winter Nellis, Seckel (figure two per person), Anjou, and Butter pears. As mentioned, unlike other fruits, pears are better ripened off the tree so they’re usually sold unripe. Let them sit out at room temperature until they feel slightly soft at the stem end, where they begin to bulge. A ripe pear will often smell sweet at the blossom end, when you sniff it, too.
Servings 8 servings

Baked Pears

  • 8 firm ripe pears, (see headnote for varieties)
  • 1 cup (250ml) sweet or dry marsala
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/4 cup (50g) sugar

Marsala Sauce

  • 1 1/2 cups (375ml) marsala
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch
  • 1/2 cup (130g) plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC).
  • Trim a disk off the bottom of each pear, providing a flat bottom so you can stand the pears up in a baking dish. Fit the pears in a baking dish that’s big enough to hold them all, without a great deal of room around them.
  • Pour the marsala over the pears, then drizzle the honey over them. Sprinkle the sugar over the pears.
  • Baking the pears, basting them frequently with the liquid (I use a turkey baster, although a soup spoon will work) as they cook. I usually baste them more frequently closer to the end of the cooking time, when the sauce thickens to a syrup.
  • Cook the pears until a paring knife inserted into one meets no resistance, meaning the pears are cooked through. They should take between 50 and 60 minutes to cook, although because fruit can vary (due to variety and ripeness), check them before the recommended time. And if necessary, they may take longer.
  • Remove from oven and continue to baste the pears, as they cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.
  • Although cooking the pears this way provides some sauce, if you want extra (especially if you are serving them with ice cream), you can use this recipe to make more: Mix a few tablespoons of the marsala with the corn starch in a saucepan, stirring until the corn starch is completely dissolved. Whisk in the sugar, then the rest of the marsala. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring frequently with the whisk. When the sauce begins to boil, reduce the heat and cook for about 1 1/2 minutes, stirring constantly with the whisk, until it noticeably thickens to the consistency of warmed maple syrup. Remove from heat. The sauce will thicken more as it cools. (The sauce can be made up to one week ahead and refrigerated.)

On another note, last week was a very sober week in France, and around the world. Many of you left comments and well wishes on social media streams, and your concerns and thoughts were appreciated. I had planned to go to the march on Sunday and share some images and thoughts with readers, but there were so many people, it was a challenge just to move a half-block down the sidewalk during the momentous event. So I didn’t post anything, but participated and took the time for some personal introspection, along with the people of France. Thanks, David



    • Charlotte K

    All of us are thinking of France, David Paris is strong.

    I like to poach pears in red vermouth with honey and a bit of cinnamon. I find that there are certain pears that never quite ripen but do beautifully treated this way. The perfect daily dessert with a bit of yogurt or heavy cream.

    • Steve Martin

    I once received a hefty fine for poaching pears (out of season).

    But these look worth the risk.

    • Pete

    Once opened, how long will a bottle of marsala keep, and how should it be stored? Thanks.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      Once opened, Marsala will keep longer than regular wine because it’s fortified. I’ve kept it for up to 6 months without noticing any discernible different when cooking with it. For best conservation, it can be kept in the refrigerator, although most people don’t do that and it can be kept at room temperature.

    • Angel

    I’ve always thought of sherry for the pears, but I’ll definitely try marsala next time!

    • Rebecca @ Bring Back Delicious

    Baked or poached pears aren’t something you see very often. I’m not sure why though because they’re so delicious a la mode or with a caramel or cinnamon creme anglaise. Maybe even marscapone. I’m looking forward to when the next bumper crop comes in at my local market to try this out. So inspired!

    • J.S. @ Sun Diego Eats

    I’m not a fan of stewed pears as those tend to be a bit too mushy but roasting them with wine seems like the perfect treatment. I don’t really tend to buy fortified wines so wonder how this would be with a more bold regular red wine like a malbec or syrah…

    • Alexandra

    Paris Strong! This, coming one of us here in the land of Boston Strong! We are with you in the midst of the tragedy just endured.

    As for this recipe…looks gorgeous and sounds amazing. I will be making this dish for a visitor who is coming to spend a long weekend with us soon. Thank you for providing it at such a perfect time. Peace and love.

    • Bev

    Enjoy your posts.
    Now having to go to a second “page” to finish
    and find recipe. Messes up the flow. Irriatates me!
    Less interesting blogs get deleted.
    This is for you not your readers.
    Just use one page. Know you have to sell.
    We are in this together. Be mindful of this.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      Hi Bev: Am glad you like the blog, but posts have been that way for at least eight years, so it’s not something that was just added. Blog entries are divided into two parts on the Home page for two reasons: One is that because the posts often have 4-8 pictures or more (some have 30 or so!) And if there were that many pictures on the home page, people would have to wait for all of them to download (it might be over 60), which would take quite a while. And another reason is that people and companies “scrape” websites, especially ones with recipes, and republish the entire content. I’m happy to share recipes and content here on the site, but I prefer that people get them from coming here. So I hope that people don’t mind having the click to read the rest of the post. Thanks for your thoughts ~!

    • PeterCL

    I’m sure about those wrinkly skins after the pears are baked. Do some people peel the pears first? Had my first veal marsala in a North Beach resto shortly after moving to San Francisco; was hooked on Marsala from then on.

    • Bill Fuller

    I stew pears in white wine sauce on their side then on their other side with red wine sauce. This makes a colorful presentation. I serve them sabayon.

    • Jean G. Woodhouse

    Wonderful post David.
    Although I now live in Houston. I grew up in New Iberia, Louisiana. My grandparents had pear trees on their little farm and we ate many a pears right off those trees. I am excited to try your recipe, a more exciting adventure. Thank you.

    • Pearsnippity


    Two pages, three pages, four pages more . . . none irritates me given the personal reflection most of the world has done over the course of the last week.

    So yes Bev, we are in this together. Be mindful . . . indeed!

    • Aileen Kehoe

    These look delicious! And healthy, I’m definitely going to try.
    I made your mustard chicken, from your book, this weekend. My kids loved it! I had a bit too much ‘fond’ at the bottom of my pan but I think that’s my misuse of my le crueset Dutch oven.
    Love your stories too, I can’t get inspired by recipes where there is no context, I’ll happily read 3 pages

    • Mason

    I have something called “Royal Riviera” pears from Harry and David in the States. Will these work?

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      Those are Comice pears and while that variety is excellent for eating out of hand, they don’t keep their shape or texture when cooked, so would get mushy. So I wouldn’t use them.

    • Veronica

    A friend used to serve poached pears with his civet de sanglier. A match made in heaven. Am now wondering what this would be like with PX sherry instead of Marsala …

    • Susannah I. Sherwood

    Greetings and sincere compliments, David. I hope you don’t mind my inquiring into today’s disappearance of your ever-so-educational Links link?

    • TL

    I wonder what the pears think about when they reflect upon their time in the oven…

    • a different Bev

    I am happy to read however many pages it takes. Your photos are the highlight for me! Thrilled to have received your “My Paris Kitchen” for Christmas. Lucky me!

    • Christina

    I liked your joke about poaching pears.
    We share the same odd sense of humor.

    Vive la France

    • Sharon

    Because I want to read every word and look at every photo posted … I go directly to the bottom of the first page and click on “continue reading”. Then I can read the entire posting without interruption. Don’t change a thing David!

    • Colin

    I can hear all the great chefs stating the pears should be peeled as the skin is too chewy.

    • ItalianGirlCooks

    These pears look amazing. Sometimes the simplest ingredients are the best.

    • ron shapley(NYC)

    and a dry Marsala…..via Pellegrino………… Thanks Dave

    • Mike

    Blossom end?

    • Jordan

    Hi David – can’t wait to try this!

    Have you ever experimented with asian pears? Lots of variety of them here in SF!

    • Ginger Roy

    David: I believe you wrote a post about some of your favorite restaurants, etc. in Paris. I cannot find it in my Facebook history. My husband and I, along with other friends, are going to Paris in June. We’ve been many times but this time I’m determined to enjoy the genuinely Parisian eateries over the 5 star places of which we have been to many. Would love it if you would post that piece again.

    • Phillip ||

    These look gorgeous. Love the color on them. These would go well with a sweet marsala as a base for a dessert, I bet.

    • CoffeeGrounded

    I was amazed at the sea of humanity, sad for all the families affected, and dismayed that the President of this country was absent. My thoughts and prayers to all of France, and my gratitude to those representing countries that do not always politically agree. I was deeply moved by the respect that transcended any differences. Unity is a guiding light, the beacon that can bring hope in times of peril. Fear cannot break the backs of those who stand together in hopes of making this world a better place.

    Thanks for this treat, David. I learned about Marsala when I made my first Cassata. I macerated cherries and currants in it before combining with the Ricotta filling.
    I’ve never met a pear I didn’t love and a warm pear dish is perfect for a chilly winter’s meal. This would even work atop a steaming cup of old fashioned oats with a splash of cream.

    • Monika

    Greetings from Santa Barbara, California. Thank you for all the mailings. They make my day! I absolutely love your photos and wonder what type of camera and lens you are using? Merci.

    • Patsi Minnes

    if you have been at this for eight years, I would say you have a successful thing going for you, so please just keep things as they are.

    Love the idea of pears with Marsala, it reminded me of a dessert from many years ago. As I recall, half a pear, unpeeled, baked in a skim of butter and when done, dressed with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and a grind of craked pepper and a bit of chèvre. It was very nice. I must try it again ……after I have tried your Marsala.

    Please take care in what must be a difficult time in France.

    • David
    David Lebovitz

    Monika: Check out my post on My Food Photography Gear. You’ll find the info there.

    Ginger Roy: I don’t recall a specific post on that although in the Categories, over on the right sidebar, I list all the Paris restaurants that I’ve written about in blog posts. On the My Paris page, there is also a list of Paris restaurants that I like, which I frequently update (removing places that don’t merit a mention, and adding new ones that do.) I also mention restaurants in my monthly newsletter, ones that don’t fit into a full blog post, but merit a mention. (Those are archived at the end of the FAQs page.)

    Jordan: I love Asian pears although many are cherished for their texture, rather than flavor. We don’t have a large variety of them to choose from in Paris, like we did in San Francisco, and most are flown in from elsewhere (and who knows what is on them…) so I generally don’t use them nowadays.

    Susannah: We’re moving the site to a mobile-responsive design, so that people can read it easier on mobile devices, which many people are doing. To make it load and perform faster, my web developers are looking at what people are using and reading, and trying to decide which get the most interest. A few others have mentioned the Links page, so I’ve asked them about reinstalling it. Thanks ~!

    • fiona

    Thanks for asking about reinstallation of the links. I miss them, but didn’t want to be giving you a bunch of lip over it when you do so many other nice things.

    Have a good day!

    • George

    Daveed — I’ve noticed you’ve turned into quite a good photographer — and this post’s photos are exceptional. Do you have a photographer teacher you could share the name of? Anyway, it looks like you were having fun :)

    • Ryan

    looks Gorgeous, trust me :P :)

    • David
    David Lebovitz

    fiona: No problem. We are trying to determine what features of the sites people use as streamlining the site, and removing things that aren’t used, will make it faster to load for readers. And link pages have sort of fallen out of favor in the last few years, although I like to link to content and food blogs that I find interesting. So we’ve brought it back and it’s there, in the menu bar again : )

    George: Thanks. Mostly it’s practice, tinkering with my camera, and having nice-looking ingredients to work with. I did once take a photo course in Andalusia with Tim Clinch, who does seminars, which was helpful as well. However I still struggle to understand photo editing programs, which seem to go completely over my head in terms of complexity…

    • Agneta Quist_Palos


    • Sinead

    Looks delicious – I love any baked fruit but especially pears! I’ve never cooked with marsala before and it sounds interesting; I’ll have to keep an eye out for it.

    • George

    Thanks David, I am a designer and have trouble learning new software too, but have discovered a site that is a Godsend — For a small monthly membership fee, $20 or $25., you can take very easy to understand tutorials for just about any software. They even have photography how to courses that I’ve heard are very good. It’s saved me more than once…. :)

    • Eileen

    Such beautiful photos!

    • Patricia Thon

    Hi David,
    I have been following your posts for some time and thoroughly enjoy them, primarily as a voyeur as the kitchen is not my forte!

    I wanted to comment as I also participated in the march on Sunday and the crowds were overwhelming, but the experience was deeply moving! As you say, a true time for reflection. A majority of the photos I took were of the individual expressions of patriotism. A sight that touched me was a group of Tibetan monks, dressed in their traditional red robes and wearing handmade “Je Suis Charlie” signs near Nation.

    I look forward to your future posts, and perhaps they will stir the urge to experiment in the kitchen!

    • Virginia Fleet

    I’ve been checking your blog every day since the first attentats, hoping and expecting you would acknowledge what was going on. Glad you did. You said just enough to let us know you were affected and avoided polemics. Thanks.

    • Allison B White

    Thank you for the fine pear and Marsala recipe and for your thoughtful note about the march and your introspection.

    • Kiki

    David, couldn’t comment before. Am doing those pears for years, but don’t like Marsala (in my youth this was considered an ‘old ladies wine’ because quite sweet..! Can’t find another reason) and always use a rather full bodied red wine, everybody loves it!
    Cannot check out LINKS, just wanted to add that I always come back to them and REALLY appreciate them. Thanks if/when you put them back… (again if you’ve done it already, I’m sorry to mention it, i am not @ my home computer and can’t access all the finesses of your blog as I am used to. I also cd not comment up to now, don’t know why – I hope I am excused if….
    Incidentally, I made poached (although I did have to buy them….) pears last week, de-li-ci-ous…

    • Oana

    Your recipes are such an inspiration. I love pears but I have yet to try a baked recipe – I’ve been making plenty of poached pears in various combinations, but never baked. I can only imagine how good these taste soaked in Marsala. So I guess I need to stock on Marsala and pears now.

    • Jordan Grossi

    Terrific …. can’t wait to make these …………..
    would this work with those small brown very hard pears (name escapes me)I see at the marchés down here in the south, and just across the border in Italy ……..

    Also great photos…….
    have you switched cameras ??

    • Susannah I. Sherwood

    I’m grateful, Mr. Lebovitz, for your courteous note, and that Links are restored even if only temporarily as you wrestle with the question of download times. With every new Link, we readers receive sterling, constantly changing exposure to issues in food production, presentation, politics, travel, celebration, and sheer enjoyment. Where you point, we’re privileged to access and to learn. Very many thanks again.

    • Susan

    David, I, too, am glad you let us know how you fared during the crisis in France. I’ve thought of you and the rest of the citizens often.

    I’m glad you put the links back. I use them often as another source of information and to round out your posts. I’m thinking you give us some of your insight as to how you arrive at your concoctions!

    Maybe it’s the inexpensive Marsala that I buy, but I don’t find it all that sweet. It’s sweeter than the dry Marsala, but not a dessert worthy beverage on it’s own. I use it more often than the dry as it tends to tone down entrees that are very savory or thought of as saltier than usual. It does lend itself as an addition in dessert recipes, too, but I don’t make many of those.

    • Dena, Canada

    Thanks so much for putting the links page back. It is so helpful. I like that these are blogs and resources that *you* find interesting – a selected list – so therefore I think they are more worth my while in reading. Thanks again D

    • Blaine Walker

    I like the idea of serving them with meat. With…..????

    • Maggi

    Bev ,
    So easy to click on “Continue reading…” , not a bother. There are more grave happenings in the world, more grave things happening in other peoples’ lives. Clicking once should not be an irritant.
    I like to see what other posts have been written, what I’ve missed, so the summary page works quite well.
    Thank you, Dave, for all you share to us.

    • anna@icyvioletskitchen

    your pictures are beautiful! there is something so french to me about pears. i mean i know we have them all over in the states, but we don’t really appreciate them. the french seem to.

    • Louise Yenovkian

    Thank you David for this wonderful recipe. I have always poached pears in various types of wine then presented them in handmade chocolate bowls (using balloons dipped in chocolate then popping the balloon and a wonderful edible bowl remains) served with a reduction of the wines used. I am going to try baking pears as in this recipe. Much easier as there is no peeling involved.

    • Thea

    Appreciate commentary on the worth of your photos – kitchen fabulous. Your writing has achieved a glow of late, like you blew past some gate into comfortable. Appreciate your use of “cherish” in non-soppy context. Plus another yay for link restoration. I also hit the “continue” button first to read the current post within your complete site. Eight years? Oh, the time does fly —

    • Lois

    Hi David. Love to make this recipe this weekend; it looks and sounds delicious. I don’t find an option to print it….wondering why – or did I miss it? Many thanks for a thoughtful and thought provoking blog along with your fabulous recipes.

    Thanks. Check out here why there isn’t a print option, and what you can do to easily print out recipes from the site. – dl

    • Katie

    Hi David! These look delicious – I’m excited to try them! I recently came across your “Perfect Panna Cotta” recipe, as well. I’ve been wanting to try a nice panna cotta for a while now. Do you think these pears would be an appropriate topping or should I stick with a good vanilla ice cream and save the panna cotta for another culinary endeavor?

    Thank you – your blog is wonderful!

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      yes, they’d be a nice pairing with the panna cotta ~


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