A delicate and sophisticated dessert worthy of your most special guest! Perfumy cardamom heightens the sweetness of poached winter fruit. We use whole pods here to infuse the poaching liquid with the taste of cardamom. Red wine flavors the liquid, rather than serving entirely as the base, so its tannins are much more subtle.
2 cups water
2 cups water
1/4 cup cardamom pods
3 tablespoons dry red wine (such as Burgundy)
2 whole star anise (optional)
3 firm pears (such as Bosc), peeled (about 1 1/2 lb.)
Stir together 2 cups water, sugar, cardamom, wine, and star anise, if using, in a saucepan over high; bring to a boil. Add pears; reduce heat to medium. Cut a circle of parchment paper slightly larger than circumference of pan; press paper onto the surface of pears to keep them submerged. Simmer pears 20 minutes or until just tender. Remove from heat; cool completely. Chill pears in liquid in pan 8 hours.
Remove pears from liquid with a slotted spoon. Halve pears vertically. Gently remove seeds and core with a spoon. Chill until serving.
Place pan with poaching liquid over high, and cook, stirring occasionally, until syrupy and reduced to about 1/2 cup, about 25 minutes. Pour through a fine wire-mesh strainer into a bowl; discard solids.
Whisk together mascarpone, milk, and vanilla in a bowl until smooth. Drizzle each serving with 1 1/2 tablespoons poaching liquid syrup; top each with about 1 tablespoon vanilla mascarpone.