Simmering the pears in liquid makes them sweet and tender.
In a large skillet with a tight-fitting lid combine the apple cider, vermouth, butter, anise, and salt. Bring to a simmer.
Add pears, reduce the heat, and simmer covered until pears are tender when pierced with the tip of a knife, 10-12 minutes.
Whip heavy cream until it makes soft peaks. Add mascarpone and honey and whip again until light and fluffy and just holding stiff peaks. Do not overmix.
Divide pears and poaching liquid between four bowls and serve topped with mascarpone cream and almond cookies, if using.