I love buying seasonal and local produce, but living in southeastern Michigan, unless I want to live without fresh produce from approximately November to May, this isn’t possible. I once read that Jeffrey Steingarten (Iron Chef America) liked the peaches from Frog Hollow Farm, leading me to try their goods for the first time this past summer. No, they aren’t local, and shipping is pretty pricey, but the quality of their organic goods is nearly unsurpassed. Peaches and heirloom tomatoes were my first purchase, but then I went back for Warren pears this past fall and just before the New Year after hearing about how good they were.
I don’t mind grocery store pears, particularly for baking, but these pears are magic. They are great for eating out of hand, even when not quite ripe or just a little too ripe. As to not waste a single morsel of pear, they also store nicely in the refrigerator once you can tell they are going to spoil before long. My first shipment was 12 large pears, which are mostly brown on the outside with a little bit of green peaking through; the second shipment was a bunch of smaller pears, about half the size, but all were juicy, never mealy, with the flavor a pear should have, but rarely does. They do not feel very soft even when ripened, but cutting them open reveals an incredibly juicy, white flesh, just waiting to be devoured.
The pears really shine when baked into these muffins, which I’ve made twice. The muffins become almost caramelized on the outside, giving them a much deeper flavor than I’ve ever found in a muffin. I make muffins constantly to eat for breakfast, but these are definitely one of my favorites. If you can’t get your hands on these prized Warren pears, which are out of season until next fall, any pear will work just fine.
I used almonds and almond extract to complement the pears, but pecans or walnuts would be very nice as well. In addition I used demerara sugar, but light or dark brown sugar work too; the demerara simply adds a little crunch and adds to the complex, caramelized flavor. The thing about these muffins is that once you have the basic ingredients it’s fun to play around with spices, flavorings, nuts, and even the fruit, but that’s another story for another day, along with how Sunny Anderson’s muffin recipe was my inspiration for nearly all the muffins I make.
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 ¼ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon allspice
- ¼ teaspoon cloves
- 1 cup demerara sugar
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 2 large eggs (pasteurized if you like)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon almond extract
- ½ cup almonds, toasted, very coarsely chopped
- 2 – 2 ½ cups pears, very coarsely chopped
- 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon demerara sugar
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 10 cups in a 12-cup muffin tin with vegetable oil, including the rim and top of the pan. In a medium bowl mix together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and cloves. In a large bowl, mix sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla and almond extracts together.
- Pour the dry ingredients into the wet and mix until combined. The batter should come together and will be very thick. Add the almonds and pears, along with any juice from the pears into the batter and fold in until just combined, being careful not to break the pears into a bunch of tiny pieces. If the batter is still too thick, it will depend on the juiciness of the pears, you may add some orange juice to make it easier to work with.
- Using a regular size ice cream scoop, scoop the batter into the 10 greased cups. If there is any left, divide it evenly among the cups. You may choose to make more than 10 muffins, but making 10 ensures big muffins full of plenty of pears and almonds.
- Mix the cinnamon and sugar together to make the topping and sprinkle over as many of the muffins as you like. I usually do half, so that I get 2 different flavors from the same batch of muffins.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes, rotating halfway through if necessary, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pan at least 1 hour or the muffins will fall apart during removal. Gently loosen the tops of muffins from the pan using your fingers, then push a spatula down the side of each cup carefully forcing the muffin out (hopefully all in one piece), while guiding it with your hand. They will look homemade but will taste delicious, and that’s what baking is all about.
- The muffins can be stored at room temperature for up to 3 days or in the freezer for four months, wrapped in parchment and foil and placed in a zipper bag. They can be thawed at room temperature for about 2 hours or in a 350 degree F oven for 15-20 minutes, resulting in a delectably crunchy top. If you want a softer muffin, wrap them in parchment paper before heating in the oven.