A generous friend gave me a passel of pears from his trees last weekend. They were small and misshapen but oh my gosh, were they delicious!
I used some of my friend’s pears in these fragrant gingery pear muffins with a pecan streusel topping, because why wouldn’t I?
With a dense-yet-tender texture and delicate crumb, these coffeecake-style muffins are made rich with sour cream (Greek yogurt can substitute but use full-fat, please.) They’re big enough to share and are perfect for breakfast, mid-morning breaks or a late-afternoon lull-breaker.
In Michigan, where I grew up, fall is all about apples. But I think people tend to forget about pears as a seasonal delight, and we’re fortunate to have some great pears here in Arizona. Though it will be a while before this year’s pecan crop is harvested, I still associate pecans with the Grand Canyon State. Other nuts can star in the streusel, however; I think I’ll try Piñon, another Arizona product, in my next batch. Walnuts are also good in this streusel.
I adore the complex citrusy-minty flavor and compelling scent of cardamom, so I’ve paired it in these muffins with its cousin, ginger. For a more familiar flavor profile, however, you could use the traditional apple pie spices of cinnamon, clove and nutmeg to replace the ginger and cardamom.
These muffins freeze beautifully, which makes them terrific as a grab-and-go on harried mornings. By the time you’re ready to eat the muffin, it will have thawed. Or, if you simply can’t wait, microwave the still-frozen muffin for a minute or so, and enjoy one that tastes like you just pulled it from the oven.
At farmers markets, you may see Kieffer or various Asian pear varieties. Any pear will work in this recipe. And if you’ve missed the pear window — it’s brief — canned pear halves, diced, will also work in this recipe at any time of year. Drain canned pears well before mixing into the batter, especially if they were packed in heavy syrup.
Some notes for marvelous muffin success: The most common error is overmixing, which makes muffins tough and filled with tunnels and air holes. Unlike the batters for cakes, for example, muffins want a lazy cook’s hand. Stir the batter just 15 or 20 quick licks after adding dry ingredients; you actually want a lumpy batter with some streaks of unblended dry ingredients showing.
Flat or sunken muffin tops are due to outdated leaveners, so check expiration dates. Under-baking muffins can also cause this flaw.
Peaked tops can come from too much batter in the muffin cup, or an oven that is too hot. It’s worth using an oven thermometer to check how close your oven is to the temperature that you’ve set it to. At my house, setting my oven to 350 degrees gets an actual temperature of about 375 degrees. My life as a baker improved a lot when I figured this out. Now I know to set my oven 25 degrees below whatever temperature the recipe specifies.
I also learned that the oven that came with my house is much hotter in the back than it is in the front. As a result, I know I need to rotate the baking pans 180 degrees halfway through the baking time for even browning.
Ginger-cardamom pear muffins with pecan streusel
Makes about 6 oversized or 12 normal muffins
The flavors of fall come together in these aromatic muffins with a rich pecan streusel as the finishing touch. Their texture will be like coffeecake – tender with a delicate crumb – thanks to the sour cream. Store in a covered container for up to 3 days at room temperature or freeze extras and thaw in the microwave as desired.
For the streusel:
2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup chopped pecans
For the muffins:
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup (5 tablespoons) softened butter
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup (8 ounces) full-fat sour cream or full-fat Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom or 3 green cardamom pods, ground
2 large fresh pears, peeled, cored and diced (about 1 to 1 1/2 cup diced)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the compartments on a muffin tin with paper liners and spray the liners with nonstick spray. Set aside.
In a small bowl, prepare the streusel topping by working butter, brown sugar, flour and walnuts with your fingers or a fork until well combined. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk or stir to blend well. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine butter, oil and sugar until well-mixed. Add the eggs, one at time, stirring well after each addition. Stir in the sour cream, ginger and vanilla.
Stir in the flour mixture and the diced pears with a few quick strokes. The batter should be lumpy, with some streaks of the flour mixture showing. Divide the batter among the paper-lined muffin cups – Oversized muffins will take about 1 cup batter each, and regular-sized muffins will take ª to ƒ cup batter.
Sprinkle streusel topping on each muffin. Bake for about 25 minutes for oversized muffins or for 15 to 20 minutes for regular-sized muffins, or until a pick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.
Robin Mather is a longtime food journalist and the author of “The Feast Nearby.” Follow her blog as she writes her third book, “The Feast of the Dove,” at www.thefeastofthedove.com.