Recipe Review: Pear Ginger (Walnut) Muffins

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Miss Fats has been lazily loaving around her winter workshop baking.  Friday mornings were once a scheduled place for baking experimentation in sweet breakfast delights.  However the cold and apathy has resulted in a continuous slew of breakfast loaves week after week for her regular Friday meetings.  While Miss Fats is relatively sure folks are satisfied with a blackberry lemon pairing, or carrot cake crumble, there’s something a bit lifeless about the loaf object that doesn’t make for baking blog fodder.  So she apologizes to all of you who came here to today to hear about the variations of spice cake that have come out of Miss Fats kitchen (she knows you’re all incredibly disappointed).

In an effort to liven her baking efforts (and frankly, get her blogging again), Miss Fats finally tried out Food52’s Pear Ginger Walnut Muffins by Ms T.  These little guys have been mocking Miss Fats from her Pinterest for months now.  Every week she goes to browse the bounty of breakfast snacks collected on her board, and each week assumes she’ll give this muffin a try.  But she’s been damn lazy; and the idea of portioning out twelve whole muffins on a Friday morning just seems like too much (see what this damn vortex does to people?  Can’t even scoop muffins anymore #notarealproblem).  But February brought a little break in the weather (high 30s have never felt so good), so she rode that heat wave right to muffin town: time for something shiny and new.

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In order to cut down on morning baking, Miss Fats went ahead and made the pear ginger sauce the night ahead.  Ms. T’s instructions were relatively easy to follow, however she found that she needed to cook the sauce for quite a bit longer than the specified 15-20 minutes.  Maybe Miss Fats was dealing with some juicy pears, but hers sat stewing for a good 30-40 minutes.  This was fine, because she just let them hang out while she went about her business.  The sauce simply sat overnight waiting to be muffined the next morning.

As per usual, Miss Fats refused to use more than one bowl for these baked goods.  She simply began with step three, using a whisk instead of an electric mixer.  The dry were added to the wet and produced a thick thick batter of gingery goodness.  Obviously, after a bit of tasting, she upped the salt by about half a tsp.  Now Miss Fats isn’t rolling in walnut-money so she ended up leaving out the nut action.  The muffins baked up in almost exactly 20 minutes, which combined with the ten minute cook time (thanks to sauce prep) made for the ideal morning baking project.

The real beauty of these muffins is their outsides match their insides: mainly they’re both aesthetically pleasing and truly tasty.  Their plump, slightly crisp muffin tops provide the perfect shell for the tender, moist crumb inside.   The sauce only partially broke down the fruit, leaving tender chunks of spiced pear throughout the muffin.  The ginger flavor is subtle and frankly the pear flavor is nonexistent.  However these muffins are more about the gentle flavor and homey texture of a fresh, moist breakfast treat.  While Miss Fats is usually a fan of bolder flavors, she recognizes that not everyone wants kick in the face first thing in the morning.   These ginger pear muffins are the perfect hit of spice and sweet to sit along side a big cup of coffee on a cold morning.  She will definitely be making these again.

Now the real question is how can Miss Fats mix this thing up?  She wonders if there are variations on this sauce-muffin action that can exploited for future breakfast baking projects.  She supposes that any hearty fruit that lends itself to a fruit butter or mash would be appropriate.  That means apples, peaches, and rhubarb had better watch their backs.  Miss Fats is coming for you.

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No MORE: Brown Butter Pear Cupcake with Goat Cheese Frosting

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Miss Fats is dedicated to sampling cupcakes across the city in search of her favorite shops and baking inspiration.  And naturally she does her research.  This has taken her to some hits and misses, but there’s been one shop haunting her for the last eighteen months now: More.  This super fancy Gold Coast shop has been featured on numerous lists and television specials, boasting “creative” and “boundary-pushing” cupcakes.  (ensue eye roll)   Part of Miss Fats’ hesitation stems from her belief that its a damn cupcake and there’s a certain degree of homemade simplicity involved in any truly successful dessert.  Not to mention flavor and texture should come way before any decorative nonsense.  Ok. Done with rant.  Anyway, Miss Fats finally sucked it up and decided to try out these infamously strange cupcakes.

IMG_2202Their tiny little shop featured a wall of stark plexi fancy time.  She wasn’t entirely sure she was getting “food.”  However she pushed on, and inquired about popular flavors and recommendations.  She ended up with one of their salted caramel cupcakes (more on that later) and a goat cheese walnut pear.

IMG_2209(Miss Fats apologizes for the poor photography.  This cupcake was consumed in a bar nearby.)

Now Miss Fats has had goat cheese involved in her cupcakes before (not to mention crazy delicious goat cheese cheesecake), so she thought this cupcake would be a safe median between their disgusting-sounding tomato cupcake and the more traditional flavors.  However she was so so wrong. This was one of the most confusing and unpleasant cupcake experiences of Miss Fats’ life (and she has had a lot of cupcakes).  The dry dry mass of cake was flavored with dried thyme, which brought out an overly savory flavor in the goat cheese frosting.  The frosting itself was oily, and super goaty, which would have been fine if the cake had been sweeter and less crazy savory.  Miss Fats felt like she was eating some weird goat cheese spread that had syrup poured over top and was left to sit out and dry up for a couple of days.  Don’t even get her started on the filling.  She’s not even sure what happened.  The pathetic little patch of pear foam/watery jelly (?) had absolutely no pear flavor and was just lost in the mess of herb and cheese.  More’s cupcake has quickly risen to the top of most disappointing cake experiences of Miss Fats’ life.  She had about two bites, sampled the separate components, and threw her four dollar cupcake away.

But Miss Fats is not into a purely negative cupcake experience.  She believes joy can always emerge from cake.  She considered More’s flavor-texture failure to be a challenge: could Miss Fats do better?  Hell yes she could.  So she’s bringing her version to you all; welcome to the Brown Butter Pear Cupcake with Goat Cheese Frosting.

IMG_0241These little dudes feature a simple brown butter cake stuffed with a gooey pear filling and topped with a balanced goat and cream cheese frosting.  They are entirely sweet. No savory here, people.  Not to mention they’re damn easy.  The only slightly tricky step is browning the butter, but other than that, the cake can be made with one bowl.  The filling can easily be switched out for any fruit in season, or even any jam or compote you have on hand (Miss Fats would totally recommend  a scoop of Bon Maman pear compote or apple butter.)

IMG_0246For those of you who might think goat cheese frosting is gross, you are wrong.  Well you might not be wrong, but Miss Fats recommends trying out this recipe before you write it off.  Her frosting features a mix of goat and cream cheese, which allows for the tanginess of the goat to come through, but doesn’t totally over-power the other components.  The frosting recipe can (and should) be used to top some of your other cakes as well.  Who doesn’t want a carrot cake with a little goat action?

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Brown Butter and Pear Cupcakes with Goat Cheese Frosting:
makes approximately 18 cupcakes

cake: adapted from browned butter cake
3/4 cup butter
4 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 tsp baking powder
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp salt

filling:
1 bartlett pear, diced into 1/4 inch cubes
2 tbs butter
2 tbs brown sugar
1 tbs flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
pinch of salt

frosting:
1 8 oz package of cream cheese (softened)
5 oz of goat cheese
1/2 cup butter (softened)
4 cups powdered sugar (depends on how sweet you like it)
1 tbs milk
1 tsp vanilla
juice of half a lemon
pinch of salt

1. make the cake: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  To brown the butter, heat pan over medium heat and add your butter.  Stir continuously as the butter begins to foam up.  Continue stirring as the butter begins to take on a rich brown color and creates an insanely good nutty smell.  Once it’s reached a dark golden tone, remove from heat so as not to burn.  Beat sugar and eggs until slightly thickened (about two minutes).  Once the butter has cooled slightly, add it and the milk, and vanilla and beat until just combined.  Mix in all the dry ingredients until just combined.  Fill a lined or greased cupcake pan with approximately 3/4 of the batter.  Bake for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

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2. make the filling: heat the butter over medium in a saucepan or skillet.  melt the brown sugar and flour in the butter.  Add the spices and salt.  Toss in your pears, and allow to cook for about a minute.  Adjust spices and sugar depending on how sweet your fruit is and your preferred flavor.

IMG_02713. make the frosting: beat cream cheese, goat cheese and butter on high speed until completely combined and fluffy (about 3 minutes).  Beat in vanilla, lemon juice and salt.  Carefully sift in powdered sugar in stages, beat, starting on low and moving to high.  After about three cups of sugar, taste and decide whether or not you’d like to add the remaining sugar.  Finally, beat in the milk.

4. assemble the cupcakes: using a small spoon, remove the center of the cupcakes.  Fill with a heaping tablespoon of the filling.  Top everything off with the goat cheese frosting.  To keep it pretty, Miss Fats recommends filling a ziplock bag with the frosting and cutting the tip off to create a little ad hoc pastry bag.  Swirl it on top and finish off with a little slice of pear.

IMG_0276Miss Fats hopes you all enjoy these cupcakes as much as she did.  This is a bit of a working recipe, so she’s not completely satisfied with her current filling.  It might just be the pears she got, but Miss Fats thinks they need a bit more intensely pear flavor.  Her current filling more closely resembles the flavors of good old fashioned apple pie.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but next time she’ll probably cook those down into a tasty jam-like filling.  Any you readers out there have a suggestion for some super pear flavor?