Pear and fig morning muffins

April 1, 2011 § 15 Comments

These muffins are exceptional.  I got up at 6 in the morning to bake these muffins.  Though even if I hadn’t, I think they would still taste as though they were kissed by the blushing early morning sunlight.

Of course, I didn’t get up early to make them knowing how lovely they would be.  I got up early to make them because I’ve been out most of the evenings this week and haven’t been able to cook dinner, so I had a strong urge to get my hands into something with a little more to it than frying an egg.  I woke up early, the dawn just starting to creep over the trees outside our window, and I thought of muffins.  So, I baked some and had them fresh and steaming on the table for breakfast at 7.

The urge to bake muffins was, in fact, odd because most of the time I find muffins terribly disappointing.  I have a not insignificant scone addiction but no real love for muffins.  You see, I have an idea of what a muffin ought to be, and on the infrequent occasions when I bother to try one it always falls far short of my expectations, usually being overly sweet, heavy, and tough.  When I first moved to Boston, I had a roommate who would bake these banana blueberry muffins, which sounds generally promising, however they were so heavy and dry and all their flavors were so messily jumbled together, I took to wanting to run away whenever I saw them sitting out on the counter.

Not these.  These are moist, light, and unbelievably tender.  The crumb is so delicate it borders on fragile.  And they have only the smallest trace hint of sweet, which serves as a subtle backdrop for the heady, natural sweetness of the pear and fig that is packed into every bite.

The key is room temperature ingredients.  Who knew?!  Well, perhaps you did, but I didn’t.  And I only learned this by a happy discovery.  I had stopped into the incomparable Flour bakery to grab a cup of coffee on my way to my next data collection site, and I started leafing through Joanne Chang’s new book of recipes from Flour as I waited for my caffeine fix to be ready.

Flour is one of two places in the world that I have discovered that produce muffins I actually want to eat (the other is an unknown bakery next to where my boss from when I used to work at the children’s museum lived.  On certain lucky mornings she would come in to work with a box of freshly baked fruity muffins in tow.  Those were good days.).  So, when I came to the recipe for Joanne’s muffins, I paused to have a look at her technique.  There, she stressed in no uncertain terms the importance of having your ingredients at room temperature to make sure the butter doesn’t firm up when it comes into contact with anything else.

Her absolute definitiveness about this made me think, hmm maybe there was something to it.  She also admonishes the reader not to overmix, something you read in every single quick bread recipe, but something which I, for one, am only finally taking to heart to the degree necessary.  After looking at that recipe and her clear words of wisdom, I had muffins on the brain.  And so it came to pass that I left some eggs and buttermilk out overnight to warm, then woke up early in the morning to struggle my way out of bed and over to a mixing  bowl.  It was absolutely worth it.

One of these fruit studded little muffins and a bowl of plain yogurt was an ideal start to the day.  And because of the thread of cardamom in the batter (I can never resist adding a little cardamom) the house smelled heavenly.  During those serene moments of the morning, it didn’t even matter that I was going to be working until 9 that night.  What mattered was that I had made a perfect muffin.

Pear and fig muffins (makes about 10 regular muffin tin sized muffins)

  • 4 Tbs. butter (plus more for greasing the muffin pan)
  • 1/3 cup dried figs, finely chopped
  • 1 small-medium pear, ripe but still firm
  • 1 3/4 cup all purpose flour (if I could eat it, I think I would have tried using 1/2 cup of oat flour – made by grinding oats in a food processor, in place of 1/2 cup of the flour.  It would give it a nice sweet nutty flavor.  Give it a try, and let me know how it goes!)
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2-1 tsp. ground cardamom (use the 1/2 tsp. if it’s freshly ground and the larger amount if it’s a little older) (you could also replace this with a tsp. of vanilla extract added to the wet ingredients, if you weren’t in the mood for cardamom)
  • 3 Tbs. sugar or honey
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 egg yolk, at room temperature
  • 1 cup plus 2 Tbs. buttermilk or plain kefir (cultured milk), at room temperature
  1. Preheat your oven to 400F.
  2. Melt the 4 Tbs. of butter and allow to cool (for at least several minutes).  In the meantime, grease 10 holes in a standard muffin tin.
  3. Peel and core the pear and cut it into small pieces.  Cut the dry figs into small pieces as well.
  4. In a small-medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cardamom.  Set aside.
  5. In a medium-large mixing bowl whisk together the sugar (or honey), egg, and egg yolk for a couple of minutes, until the color lightens.  Then, whisk in the butter until well combined.  Finally whisk in the buttermilk.
  6. Pour in the dry ingredients and stir together with  a wooden spoon.  Stop stirring while there are still a number of flour streaks in the batter.  At this point dump the chopped fruit on top of the batter.  Stir just enough to mix it in and get the flour streaks blended in, then stop.  Don’t stir any more!
  7. Use 2 spoons to drop heaping spoonfuls of batter into the holes of the muffin tin, filling each hole at least 3/4s of the way to the top, or even a little bit more.
  8. Bake for about 20 minutes, until golden on top and a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean.  Take out of the oven and let sit for 2-3 minutes.  Then, using a knife, carefully remove the muffins from the tin and set on a cooling rack to cool.  These muffins are best eaten fresh and warm.  But, they’re good for the next day or two lightly reheated and spread with a little smear of butter.  Accompany with a little bowl of plain yogurt and some coffee or tea.
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