Where There's a Whisk... | Bonus recipe: Pear and vanilla bean cupcakes
"On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: a partridge in a pear tree."
Guess what? Only 13 days until Christmas! I spent all Saturday getting fully into the holiday spirit. I finished buying and wrapping presents, bought a tree and decorated my apartment, even wrote a few Christmas letters to friends who live far away.
It felt especially Christmas-y this weekend, because my little southern town randomly experienced the coldest weather it will probably experience all season. Any northern readers will roll their eyes when I say this, but it was like—30-something degrees. Yikes! And it was windy. Nope, I was not prepared. To make up for it, I warmed my apartment in the best way I know how: baking way too many cupcakes!
When it comes to holiday treats, people tend to lean towards chocolate, peppermint and nuts. Nothing wrong with those (except for chocolate with peppermint; I have no idea why people think those two flavors go together), but I decided to try something different and stick with fruit. These cupcakes are filled with caramelized pears. The sweetness of the pears is offset with vanilla, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg—all excellent warm flavors for the holiday season. For the frosting, I made a vanilla bean Swiss meringue buttercream, then topped it with more pears and more flavor.
So, I'd never made a Swiss meringue before, but I loved that the egg whites gave my frosting a light and fluffy texture. It took more steps than the normal American buttercream (just butter and sugar), but I think it was worth it! You can read more about different types of frosting here.
For the cupcakes:
14 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature (divided)
3 cups chopped and peeled pears (about 3 or 4 medium pears)
1½ cups plus 3 tbsp. sugar (divided)
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
Dash of ground ginger
Dash of grated nutmeg
2 1/3 cups cake flour
2¼ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
2½ tsp. vanilla extract
For the frosting:
4 large egg whites
1 scant* cup sugar
Pinch of salt
12 oz. (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla extract
For the pear topping:
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
3 cups chopped and peeled pears
¼ cup sugar
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
Dash of ground ginger
Dash of grated nutmeg
Vanilla bean pod (from cake)
¾-1 cup plus 2 tbsp. water (divided)
2 tsp. cornstarch
1. First, the cupcakes! Heat 1 tablespoon of butter over medium heat.
2. Stir in the chopped pears, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and 3 tablespoons of the sugar. Stir until combined.
3. Reduce heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pears are golden and tender. This should take about 15 to 20 minutes. Check the pears often so they don't end up all mushy! Set aside.
4. Whisk together cake flour, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl and set aside.
5. Place the remaining 13 tablespoons of butter to the bowl of an electric mixer, and scrape the vanilla bean seeds into the bowl of the mixer with the butter. Save the pod for later!
6. Beat on medium-high speed for 3 minutes, until light and creamy in color. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat for one more minute.
7. Add the remaining 1½ cups of sugar slowly, about ¼ cup at a time. Mix for another minute after each addition.
8. Add in the eggs one at a time, mixing until incorporated.
9. Combine the buttermilk and the vanilla extract in a measuring cup.
10. Add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk/vanilla extract mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Mix until *just* incorporated.
11. Fold in the caramelized pears.
12. Divide the batter between your liners, and bake about 18 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then move to a rack to finish cooling.
13. While the cupcakes are cooling, prepare the frosting! Whisk egg whites, sugar and salt in a heatproof bowl, set over a pot of simmering water. Heat until the mixture reaches 160° F and the sugar has dissolved.
14. Pour the mixture in a stand mixer and beat until stiff peaks form and the mixture has cooled to room temperature.
15. Add the butter slowly, about 2 tablespoons at a time.
16. Stir in the vanilla extract and mix just until incorporated. I swirled my frosting around the edges of the cupcakes so there was a well for the topping, but you can decorate however you please!
17. Finally, make the pear topping! Heat the butter in a skillet, then stir in the pears and sugar.
18. Add cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and vanilla bean pod.
19. Heat until the fruit begins to release its juices. Add water to the pan and bring the mixture to a low simmer.
20. Cook until the pears are tender.
21. In a separate bowl, combine remaining 2 tablespoons of water with the cornstarch, and whisk lightly until smooth.
22. Add the cornstarch mixture to the pears and cook 1-2 minutes more, until the mixture has thickened.
23. Let cool thoroughly before topping the cupcakes.