Heavenly Pear Streusel Muffins

I apologize right from the start, but those brownies that I mentioned last time are just going to have to wait. They have been shoved from the lime light by these little gems - these gorgeous, delicious, adorable little muffins filled with juicy pear and topped with sweet and crunchy oat streusel. This, my last minute procrastination recipe for New Year's Eve, could not have been a better decision. Although these pear muffins are far from traditional celebration fare, they worked beautifully with the early dinner I had with L's family (and as my light lunch to hold me over to said early dinner, ahem...).

It should come as no surprise that I found these over at the Smitten Kitchen, since these days I find almost all of my rave-worthy recipes there. I was planning last week to make a pear crisp for Christmas, but logistically couldn't figure out how to make it in advance so that it could travel to its destination. So I ditched that idea, replaced it with the fudge and some mysterious chocolatey caramel surprises (soon to be revealed, I promise), and have four pears sitting on my counter threatening to rot there before too long. So, I did what any frugal baker would do - I used it as an excuse to bake something! I delved into my pot of recipes and pulled out one for a pear bread, told myself it would be excellent in mini-muffin form, found an oat streusel topping to sprinkle over it, and got to work. What came out of my kitchen yesterday is nothing short of saintly (coming from the baker in me, not the nutritionist, mind you). No, I exaggerate. These are not the worst muffins, either - in fact, I would even file them away in the "muffin" category, while some of my so-called muffin recipes-to-make are kept very judiciously in the "cupcake" folder.

Yes, I really am that particular. But that is neither here nor there, as this recipe is too good to dilly-dally. I very barely changed it from Deb's recommendations, aside from to halve it (and I still got 4 dozen minis), adjust the baking time, add the topping and play with the amount of pear - again, minimally. One discovery I did make, however, was that if you zest a juicy pear, you get pear sauce. You know, like apple sauce, but from a pear. Therefore, I have every intention of swapping out some of the oil for some pear sauce next time. just for kicks. I might also tone down the brown sugar in the streusel and make a bit more of it for topping in general. If I really want to go crazy with the healthification of these muffins (and I'm not so sure I do, since they really are fantastic as they are), I might tinker with the sugar in the muffins, too. But for right now, this recipe is a knock out, and I don't know why you're still reading this instead of skipping to the good stuff and heading into your kitchen faster than the speed of light.

Pear Streusel Muffins, barely/hardly/almost-not-at-all adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Yield: 4 dozen mini-muffins or 1 9x5" loaf pan

The Ingredients - The Muffins
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (though I have every intention of trying it with whole wheat next time)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, optional (omitted)
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (or, alternatively, the same amount of softened butter)
1 1/2 eggs, lightly beaten** (I have found that 1/2 an egg is roughly 1 1/2 - 2 tablespoons)
1 cup sugar
1-2 firm, ripe pears - enough to make 1 cup grated*
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

The Ingredients - The Streusel Topping
3 tablespoons old-fashioned oats
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 + 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tablespoons butter, cold

The Method
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease and flour the loaf pan or muffin tins; alternatively, I used muffin liners, but in the future will likely stick to the grease-and-flour method.

Start by preparing the oat streusel topping***: mix together the oats, brown sugar, flour, and ground cinnamon in a small bowl. Cut in the cold butter until the streusel resembles cornmeal, and set aside. I don't have a pastry blender and found the two knives to be fairly ineffective, so it was easiest for me to cut the butter in with my fingers.

Stir together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in a medium-large bowl until fully blended. If using nuts in the recipe, take 1/4 cup of the flour mixture and add it to the nuts in a small bowl to coat them. Set aside both the flour and, if using, the nut mixtures.

Place the butter or oil, eggs, sugar, and vanilla into a medium bowl and mix well; set aside. Peel, core, and grate the pears. I found that one bosc pear easily gave me 1 cup's worth of grated fruit, but added another couple tablespoons (no more than 4, or 1/4 cup) of finely zested "pear sauce," too. Add the pears and the nuts to the egg mixture until incorporated completely, then pour this mixture into the flour mixture; stir until just incorporated - the flour should not be visible anymore and the batter should be "evenly moistened."

Moving quickly, pour the batter into the prepared pans and top with the streusel, if using. Place the pans in the oven for 60-70 minutes (loaf) or 15-20 minutes (mini muffins), looking for a golden-brown and firm top and a clean center (tested with a toothpick or other wooden skewer). Once finished, cool the bread in the pan on a wire break for approximately 10 minutes before transferring it out of the pan to finish cooling, top side up; the muffins can be removed from their pans as soon as you can easily handle them. Alternatives to the streusel topping are a sprinkling of confectioner's sugar or a drizzling of a simple glaze (ratios for which can be found in the original blogger's post).

There, I had to get that out of the way. I had to start 2011 out right, and although chocolate and brownies are never bad ways to get things started in terms of food, these muffins are just too good. I mean, chocolate is my achilles heel, and even I pushed a chocolate recipe aside to tell you about these right away. What more incentive could you possibly need to give these a try?

Happy 2011, everyone! May it be a happy and healthy one for all of you.

*Note: You really don't want to grate these in advance; that's why I have it written after everything is set and ready to go. Pears, like apples, brown very quickly, so you want to put off exposing the flesh for as long as possible.
**Note: If 1/2 an egg annoys you or makes you wary, I would recommend doubling this recipe, which is how it was intended to be made in the first place. If it's too much food, as I found even 4 dozen mini muffins to be, this is the kind of recipe that can easily be frozen, so extras aren't really so bad. And once you taste these bad boys, you might find yourself wishing you had a whole other batch waiting for you in the freezer, too!
***Note: I forgot to do this, so my muffins baked for around 10 minutes while I made the topping, and then sprinkled it over for the remaining 10 minutes. I found this to be adequate, but recommend getting the topping done and out of the way in time to bake for the full 20 minutes.

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