Brown Butter Pear Muffins

Pears are easily one of the most delicate fruits. The elegant teardrop shape bruises with the push of a thumb. A ripe pear is elusive; always too firm or over ripe, it can make finding a beautifully ripened pear feel like winning a small lottery. The juice is sweet, the flesh is soft, and the subtle fruit, once dangling from a branch in an orchard, is suddenly capable of stealing a moment.

In the fall, I love to fill my grocery basket with apples and pears. The two fruits contrast nicely against one another—one fruit firm, the other one soft, one sweet, one tart—but it is the pear I look forward to most. Cut into at just the right moment, it can taste like a work of art.

Pears, chocolate, and brown butter is a flavor combination I've visited before. In the early years of this blog, when the photography was embarrassing and my ability to weave a story was just developing, I made a Bittersweet Chocolate Pear Cake for one. I had just moved to a new country on my own, in a city where I didn't speak the language. Settling into my new apartment, I started by emptying my suitcases, assembling the new furniture delivered from IKEA, and purchasing a gallon of gray paint to cover the orange on my bedroom walls.

Before popping open the lid on the paint can, I went to the kitchen and turned on the oven.

As I spent the next few days locked up in my room with a paintbrush in hand, I alternated between listening to music and the rhythmic French voices in the apartment below mine. The cake I had made just for myself was eaten in slivers, with a fork to carve out the pieces instead of a knife. Over the course of painting and unpacking, I created a new beginning for myself, starting a new chapter to fill out the pages of my new life.

Though the cake was a simple cake with sincere flavors, the cake intertwined itself into the memories of those early moments of a life on my own. I can only look back on those days fondly, remembering the forkfuls stolen as the sun was rising and my neighbor's voices drifted in through the open windows.

Brown Butter Pear Muffins are a healthier take on a memorable cake. The depth of flavor comes from the browned butter, which has a rich nuttiness and complexity. Freshly diced pears are added to the batter along with enough miniature chocolate chips to bring in a subtle chocolate flavor without becoming overwhelming. I left the skins on the pears as a personal preference, but you can easily peel them if you choose. The muffins hold more flavor than they appear, rounding out any breakfast or afternoon snack.

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Brown Butter Pear Muffins

Yields 1 dozen muffins

6 tablespoons (85 grams) butter
1/3 cup (79 ml) milk
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup (94 grams) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (90 grams) whole wheat flour
1/2 cup (113 grams) granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large pear, diced (I used Bartlett, but any pear will do)
1/4 cup (56 grams) miniature chocolate chips

In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Continue cooking until the butter foams up and begins to take on a darker color. Stir occasionally and scrape the solids off the bottom of the pan as they accumulate. The butter can go from dark brown (ideal) to burnt in less than a minute, so watch it closely. When browned, remove the pan from the heat and pour into a separate bowl. This will prevent the butter from continuing to cook and possibly burning. Allow to cool down slightly.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Line a muffin pan with baking cups.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, vanilla extract, and browned butter until uniform. Gradually fold in the flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt, mixing until combined. Fold in the diced pear and miniature chocolate chips.

Divide batter evenly between 12 muffin cups and bake for 18-22 minutes, or until lightly browned and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving.