To grind nuts, use a hand-cranked nut grinder or process in a food processor using short pulses to yield a coarse, crumbly texture. If using a food processor, take care not to overprocess the nuts into a smooth paste, which will release their oils and diminish their flavor. For best results, combine the nuts with a little of the flour or sugar called for in the recipe and process for no longer than 5 to 10 seconds at a time.
For the topping:
- 3 Tbs. sugar
- 2 Tbs. chopped walnuts, ground (see note above)
- 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
For the muffins:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup canola oil or walnut oil
- 3/4 cup buttermilk
- 2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 4 or 5 firm, ripe pears, 2 lb. total, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped
- 1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
Preheat an oven to 350°F. Grease 14 standard muffin cups with butter or butter-flavored nonstick cooking spray.
To make the topping, in a small bowl, stir together the sugar, walnuts and cinnamon. Set aside.
To make the muffins, in a bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil, buttermilk and vanilla until blended. Add the flour mixture, stirring just until evenly moistened. The batter will be slightly lumpy. Using a large silicone spatula, gently fold in the pears and walnuts just until evenly distributed, no more than a few strokes. When mixing, take care not to break up the fruit. Do not overmix.
Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups, filling them level with the rim. Sprinkle the muffins with the topping, dividing it evenly. Fill the unused muffin cups one-third full with water to prevent warping. Bake until the muffins are golden, dry and springy to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer the pan(s) to a wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes, then unmold the muffins onto the rack. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 14 muffins.
Adapted from The Williams-Sonoma Baking Book, Edited by Chuck Williams (Oxmoor House, 2009).