A somewhat painful endorsement of canned fruit (pear, ginger & walnut muffins)

Steve has given up on fresh pears and their fickle ripening. The stage between crisp-and-tasteless and mushy-and-black is infinitesimal, and always happens when he isn’t around to enjoy it. While fresh pears have been declared fructus non grata in Gourmandistan, Michelle recently snuck in some canned pears under the guise of “muffin-making supplies.” (Usually vigilant as to the house fruit stores, Steve may have been distracted by the unearthing of a cache of last season’s blueberries in the freezer.)

Michelle had found a recipe by Shirley Corriher, a biochemist and her fellow Vanderbilt alum, and became interested in this unusual, somewhat fussy muffin preparation. Buttering, then salting toasted nuts before adding them to the batter seemed bizarre enough. Multiple changes of oven temperature felt a wee bit finicky. And whipped cream? For muffins?  Totally strange. But those odd techniques along with the aforementioned contraband canned pears and some candied ginger made for tender and tasty muffins on an unseasonably warm Sunday morning in March.

Steve still has abandoned all hope for fresh pears, but he’ll now allow a can of them in the house every so often. At least until the fresh local fruits start rolling in—which, at the rate things are going, may be in a week or so.

Daffodils should just be starting their 6-week run. But, this year, they’re almost at the end of it on March 21. Talk about odd…


  • Servings: about 16 muffins
  • Print

(adapted from Shirley Corriher’s BakeWise)

  • 1 c. walnuts, chopped coarsely
  • 1 TB butter
  • 1/4 tsp. + 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1-1/4 c. sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 c. neutral oil (e.g., canola)
  • 1/2 c. buttermilk (or yogurt thinned with milk)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 TB orange zest
  • 3 TB candied ginger, finely chopped
  • 1/2 c. heavy cream
  • 1 small (15-1/4 oz.) can pears in syrup, drained, dabbed with paper towel to dry and chopped
  • 1/4 c. coarse sugar for topping*

Arrange a rack in the lower third of the oven. If you have a baking stone, place it on the rack. Preheat oven to 350°.

Toast the nuts in the oven in a baking sheet or pie pan for about 10 minutes, until hot. Remove from oven. Stir in butter and 1/4 tsp. salt, tossing.  Set aside to cool.

Turn oven temperature up to 425.°

Place flour, baking powder, 1/2 tsp. salt and sugar in a large mixing bowl.  Toss with a fork or whisk to blend.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together egg yolks, egg, oil, buttermilk, vanilla and orange zest.

Make a well in the dry ingredients, then add wet mixture.  Beat well.  Stir in candied ginger.

In another bowl, whip cream until just beyond the soft peak stage.  Stir about 1/4 of the whipped cream into the batter, by hand.  Then fold in remainder.  Then fold in the pears and nuts.

Fill muffin tins (either buttered or lined with papers) almost to the top.  Sprinkle coarse sugar over.

Turn the oven down to 400°.  Open oven door and leave open for about 10 seconds before placing muffin tin inside.  (If you use standard muffin tins and want to use up all the batter, you will need to do in two batches.)

Bake until lightly browned, about 18-20 minutes.

Cool muffins in the tin for about 5 minutes before removing to a cooling rack.

*We didn’t have any coarse sugar, so we did what Michelle’s mom always did following a tip from Edna Lewis.  Place some sugar cubes (in our case, Demerara cubes) in a plastic bag and crush with a meat pounder.  Don’t crush them to death—the jagged variations make them particularly good as a topping.



  1. An Ng.

    Yum. I made muffins this weekend as well (carrot and sweet potato) with very dismal results. Maybe I’ll audition this recipe and see how it goes.

    • We get great local apples here, but the pears leave a bit to be desired even apart from the ripening issue. I don’t know why that is. One would think, as in France, that you’d see both.

  2. I agree with Steve about fresh pears! I love them, but never seem to get them to the correct state of ripeness. Interesting techniques used to make this little muffin.

    • I’m going to have to try more from the Corriher book. She describes the science a little more than this non-scientist wants to know, but uses a lot of interesting (and surprising) techniques.

    • Ha! I actually didn’t feel too bad about it after reading in one of Nancy Silverton’s books that she always chooses canned pears over fresh for desserts. The funniest thing was that I had to go to Kroger to find them, as they’re apparently too plebeian for Whole Foods!

  3. Wow! How interesting to keep changing the oven temps! I saw something about this a while ago about how starting muffins in a hotter oven makes them rise higher? Or faster? Something like that. But I haven’t heard of cranking up the heat after you put them in.

    Corriher sounds like a good resource!

    And the muffins looks absolutely amazing. Sometimes, especially when baking, I find that prepared fruits can give you a pretty good result. Maybe it’s because they release less water?

    • Yeah, I think the higher temp is supposed to help them rise better. But, honestly, it all got a bit too scientific for me! They are tasty and have a nice texture, but I think in the end the pear in there is pretty much overpowered by the ginger.

  4. Sometimes you can be nicely surprised by a recipe. Canned pears does seem the way to go when they are out of season. Since I have pears in our orchard in the fall, I’ll be able to try it both ways.

    • Oh, Karen, lucky you. When we bought our property about 20 years ago, being much more energetic than we are now, we planted tons of fruit trees. I sometimes think how lovely our planned orchard would be now … that is, if the deer hadn’t promptly mowed all the trees down!

      • When all 300 trees are in bloom, not only is it lovely but very fragrant. The down side is being up and down a ladder all day when you are pruning or picking. There are always a dozen deer or so but our trees are to big to really do a lot of tree damage.

  5. We have a pear tree in our yard, but in the 6 years we’ve lived there, I’ve never found a pear that ripens just right on that tree…it must be Kentucky! These look fabulous!

    • You’re right, Mindy, I think it must be something about our climate. I keep thinking of the rosemary pear chutney I made last summer from a huge bunch of beautiful fruit I bought at a farmers’ market. The recipe sounded so good, the finished product looked so good and yet was just meh. Thankfully there are great apples here in the fall though!

  6. Pears are fickle little beasts – I think there´s a window of about a day when they´re perfect then it´s all downhill….these look gorgeous and pears with ginger is a great combination!

  7. Yum! I love pear muffins from my local bakery, although I haven’t tried making them because I always thought they’d be too wet and you have solved the dilemma for me! I’m sure that they use canned pears. Why didn’t I think of that? Thank you!

  8. I, too, see your apprehension buying (and using!) canned pears. However, the lower water content and soft texture must work well in this recipe. Sweet pear is beautifully accented by spicy, sharp ginger. This is a recipe that I look forward to trying. I especially appreciate that you mentioned thinning culture-rich yogurt with milk to make a quick “buttermilk.” Michelle, my husband is a surgical resident and is applying to Vanderbilt’s one-year fellowship program in head and neck reconstruction, among others. Maybe he will be a Vanderbilt “alum” one day, as well. Take care – and thank you for sharing your recipes and stories. – Shanna

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