I’ve mentioned before the crazy long and ever-growing list of cupcake flavors, past and present, that I have compiled.  My coworkers use it as a guide when choosing a treat for their birthdays.  Every so often I’ll add a handful of new ideas to the list, and when I do this, I tend to get on a roll.  Ideas just start coming – some specific, concrete ideas I have seen elsewhere.  Some are more murky, a wisp of an idea I had in that fleeting moment of brainstorming.  That is how these started out.  Merely a vague thought added to the list, and overlooked for at least a few years by everyone choosing their treat.  Not that I was surprised, of course.  Pear so rarely plays the leading role, and even if it does, it’s tough going up against over the top concoctions or timeless classics.  Imagine my surprise when someone actually chose them!

Surprise, and then immediate panic since I didn’t have a concrete idea in place.  Baking with pears can be challenging, helping their subtle sweet flavor shine and not be overpowered by something else.  Cooking pears is always my starting point to accentuate their flavor, so I made some caramelized pears and mixed those in to the cupcake batter.  I used a simple vanilla bean swiss meringue buttercream and then added a quick pear sauce to the top.  I did use a pinch of fall spices in this recipe, because they go so well with pears.  In the end I was really happy with the balance of pear and vanilla and these went over very well with the work crowd.

  • Yield about 30 cupcakes


For the cupcakes:
14 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature, divided
3 cups chopped (peeled) pears (about 3-4 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 (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


  • 01

    To make the cupcakes, heat 1 tablespoon of butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Stir in the pears, 3 tablespoons of the sugar, the cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.  When the mixture is evenly combined, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pears are golden and fork tender but not mushy, about 15-20 minutes.  Once finished cooking, set aside.

  • 02

    Preheat the oven to 350° F.  Line cupcake pans with paper liners.  Set aside.  In a medium mixing bowl, combine the cake flour, baking powder and salt.  Whisk together and set aside.  Add the remaining 13 tablespoons of butter to the bowl of an electric mixer.  Scrape the vanilla bean seeds into the bowl of the mixer with the butter, reserving the pod.  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.  Add the remaining 1½ cups sugar to the butter mixture, ¼ cup at a time, beating 1 minute after each addition.  Mix in the eggs one at a time until incorporated.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl after each addition.  Combine the buttermilk and the vanilla extract in a liquid measuring cup.  With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients alternately with the wet ingredients, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and mixing just until incorporated.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix for 15 seconds longer.  Fold in the caramelized pears with a spatula.

  • 03

    Divide the batter between the prepared paper liners, filling each about 2/3 of the way full.  Bake about 18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Allow to cool in the pans 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

  • 04

    To make the frosting, combine the egg whites, sugar and salt in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water.  Heat, whisking frequently, until the mixture reaches 160° F and the sugar has dissolved.  Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Beat on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and the mixture has cooled to room temperature, about 8 minutes.

  • 05

    Reduce the speed to medium and add the butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, adding more once each addition has been incorporated.  If the frosting looks soupy or curdled, continue to beat on medium-high speed until thick and smooth again, about 3-5 minutes more (don’t worry, it will come together!)  Stir in the vanilla extract and mix just until incorporated.  Transfer the frosting to a pastry bag fitted with a decorative tip.  Pipe swirls around the edges of the cooled cupcakes so that there is a well for the topping.

  • 06

    To make the pear topping, heat the butter in a medium-large skillet, stir in the pears and sugar.   Stir in the cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and vanilla bean pod.  Heat until the fruit begins to release its juices.  Add the water to the pan and bring the mixture to a low simmer.  Let cook until the pears are just fork tender but not mushy.  In a small bowl, combine the remaining 2 tablespoons of water with the cornstarch, and whisk lightly until smooth.  Add the cornstarch mixture to the pears and cook 1-2 minutes more, until the mixture has thickened.  Let cool thoroughly before topping the cupcakes.