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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.