Some hunt for the elusive pair of shoes; come the colder months I keep my eyes peeled for quince.
Besides the rarity (which we all know significantly increases attractiveness–sort of a “playing hard to get” theory), quince have a good backstory. The Romans would stuff them into jars and pour over honey, where their tannic, acrid fruit would soften over time, producing both a candied fruit and a fragrant syrup. I’ve even read that they may have been the fruit that got Adam and Eve cast out of the garden of Eden (though since you can’t eat quince raw, that story may be, perhaps, apocryphal. Straight off the tree, in fact, I doubt it would have been all that tempting). Quince are also, surprisingly, the fruit that originated the marmalade (the Portuguese name for the fruit is marmelo) and you may have seen it at the cheese counter in the form of membrillo, which pairs perfectly with manchego. (Yes, this may be ringing a bell: I blogged about making membrillo two years ago. I’ll spare you my reminiscing about Spain right now, which membrillo always induces).
Nonetheless, perhaps the extra work to prepare quince today, vis-a-vis other fruits, has made them fall out of favor, or perhaps it’s that they are not so photogenic. If you saw it in a fruit bowl, you’d probably leave it there. I showed one to my son, who guessed it was an apple or pear, which is not far off, as they are in the same family. But I had to stop him when he tried to filch an uncooked slice and was put off the fruit for good.
So yes, you’ll often find that you need to poach quince before using it. While this is a dreaded extra step, it’s quite easy: just put in the oven for a few hours and relax while your home fills with a warm perfume. The poached slices keep in their fragrant syrup for around two weeks in the fridge, so you can really space things out. Prepping the quince is a bit tricky–while much like slicing apples, the seeded core of the quince is hard and must be cut out. This, along with the slicing, must be done gently–not surgery here, but not as quick as slicing apples for pie. The flesh is slightly grainy (only when raw) and the slices otherwise have a tendency to break on you. Imagine a very dry apple. Nonetheless, this is mainly an aesthetic consideration, and isn’t meant to scare you off! The fruit is sweet, supple, and a lovely rosy hue when cooked. It’s going to look pretty, and taste great, no matter what.
I simply spiraled the quince slices on a rolled out piece of pie dough, and folded the edges over to make a rustic galette. (Galette: the fancy sounding but much more relaxed version of pie–here, here, here, and way back here). We brought this to a friend’s for brunch where it was happily received. While you might have to explain again what quince is if you do the same, you’ll find that while unusual it’s readily approachable and easy to love. Extra poached quince could be spooned over oatmeal, eaten straight, or used in other recipes–such as this Gingerbread Quince Upside-Down Cake from the lovely Apartment 2B Baking Co., which I made for New Year’s Eve.
And on that note, Happy New Year!
- ¾c sugar
- 3c water
- juice of one lemon
- ½ vanilla bean or 1t vanilla extract
- 4 medium quinces (1½ pounds), peeled, cored, and sliced.
- 1 disc of pie dough–use your favorite. (I used spelt flour mixed with all-purpose here).
- Poached quince (from above)
- 2T sugar
- melted butter or half-and-half
- 1½ T sugar (preferably sanding or turbinado sugar)
- Preheat the oven to 300F.
- Put all ingredients into a baking dish and cover with foil or a lid, and bake for 1½ hours until rosy and tender. Your kitchen will be warm and perfumed.
- Let cool and store the quince in its poaching liquid.
- Preheat the oven to 400F.
- Roll the pie dough into a 14-inch circle. Starting in the middle, arrange the quince slices in a spiral. When you have a rough 1½ to 2 inch border, fold this over. (It’s going to overlap here and there and double over itself–that’s fine).
- Brush the crust with melted butter, cream, or half-and-half and sprinkle with sugar.
- Bake on the bottom of the oven for 45-50 minutes, until the crust is golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.