No wonder quince makes your kitchen smell like heaven — it’s a relative of the rose. This fruit is known for its lovely perfume. Don’t be put off by the hard, dry, astringent flesh; once cooked, quince becomes soft, pink and sweet, with a hint of spice. Here are our best tips for working with quince, plus a few creative ways to use it this season.
Look for: Select large, smooth-skinned fruits with a pale, fuzzy coating and a flowery fragrance. Avoid any with bruises or soft spots. Buy quinces before they ripen fully, while they are still firm and their skin is just beginning to turn from green to gold. Store at room temperature, then refrigerate in a plastic bag for up to 2 weeks.
Prep tips: Do not wash off the fuzz coating on the surface of the quinces until just before using. The hard flesh of the quince will resist smaller knives. You may need to use a hefty cleaver along with extra effort and care to cut the fruit. Remove the core and seeds unless you’re planning to strain the fruit.
Uses: Quince benefits from pairing with other sweet ingredients to temper its astringency. It marries well with lamb, pork poultry and other proteins in slow-cooked stews and roasts. It also shines in jams and jellies, and can contribute its high-pectin setting power to other, softer fruits. Cooked down to a concentrated fruit paste, it becomes membrillo, a classic Spanish accompaniment to aged cheese (see a recipe below)!
Homemade Quince Paste with Manchego Cheese
2 lb. (1 kg.) quinces
3 1/2-4 cups (1 3/4-2 lb./875 g.-1 kg.) sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
Block of Manchego cheese, shaved
Crackers for serving
Peel each quince, cut in half, and remove the core and seeds. Place the peels, cores and seeds in a square of cheesecloth (muslin), bring the corners together, and tie securely with kitchen string.
Slice the quinces and place in a heavy nonreactive pot. Add water to cover and the cheesecloth pouch. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to low, and cook slowly, uncovered, until the fruit is tender, 20-40 minutes. You may want to stop the cooking a few times, for 1-2 hours, to let the quinces rest and deepen their color. Add more water if the mixture begins to dry out.
Remove the cheesecloth pouch and discard. Mash the quinces with a potato masher or puree in a food processor. In a clean saucepan, combine the mashed quinces, the cooking liquid, 3 1/2 cups (1 3/4 lb./875 g.) of the sugar, and the cinnamon. Cook over low heat, stirring often, until thick, about 20 minutes. Taste and add more sugar if the paste seems too tart.
Ladle into hot, sterilized canning jars to within 1/4 inch (6 mm.) of the rims. Wipe the rims clean, cover with sterilized canning lids, and seal tightly. Process the jars in a hot-water bath for 10 minutes. Check the seals, label the jars and store in a cool pantry for up to 1 year. (Jars that do not form a good seal should be refrigerated and used within 1 month.)
To serve, spread quince paste on top of each cheese slice or cracker. Serve right away. Serves 10-12.
Quince Teacake with Sweet Syrup
3/4 cup (6 oz./185 g.) light brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick, lightly crushed
Zest of 1 orange
1 Tbs. fresh orange juice
2 quinces, each peeled, cored and cut into 8 wedges
3/4 cup (6 oz./185 g.) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing
1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 oz./235 g.) all-purpose flour, plus extra for flouring
3/4 cup (6 oz./185 g.) granulated sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
Pinch of salt
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
In a nonreactive saucepan over medium-high heat, cook the brown sugar, cinnamon stick, orange zest and juice, and 2 1/2 cups (20 fl. oz./625 ml.) water until the sugar has dissolved. Add the quince wedges and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until tender, 45-60 minutes. Let the quince cool in the syrup, then cut into 1/2-inch (12-mm.) dice. Strain the syrup and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 325ºF (165ºC). Butter and flour a 9-inch (23-cm.) round cake pan. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes. Beat in the vanilla. Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. In another bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Fold the flour mixture and diced quince into the butter mixture. Transfer to the prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 35-40 minutes. Let cool on a rack for 10 minutes; unmold onto the rack and let cool.
Cut the cake into slices, drizzle each slice with the reserved syrup, and sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar. Serves 6-8.
Quince Poached in Vanilla Syrup
2 1/2 cups (1 1/4 lb./625 g.) sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
3 quinces, peeled, halved, cored and cut into slices 1/2 inch (12 mm.) thick
1 1/2 tsp. grated lemon zest, plus strips for garnish
In a nonreactive saucepan large enough to hold the quinces, bring the sugar, vanilla bean halves, lemon juice and 2 cups (16 fl. oz./500 ml.) water to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Cook, stirring often, until a light to medium-thick syrup forms, about 10 minutes.
Reduce the heat to low, add the quinces and the lemon zest, and poach the fruit, uncovered, until tender when pierced with a fork, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand until nearly at room temperature, about 15 minutes.
Ladle the quinces into bowls or glasses with some of the syrup. Garnish with lemon zest strips and serve right away. Serves 4.