Stephanie Alexander tells me that in ancient times quinces were revered as sacred symbols of love, happiness and fertility. There is something kind of miraculous about quinces, in the way that their perfume subtly fragrances the kitchen, and the way their hard, pale rawness transforms into crimson softness after a few hours of judicious cooking.
They've long been a favourite of mine, ever since I discovered them back in Sydney. Then, it was difficult to find a reliable source, but here in Switzerland they are reasonably easy to find.
Bruno's parents recently gave me 10!!! kilos of quinces, all from a local farm. Luckily they have a long shelf-life, because I've been so busy that I haven't had time to make jam and jelly from them - they are still sitting out in our open freezer (the balcony, now it's so cold). I did poach a huge batch, from which I made a fab quince and almond cake (in the manner of Anneka Manning's apple and almond cake), much better than the quince and nut cake (from Stephanie Alexander) I made for Max's birthday, which was a dry and pretty dismal affair.
I have to admit I don't do much more with quinces other than poach them (and then use them in various cakes and tarts) and make jam or jelly from them. They do amount to a fair bit of work, just for those simple recipes. I haven't tried my hand at quince paste, nor am I tempted, for some reason (I think it was Stephanie Alexander's comment about how she badly sprained her arm while making a batch that put me off). I'm happy as a clam with my poached quinces, so I haven't made much of an effort to seek out new quince recipes (lazy, I am). I might try to put some in my christmas cake this year, though (if I ever get around to making it).
Here are my two favourite quince recipes. If quinces are in season in your part of the woods, take advantage now, because the season is so sadly short:
Poached quinces (thanks, Stephanie Alexander!)
enough water to cover them generously in a oven-proof casserole with a tight-fitting lid
sugar to taste
1 vanilla bean
juice of 1 lemon
- Juice the lemon and half fill the pot with fresh water.
- Wash and peel the quinces - any tell-tale spots on the surface mean that the flesh underneath is discoloured, so choose quinces carefully when buying.
- Slice the quinces into large-ish pieces (as much as you can with these lumpy, misshapen fruits) and drop them into the acidulated water. Stepahnie says to tie the cores into a piece of muslin and drop it into the water as well but I never do (I think this makes the resulting poaching liquid much thicker as the cores contain much pectin).
- Add sugar to taste - perhaps 1/2 - 1 cup, depending on your taste. I try not to put too much sugar in mine as I know I'll be eating them with other, sweeter things, like icecream! or in cakes. I like the tartness to be not too sweet.
- Add more water until the quinces are generously covered, but not so that the dish is filled right to the brim - it may boil over if you aren't careful, making a huge mess.
- Split the vanilla bean in half and add it to the quinces.
- Bring to the boil on the stovetop, then carefully transfer to the oven, where you can cook the lovelies for at least 3 or so hours at a low to medium heat. Check them every once in a while and maybe baste the top slices or gently turn the pieces (as they cook they get quite soft). Take them out when their colour pleases you. They miraculously change from cream to palest pink to rosy red then onto crimson - I like mine a deep crimson. One day I forgot about a batch I had in the oven and when I took them out they were almost black, but they still tasted great.
- Poached quinces will keep in the fridge for ages, and are extremely versatile for those many moments when you want both sweetness and tartness - porridge with brown sugar, icecream, pannacotta, in cakes and tarts etc etc.
Quince and almond cake (with thanks to Anneka Manning's Good Food)
100g softened unsalted butter
1/2 cup castor sugar
1/3 cup plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup almond meal
1 cup poached quinces, plus more slices for the top of the cake
few tablespoons of liquid from the poached quinces, or apricot jam, for glazing
- Heat oven to 170°C. Line a springform baking tin - Anneka suggests 20cm, but I like to use an 18cm tin, just because I like the look of small, high cakes.
- Cream butter and sugar together until pale and creamy. Beat in eggs one at a time.
- Sift together the flour and baking powder, and stir in the almond meal. Use a large metal spoon to fold dry ingredients into butter mixture.
- Slice the cup of quinces into thinnish slices (about 3 or 4 mm thick) and then fold into cake mixture.
- Pour batter into prepared tin and smooth the surface a little. Slice remaining quinces to an equal thickness and arrange (patterned or as you please) on the top of the batter.
- Bake for 40 minutes or until it can be cleanly skewered. Let cool for a few minutes before removing the outside of the tin.
- Warm the quince liquid or jam in a small saucepan and brush lovingly over the top of the cake to glaze. The liquid will mostly soak in but will still give a wonderful warm glow to the cake.
This cake is made to be eaten warm, with cream, for afternoon tea, or for after dinner, or actually for anytime at all. It rarely lasts longer than a day in our house as it is one of the few cakes that we all love. In fact, I shall be making another one tomorrow, the last one was so good!