Friday, December 7, 2007

The Curious Case of Quince

If you’ve never had a bowl of fresh quince in your kitchen, you probably haven’t experienced the most floral winter fruit fragrance imaginable. As they continue to ripen, they fill the room with an almost tropical aroma.

With their lumpy exterior and gnarled shape, quince are often thought of as apple’s ugly cousin. They have a form similar to an apple and the texture of a hard pear, but caution! They are not to be eaten raw. They are very hard, bitter and astringent and that is definitely not the way to be introduced to these gems. However, once they’ve been cooked in a nice poaching liquid they truly are a lovely and unusual treat.

Although quince have a yellowish green surface with an ivory interior, the poaching process transforms them into a deep rosy orange, which may account for some of their mystery. They do take some work before you can coax them into a palatable pleasure, but it is worth every minute to get there. Brimming with natural pectin, quinces are perfect for making jams, jellies and membrillo, the Spanish fruit paste often served with Manchego cheese. Quinces are also a staple in savory Moroccan tagines, North African and Middle Eastern stews, Chinese teas and Hindu chutneys.

The cultivation of quince likely originated in Mesopotamia, somewhere between the Caspian and the Black Seas. They also appear in ancient Greek writings and were thought to be the favorite of Aphrodite, which made them a ritual offering in wedding ceremonies. Charlemagne also introduced the fruit to France and they are mentioned for the first time in the English language in the later part of the 13th Century. By the early 18th Century, quinces had found their way through the Massachusetts Bay and on to Virginia.

Knowing my love of quince, a friend recently sent me a recipe for Quince Pound Cake from Epicurious. Since I'm definitely intrigued by anything having to do with fresh fruit, I was game to try it and I'm glad I did. The combination of the cake, with its almost imperceptible yet fabulous hint of spice, and the mildly sweet flavor of the fruit make this a great way to enjoy the brief quince season.

Bench notes:
- I’ve substituted Cindy Mushet’s recipe for poaching quince from Desserts: Mediterranean Flavors, California Style. However, you may prefer to try the original recipe. I also made additional quince because I wanted a higher fruit to cake ratio.
- Although the process may seem a bit daunting, once you have the quinces poached you only need to complete a simple mix for a pound cake. The best way to do this recipe is to poach the quinces on one day and make the cake the next.
- This cake is very dense and it took a freaky 1 hour and 13 minutes to bake. If I were to do this again, I’d probably make a couple loaves for smaller portioning and shorten the baking time accordingly.
- Be careful when peeling and cutting into quince. They are very hard and will take steady but careful force.
- Due to the high ratio of butter, it will take about 3 to 5 minutes before the butter and sugar are properly creamed. It won’t look right for the first couple of minutes but it will come together.
- You can reduce the poaching liquid and serve over ice cream or mix into sparkling water or your favorite drink.

Poached Quince
adapted from Desserts: Mediterranean Flavors, California Style by Cindy Mushet
3 - 4 quinces
4 C water
3/4 C sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split
Orange peel strips from 1/2 orange
Lemon peel strips from 1/2 lemon
1 cinnamon stick
3 slices fresh ginger
2 T lemon juice

Peel, quarter, and core fruit. Cut into 1/2” slices. Place the peel and the cores in a saucepan with the water, sugar, and flavorings. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Strain and return the liquid, vanilla bean, and cinnamon to the pan. Add fruit and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until the fruit is a deep rose color. Cool completely. Refrigerate in an airtight container.

Quince Pound Cake
Gourmet | January 1998
Serves 10 to 12.

1 3/4 C cake flour
1/4 t cinnamon
1/4 t salt
4 oz (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 C sugar
1 large egg yolk
3 whole large eggs
1/2 C heavy cream
1 t vanilla
Poached quince

Preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare a 9- by 2-inch round cake pan with butter and flour and a parchment round.

Place quince slices on a paper towel to absorb excess moisture. Cut into 1/4” slices or into smaller chunks if you prefer. Reserve poaching liquid for another use.
Sift together flour, cinnamon, and salt twice.
Beat butter and sugar until light and fully combined, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the bowl to be sure the entire mixture is creamed.
Beat in half of flour mixture and then add all of cream until just combined.
Add remaining flour mixture and vanilla, mixing until just combined. Fold quince slices into batter and spread batter evenly in pan.

Bake cake in middle of oven 1 1/4 hours, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Cool in pan on a rack 20 minutes.
Turn cake out onto rack and cool completely.


Anonymous said...

I'll have a little of each, please.

Anonymous said...

LOL - I did the "raw" quince thing when I was a kid. It left me thinking I really didn't like quince until much later, when I had some quince jelly a friend made.

The pound cake sounds interesting (and I love poundcake anyway).


Hillary said...

Very interesting cake! I have never had quince but I imagine if I liked it, this would be a great cake to try :)

Anonymous said...

Nice photos and presentation. Now if I can just remember to find this recipe when the quince fruit is ripe again next September...


Bryan said...

hello :PS!
i've been on another cake-kick lately and this seasonal cake is aces.
this pound cake is so moist and the quince in it makes me happy. the simple addition of cinnamon is wonderful.

did you line the bottom of your pan with quince to treat it almost like an upside-down cake?
or did you merely fold the slices in to the batter and they sank to the bottom during baking?
in your pictures it looks like an upside-down cake. that rosey color is deep and gorgeous (mine arent that deep, kinda jealous).
i did both: lined the bottom of the pan with an arrangement of quince slices, and the folded in the remaining slices. it seemed to work.

like most cakes, tastes even more delicious on the second and third days.
thanks again for the inspiration!

pastry studio said...

Hey Bryan! Great to hear from you! I'm so glad you enjoyed this. It's so unusual and delicious. That little tiny hint of cinnamon really adds to the cake.

Yes, I lined the bottom of the pan with lots of quince and also folded them into the batter for a more interesting presentation.

Good to see you're in baking mode!!

cz said...

After washing and scrubbing the fuzz off, a tip I've learned for handling quince is to par-bake or freeze them whole. After that they are easy to core and slice up!