Thursday 12 January 2012

Quince Paste

Quince trees thrive in the Touraine. We don't have one in the orchard, but our neighbour does, and as quince trees produce large quantities of fruit, we benefit from periodic gifts of quinces. They are an old fashioned sort of fruit and our elderly neighbour is delighted that I like them and, perhaps more importantly, know how to cook them.

Quinces on a roadside tree in September.
Being large, they are the last of the fruit to ripen and are ready in late September - October. I poached a few, but most of them went to make jelly (we have already eaten every jar) and I ran the pulp that remained after straining for jelly through a food mill to remove skin and seeds. It sat in the freezer until a week or so ago, when I got it out to make quince paste.

Molten lava countered with a mesh lid.
Quince paste seems to have originated in Turkey and from there made its way to Spain and Portugal. In English language cookbooks it is often called membrillo, which is the Spanish word for quince. Quince paste in Spanish is called dulce de membrillo. The French for quince is coing, so quince paste is pâte de coing. In England it is commonly referred to as quince cheese, and this is how I first encountered it, at the farmers market I shopped at regularly in the late 1990s-early 2000s. It is used both in a sweet and a savoury context, as a counter to strongly flavoured cheeses or game and as a petit four or friandise with coffee. In France it is regarded as a seasonal treat, made in the autumn and served over the Christmas - New Year period.

The stiff dark paste just out of the oven.
To make it you combine an equal quantity of quince pulp and sugar in a large boiler. Heat it slowly to dissolve the sugar and then simmer for about 1.5 hours, on the lowest possible heat. It burns easily, so check it regularly and scrape the bottom of the pan. Slowly the colour will darken from orangey pink to brownish orange as it cooks. It is like working with molten lava, both in its appearance and its capacity to burn the unwary cook. You can't cook it with the lid on because you need to drive a fair bit of water off. To protect against burns and splashes I use a mesh lid on the pan, which allows steam, but nothing else out.

Starting to cut the block of paste into rods.
Once it has got thick and dark and you are having difficulty preventing it from burning even on the lowest heat, transfer it to a baking tray lined with baking paper. Put it in the oven at 50°C for another 1.5 hours to dry out some more. Then leave it in the fridge overnight to cool completely and set. The next day tip it out on to a board dredged in icing or vanilla sugar. Ideally, cut the paste into thick rods with a wire, but a long knife will do. Dredge or roll these rods in sugar, wrap in waxed paper and refridgerate. To serve, unwrap and cut into cubes. Roll the cubes in vanilla, golden castor or raw sugar.

All wrapped up and ready to store in the fridge.
You can also bottle (can) it by putting it in sterilised jars instead of in the oven. Close the jars and process in a water bath in the normal way. This will give you a paste for spreading on bread like a jam, which is very popular in Spain topped with Manchego cheese.

And for those of you interested in maintaining a certain sort of daily regularity, quince paste works as well as the traditional prune.



Tim said...

Susan, your pan looks as though it would work on an induction hob. If so, borrow ours next time. It is a standalone one that I got from Lidl... very controlable.
Oh... as you've run out, I'm sure you can have some Quince Jelly off the shelves here... we just found the motherlode!
That pulp also makes a good fruit leather...

You'll need to get a dehydrator once you've made enough space.

Diane said...

I have to admit that I take the easy way out. After making the jelly I just cook what is left up with sugar and bottle it as a thick jam. I have to admit I have not noticed the prune problem but... It is also nice just cooked up with sugar, wine or cider and put into a tart. Diane

Anonymous said...


I'm sure you are a talented cook, but "molten larva" sounds a bit buggy. I know you meant to write"molten lava"!

Buy Wine ONline said...

Quinces are great ! I do like prunes too but haven't ever compared the er regularity factor as yet

Amanda said...

Quinces are not that popular in Southern California. I bought some and roasted them in the oven. No need for sugar as their natural sweetness came out. They were so flavorful and just plain delicious!

Susan said...

Tim: thanks for the jelly. Thanks for the offer of the induction hob, but from memory, the boiler isn't magnetic, so I assume it won't work.

Diane: Prunes aren't a problem (well, unless you eat half a packet...) Quince paste in a tart sounds good.

Anon: lol. Obviously a reflex - I've been working on Loire Valley Nature a lot lately.

BWO: well, I haven't exactly been scientific about it myself :-)

Nadege: I've never done that, but my sister usually roasts them. They take quite a long time I think.

Abbeysmum said...

wow, we pay about $6 in Australia for a small tub of, 100grms of quince paste to serve with Brie or other soft cheese, just a small amount is delicious,on a cracker with the cheese.

Pearl said...

huh, I've never seen that before. does it taste good or medicinal?

Susan said...

Marg: I can see it would make an excellent cranberry sub with brie.
Pearl: it is really delicious, very sweet, a bit toffeey with a rather grainy texture.

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