Jonesing for Quinces

Friday, June 10, 2011

Do you ever get slightly obsessed by an ingredient or a particular food? When the seasons turn, I get slightly hoardy about the fresh produce. It’s not just the taste that gets to me, it’s how they look sitting there in their little display baskets or boxes. My hands cannot control themselves, I need to pick them up, each one calling out to be touched differently. Shiny, smooth contours demand to be cradled or gently squeezed. Heavy orbs are embraced with both hands, while rough, bumpy surfaces require a light rub. *Ahem*.  Now that I’ve shared my slightly embarrassing behaviour with you, let’s talk quinces.

When I saw the gorgeous mound of bright yellow quinces at the fruit shop, my first response was to caress the fuzzy skins (please don’t judge me). Then I picked them up and sniffed the glorious perfume. Next I took some home, and painted them.

Mixed media and acrylic

I popped them in a bowl so I could admire them whenever I walked past, and then the days whooshed by until I realised I had better use the fruit before they turned into worm food. So I peeled, cored, sliced and cooked them over low heat, with a vanilla bean, a couple of tablespoons of water and some sugar (I had four quinces but I can’t remember how much sugar I used. The finished product wasn’ t too sweet so I’m guessing I used about half a cup or so.) The longer quinces are cooked, the more they colour. I left this batch on really low heat in a covered, heavy bottomed pan on the stove for about 3 to 4 hours. Every once in a while I gave them a gentle stir to make sure nothing was sticking to the bottom, but the rest of the time I left them alone. I even managed to duck out to the gym and back while Mr. Kitchen Hand babysat the pot.

The cooked quinces then sat in the refrigerator for a few more days while I decided what to do with them. I didn’t have much time, so I needed something not too fiddly. A recipe for a lemon yoghurt cake (by Matthew Evans - found here) sounded perfect and my hunch was soon proved right. I arranged some quince slices on the bottom of a lined springfrom pan, topped it with the cake batter, and with almost minimal effort, we were rewarded with the most amazing cake. Seriously, this cake is good. Even without the quince, it would have been tasty, but the extra layer of fruit added great texture and of course, looked impressive. I have never seen a cake disappear so quickly. MC Junior is not much of a cake eater, but she kept begging for more. I even had to give up my last slice and divided it between the two MCs who had been making puppy dog eyes and casting meaningful looks in the direction of my plate!

The only change I made to the recipe was to use the zest of a whole lemon instead of half. I hate having half-nude lemons on hand ;P

But wait, there’s more! I had barely made a dint in the stewed quince levels. The bowlful of fruit just sat in the fridge reproachfully and gave me the guilts every time I opened the door. Then another bolt of inspiration struck. Pate de fruits has been playing at the back of my mind ever since I read this post on Tartelette. An attempt with some apple puree last year produced a reasonable batch but nothing to write about. At the time, I thought I’d failed badly because I wasn’t sure what the texture of pate de fruits should have been like (I assumed they were meant to be chewy, like gummy lollies). This time,  a post here on Pastry Methods and Techniques, explained what to expect. I didn’t have access to liquid pectin but figured since quince has such a high pectin content, I could probably get away with not having to use any.

Yay! Another success (how I did it below).

There was still a tiny bit of quince left. Hmmm, could I pull three from three and get a perfect quince dessert score?  This time, I decided to make shortcake. The thought of a biscuity-cakey base, layered with cream and stewed quince sounded very promising. And it still sounds very promising because the dessert tasted fantastic. Only thing is, I was rushing when I baked this and forgot a very, very important ingredient in the process. Can you guess what it was? If I say the words “hockey-puck” texture, will that help? Yup! I completely forgot the raising agent, in this case, baking powder. And instead of feather light scones, this was a dense cross between shortbread and shortcrust pastry. But it was still delicious and I will try the recipe (from Joy of again, hopefully while not multi-tasking.

Hockey puck Shortcake

And now my quince cravings have been sated, I can move on to the next obsession. What will it be?

Hope you have a great weekend pursuing your own obsessions (do tell!) :). We’re heading off on a mini-break over the long weekend, so Malaysian Monday may be a little bit late.

Quince pate de fruits.

This isn’t a proper recipe, just how I managed to make my fruit paste. I suppose this is pretty similar (or the same thing?) to quince paste that’s served with cheese. Before I started, I consulted this post (Tartelette), and this post (Married with Dinner) and this post(Pastry Methods and Techniques).

I used:

2 cups stewed quince
1 1/2 cups sugar
Juice of half a lemon

(First prepare a suitable heat proof container in which to set the paste. I used a ceramic baking dish lined with baking paper. I didn’t bother to oil the sides as I figured the shiny glaze on the dish would prevent sticking. It worked.)

(The recipes I consulted say to use equal parts fruit juice/puree and sugar but my quinces were already slightly sweetened)

First I placed the quince in a pot and blitzed it with the stick-blender until smooth. Then I stirred in the lemon juice and sugar and started cooking on medium heat (gas stove). Here came the fun part, how long to cook and when do I know it’s ready? The experts use sugar thermometers.

I figured I could wing it without the thermometer since my quince had already been stewed for a while, it wouldn’t take long. Having decided on the arbitrary time of 20 minutes, I stirred away and recorded my observations (very scientific - not!).

When the mix started to simmer, it looked like a hot mud pool, you know, the stuff you see on nature documentaries about volcanic activity? Slow bubbles started to appear on the surface and pop, making lazy bloop, bloop noises. Keep stirring.

Then the mix started to bubble more frenziedly, with faster, more hysterical bloop, bloops. Stir and do not stop. At this stage, I wish I’d used a wider pan because every time I stopped stirring, a bloop would send splashes of hot quince onto my extremities.

After about ten minutes of stirring and blooping, my mixture looked like thick tomato sauce (ketchup). Exact same colour and consistency too. At about 15 minutes, it wasn’t so much blooping as zzhshing. Every time I scraped the edges of the pan, it sounded like pulling apart strong velcro. I could also see the bottom of the pan when I dragged the spoon across.

The mix kept thickening and I think it was ready around the eighteen minute mark but I kept going until the twenty minutes I’d set myself were up.

Pour the mixture into prepared container, leave to set and cool completely. Cut into shapes and dust with caster sugar. I tipped the whole thing out onto a cutting board lightly dusted with sugar. Overall, I needed under 2 tablespoons of sugar to coat the lot. Store in an airtight container in the fridge. At first I stored it on the benchtop but overnight, the sugar seemed to get absorbed.


Malay-Kadazan girl said...

Oppsss I accidently left gifted quince be worm compost in the basket. I found it bizarre that a fruit can't be eaten raw but you have to cook it and long time. I am still new with quince. Thanks for sharing the recipe when I come across it again I would like to try. Ohhh...I be making puppy dog eyes too.

Kitchen Butterfly said...

I love quinces but must admit to only ever cooking with them once - to make quince paste. I love the gorgeous layer of fruit topping that delish cake. Half-nude lemons. Hmmm. Warn me before you visit ok, or you might find some partly naked oranges too! LOL and enjoy the weekend,

Janine said...

I've never eaten quinces before but since I'm currently in Sydney - I have seen quite a few quinces (as well as rhubarbs and chokos and other things that I wanna try cooking with). I'm definitely trying out the cake - it sounds fantastic!

AND GOSH - you are such a good artist! The painting looks superb, and reminds me of an artist whose name escapes me at the moment.

Karen said...

Wow, Shaz you've been cooking up a delicious storm! :-)) And I love your painting, too. I hope you'll show us more of your beautiful art. I'm so glad to hear you enjoyed the risotto with the candied lemon zest - it's one of my favorites as well. Have a wonderful weekend!

Helen (Grab Your Fork) said...

lol I'll be looking at quinces in a different way from now on! I've never cooked with them personally, but I do find their colour change fascinating. And I do love quince paste with a good wedge of blue cheese.

Beth said...

Between the baking and the art, you are such an artist! You've got me longing for quince, and I've never bought one in my life!

Barbara said...

You certainly got everything out of your quinces! Plus art. (had no idea you were talented in that department too, Shaz!)

Hungry Dog said...

I love quince too! Though have really only enjoyed it in restaurants...I never know what to do with it. I certainly cannot say that now, with all of these brilliant ideas. Thanks, shaz! Hope you had a good weekend.

Anh said...

quince = yum! I poached a lot fo quinces this season and ate them all :P

Lisa H. said...

That quince fruit paste really looks inviting and its calling me out loud... must look for quinces :D

Fiona said...

Shaz, you have outdone yourself with this post. Brilliant. Great painting! I have my own quince tree at my the vineyard belonging to parents-in-law, who call it 'Fiona's quince tree' as if I had any right to it. But every time I go back home I drive to the farm to prune my quince tree (and see Fran and Ade too!). Then I make my annual batch of quince paste (a la Stepanie Alexander) which then entitles me to a year's supply of tempranillo. It's a pretty fair exchange!

Stephanie's tip of wrapping a teatowel around your arm while you stir the volcanic mixture very helpful ;)

Quince and rhubarb crumble also heavenly, if you find yourself with any leftover quince again.

shaz said...

Malay-Kadazan girl - I understand! I also used to think I cannot be bothered to have to cook a fruit before I eat it. But after the first time I tried it, I was hooked :)

Kitchen Butterfly - Ooh la la. Half nude oranges you say? Seriously though, I dislike waste, so I figured I'd just zest the whole lemon at once :)

Janine - aw, thank you for your lovely words. Hope you're enjoying Sydney. I love rhubarb but I haven't been brave enough to try chokos yet.

Karen - thank you so much. I'm a bit nervous about showing my paintings though. Don't want to scare everyone away!

Helen (Grab Your Fork) - mmmmm, blue cheese. I love that combination too, and a glass of pinot.

Beth - thank you :) Hope you get a chance to try it though. It does take a bit of effort but I think it's worth it.

Barbara - Aww, thank you for the kind words. Yup, I squeezed as much enjoyment out of those four quinces as I could :)

Hungry Dog - thank you. We had a lovely relaxing time, but the weather was awful.

Anh - such a winter treat isn't it.

Lisa H. - hope you find some. I wonder if Perth gets them at the same time we do?

shaz said...

Fiona - lucky you! I wish I had my own tree. Such a great trade too for a bit of pruning, you've got it all worked out huh ? :) Wonder how I missed that tip, I remember flicking through the Companion for inspiration but must have overlooked the quince paste entry.

Juliana said...

Shaz...can you believe that I never had quince? Would love to try it...
Have a great week :-)

shaz said...

Thanks Juliana!

grace said...

i've never eaten quince, and up until recently, i've been pronouncing the word incorrectly! gasp!
meanwhile, i'm with you on the half-naked lemon thing. why not zest it all?!?!

shaz said...

don't you worry grace, I've mispronoucned many a word in my time. And I'm still a pee-can person ;)

Lisa said...

shaz...I love pate de fruits and will be working on a bunch of them in the coming weeks. I love your method of setting it using the natural pectin in the quince, plus sugar. They look perfect!!

shaz said...

Thank you so much LIsa :)