Also known as membrillo, quince paste is an ancient sweet that is experiencing a resurgence, thanks to the popularity of tapas restaurants and cheese courses. Indeed, the most common use for quince paste is as an accompaniment for hard cheeses such as manchego, but it also works well as a filling for pastries or as a spread for toast.
This recipe is one of the more involved in the book, but quince paste is a worthwhile project with which to challenge yourself. I brought quince paste to the November 2013 Chicago Food Swap, which was one of our biggest events ever and happened to take place on my 40th birthday. People went mad for it, and every fall, swappers ask when I am bringing it again.
- Yield: 16 (2½-inch) squares
- 3 pounds ripe quinces (6 or 7 fruits), peeled
- 1 lemon
- 4–5 cups sugar
- Cut the quinces into quarters and remove the cores, reserving a large handful of cores and seeds.
- Place the quinces into a large, wide saucepan and cover with water, 3 or 4 cups. Tie up the reserved seeds and cores in cheesecloth and add them to the pan. (These will add additional pectin to the mixture so the quince paste will set.) Using a vegetable peeler, remove several long strips of peel from the lemon and add them to the pot with the quince.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, turn down the heat, and simmer, covered, until the quinces are tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and discard the cheesecloth with the seeds and cores.
- Purée the quince pieces until smooth.
- Weigh or measure the amount of purée. Return the purée to the saucepan and add an equal amount of sugar by weight or, if going by measurements, add 2¼ cups of sugar for every 2 cups of purée. Add 2 to 4 tablespoons of juice to taste from the lemon.
- Bring the quince-and-sugar mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered. Stir occasionally at the beginning, and then almost constantly toward the end to prevent scorching.
- Once the paste has deepened in color to a rosy pink and thickened to the point that a spoon drawn through the middle will leave a clear path, 1 to 1½ hours, remove it from the heat.
- Preheat your oven to its lowest setting, 150 to 170°F (65 to 75°C).
- Line a 9-inch square cake pan with parchment paper or spray with a nonstick cooking spray. Pour the paste into the pan and spread it in an even layer, making sure to fill in the corners, and smooth the top with a spatula.
- Place the pan in the oven for 1 to 2 hours until the paste is firm to the touch. To test for doneness, cut a small square out of the corner and place it in the refrigerator until cool. If it is firm enough to slice, then it is done. If your test square is not firm enough, leave the quince paste in the warm oven or another warm place for several more hours, or even a day, until fully dry and firm.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and turn the quince paste out onto it so that the bottom of the paste has an opportunity to dry out as well. Allow it to rest in a warm place for several hours until firm to the touch.
- When firm and dry, cut the paste into 16 squares.
- Wrap each square and store in the refrigerator until ready to use or swap.