Sunday, November 15, 2009

Holiday Treats 2009: Dulce de Membrillo (Quince Paste)

You don't have to make the manchego. That you can buy at the store.

At my CSA, the last week of each season is "pick your own share" day. Instead of a pre-packed cooler, you get to pick out whatever you want from the farm's offerings. The last week of the fall season, I was a little torn. I love squash and brussel sprouts, but really there is only so much a person can eat of that in one week. But among the boxes of apples and pears, I found a heaping pile of quince, which reminded me of this post. So in addition to the pints of brussel sprouts and various squash, I filled my share up with golden orbs of quince.

Quince, in case you haven't heard of them, are a fruit relative of the apple and pear. Even before you cut them open, they have a lovely half-citrus, half-floral aroma. But quince are really hard and you can't actually eat them uncooked, at least not the modern day ones. Supposedly in ancient times, you could eat them just like an apple and according to some, Eve actually gave Adam a quince, not an apple, in the Garden of Eden. Anyway, today you most commonly see quince in some form of jam or jelly, or as dulce de membrillo, a Spanish delicacy often served with cheese.

Membrillo keeps for forever -- between two months and a year depending on who you ask. So I figured I'd do a test run in anticipation of holiday treats. I have yet to decide whether I should send out delicious blocks of quince paste or cut them into squares and send chocolate-covered membrillo.

(For more on quince and dulce de membrillo)

Eat Rating: Delicious. It has a slightly floral, slightly citrus taste, reminiscent of a good jam.
Difficulty: Easy to Medium. Requires a food processor or blender.

Adapted from Simply Recipes

5 to 6 quinces
Juice from 2 lemons
4 cups sugar (more or less may be needed depending on the size of your quinces)

Peel, core and cut the quinces into large chunks. Place in a large pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, then cook for about 30 minutes until the quinces are easily pierced with a fork.

Drain the quinces and allow to cool for 5 minutes. In batches, place the cooked quince pieces in a food processor or blender and puree. Measure the puree before returning to the large pot. Add an equal amount of sugar as you have puree to the pot. Return to a boil, stirring frequently. Continue to cook over medium heat. Your mixture will turn an orange-y color and begin to thicken. After about 40 minutes, it will get to the consistency of jam. Keep going. You want it a ruby red color and so thick that when you take your spoon out and turn it over, the paste doesn't fall off. Really, really thick. (LN: The first time, I didn't cook it long enough. So when I moved to the next step, it set around the edges but not in the middle. If in doubt, cook longer.)

Once it's thick enough, remove from heat. Heat your oven to warm or 250 degrees. Line an 8x8 square pan (glass or aluminum) with parchment paper, then pour the mixture into it, making sure to spread it out to the edges (it will set in whatever shape you leave it in. You could also use a cool mold for this part). Place the pan in the oven and let set for about 40 to 50 minutes. When you check it, shake the pan. If it jiggles a lot in the middle, keep going. It it doesn't and seems more like a solid mass of jello, remove from the oven and allow to cool. Place a piece of saran wrap on the counter and flip the quince paste onto it.

The paste will keep in the fridge, wrapped in saran wrap, for several months. To serve, cut off a small piece and eat with Manchego cheese or on toast.

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