A homely little fruit has changed my life.
It is called a quince and it is the most beguiling fruit I have ever eaten.
I am so enamoured of my fuzzy little friend that I’ve done all kinds of reading about the quince. Did you know the quince might be the very fruit Eve was tempted to eat in the Garden of Eden? Did you know there are more recipes for quinces in medieval cookbooks than any other orchard fruit?
I know! I had never even eaten a quince until three days ago and it has this epic history. Which – now that I have eaten one – I must say seems apt.
A quince looks like a deformed apple or pear. He has a dusting of uneven fuzz, much like an adolescent boy. (This fuzz comes off easily with warm water and a bit of rubbing, also much like an adolescent boy.)
Once you peel that quince, you will find a light beige flesh, almost like an old apple. You must sharpen your knife before attempting to cut said flesh, as it feels like an old piece of wood while you saw through it.
But this – this! – is why the quince is so alluring.
With just a few hours (!) of poaching, his flesh gets soft and . . . pink. Yes, pink! If you cook him even longer, he’ll get almost ruby red. And all the while, he'll be releasing this lovely quince perfume, making you very, very hungry to eat him.
So you can see why I’m in love. The quince has officially taken his place as my new favourite fruit.
I’ve been wanting to try quince since I read about vanilla-poached quince, quince almond cake and quince jelly on Chocolate and Zucchini last fall. Naturally, I followed Clotilde’s advice as I dealt with my beloved new friend. I set aside half my quinces to poach with a vanilla bean, à la Chocolate and Zucchini.
Once my first set of quinces were done poaching, I threw in a bit more sugar – maybe half a cup – and kept boiling them in the hopes that I might end up with an informal quince jelly. Then I forgot about them while we were eating dinner . . . only to smell something burning and to run back to the stove to find the liquid almost boiling over. I quickly poured the dark liquid into another pan to cool, thinking it was a goner.
But once again, my little quince pulled through! After 20 minutes, I had quince paste or membrillo (which is a lot more fun to say).
We have eaten shiny slices of membrillo as dessert and are also planning to try it with cheese.
Now, back to the story about the cake.
You should make this cake. Probably today. Because if you make it tomorrow, you’ll wonder what you’d been waiting for. It has a lovely moist crumb, flecked with little pieces of soft pink quince. The ground almonds give it an earthy quality, but don’t weigh it down at all. It’s springy and tender . . . and even keeps for days without drying out.
I know, I know, quinces are hard to come by. (Look at me: I had to wait a whole year to find them.) But pears are not. And pears are good, too. (They’re in my top 10 for fruit.) So try this with pears and let me know how you like it. But truly, truly, just make this cake. Oh, and go find yourself some quinces.
Last October: pear ginger jam
Clotilde’s recipe is so good that I’ve only cut it in half, switched the sugars and converted it to gluten-free.
Here is the recipe for vanilla-poached quince. If you don’t have quinces, raw pieces of pear will work, too.
Clotilde uses weight measurements for her recipes, which makes them exact and easy to convert to gluten-free. I’ve left the weights, with rough volume measurements for those of you who don’t have a scale yet. Just buy one!
quince almond cake from chocolate and zucchini
100 g. (3/4 c. + 1 tbsp. + 1tsp.) wheat flour
50 g. (1/4 c. + 2 tbsp.) ground almonds
Or – for gluten-free:
22 g. (1/4 c.) pure oat flour
22 g. (3 tbsp.) sweet white sorghum flour
22 g. (3 tbsp.) tapioca starch
22 g. (3 tbsp.) potato starch
22 g. (3 tbsp.) sweet rice flour
40 g. (1/4 c. + 1 tsp.) ground almonds
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/8 tsp. salt
100 g. (1/2 c.) white sugar
25 g. (2 tbsp. + 2 tsp.) vegetable or grapeseed oil
100 g. (1/3 c.) plain yogurt
a splash of brandy or rum
200 g. (heaping 1 c.) vanilla-poached quinces or chopped raw pears
brown sugar to sprinkle
Preheat the oven to 360 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celcius). Line an 8-inch cake pan with parchment paper.
Stir the flour(s), ground almonds, baking powder, baking soda and salt together. Set aside.
In another bowl, beat the eggs and sugar together. Stir in the oil, yogurt and brandy. Add the quince or pear. If you used wheat flour, stir gently to mix it together. If you used gluten-free flours, stir as much as you want – you don’t need to worry about activating any gluten.
Pour into your prepared pan. Use a knife or spoon to level the top. Sprinkle with brown sugar.
Bake for 30 – 33 minutes or until a knife or cake pick comes out clean. It will be golden brown by this point. Keep it in the pan, but let it cool on a rack. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.