Ask Peter: Quinces
What is it with quinces — they start off as hard rocks, then take so long to bake down to something edible. We have a tree in our neighbourhood and I’d really like to give them a go this year, but am a bit put off by their scary reputation. Can I use them in cake-baking (I was thinking of substituting them for pears to top a ginger cake, for example)? Karen
I’ve had a soft spot for quinces ever since seeing them for the first time — with their slightly hairy yellow skins and knobbly shape — and they are one of my favourite fruit. They’re neither funky, new nor or tropical (like a mangosteen, durian or alphonso mango). They’re more Downton Abbey than Hipster Central — steeped in historical references and extremely versatile.
They do need slow and long cooking, which shouldn’t be off-putting. However, there are new varieties in the shops here in London which can be poached in around 20 minutes, like a pear, so I assume the same is available in New Zealand. Personally, I think of an old-fashioned quince as I do a shoulder of lamb or an oxtail — long slow cooking will reward you with something completely delicious, luscious, finger-licking and fabulous and well worth the effort.
The best way to cook quinces, and this applies to all varieties, is to poach them.
- Find a saucepan large enough to hold the quinces you’re going to cook, let’s assume it’s 4 large or 6 smaller ones.
- Fill the pan halfway with water and add 300g caster sugar, a cinnamon quill, 2 cloves, a thumb sized piece of ginger thinly sliced, and (to hipster it up) ½ a red chilli with seeds intact. You may want to wear gloves as the quince flesh can sometimes give your hands a sheen that can be hard to rinse off.
- Peel them with a potato peeler then cut lengthways into quarters and cut out any black spots and the seeds and the area that holds the seeds in place (although you can remove this after cooking easily enough).
- Place one quarter of all the peelings into the saucepan along with the prepped quarters. Wrap a quarter of the seeds up in a piece of muslin or place in a tea ball and also add this to the pot. The skin and seeds gives the quince a nicer colour.
- Bring to the boil, and make sure the fruit is submerged in simmering liquid. Put a lid on and cook for an hour then check to see how it is doing by poking a skewer into the quince — it should go through easily, like a cooked potato.
- If it’s ready then turn the heat off and if it’s not, keep cooking. Once it’s done, leave the quarters to cool in the liquid as they are actually quite delicate when warm and can break easily.
- Once cooled, gently remove to a dish using a slotted spoon, and strain the poaching liquid into a clean pan, discarding the peels, seeds and spices.
- Bring to the boil and cook rapidly to reduce to about a third then pour this over the cooked fruit. It can be eaten straight away or stored in the fridge for up to 10 days if kept covered in liquid.
A crock-pot is also a great way to cook quince (see Kathy Paterson’s recipe).
You can also bake them.
- Wash the outside of the quince to remove any fuzz (if they’re the variety that is fluffy).
- Cut in half lengthways and if it’s easy, and using a melon baller, remove the seeds.
- Place, cut side up, in a roasting dish lined with baking parchment (it makes it easier to clean). Drizzle with a generous amount of honey or sugar and scatter on any spices you fancy — fennel seeds, allspice, crushed star anise or cardamom.
- Pour 1 cup of water into the dish and lay a sheet of baking parchment over the quinces, then seal the dish with foil.
- Bake at 160C for 90 minutes, then test to see if the quinces are cooked. If they are, remove the foil and parchment, and bake until they become slightly caramelised.
- These are great served with roast pork or duck, although they can also be served, as with the poached ones, as a dessert with custard or vanilla icecream, or used in a crumble.
For an upside down cake, you do need to cook them before using. Once they’re cooked (use either of the above methods) place in the bottom of a cake pan as you would for raw pears and carry on as usual.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.