You may notice that this is the second quince paste recipe on the blog. My friend Barbara made the first one, and my taste buds know how wonderful her quince paste turned out. But I made some too, and packaged it up differently from hers, so you can pick which version you want to make and package it up her way or my way. Or do something completely different – and if you do, please let us know!
Barbara and I met over quince paste and membrillo. She calls it quince paste; I call it membrillo, because that’s what it is called in Spain where I discovered it. Barbara and I both have spent several years puzzling over this sweet delicacy; how to make it and what to do with it. Two years ago, she made quince paste from her own home grown fruits; she sent a sample to me at work and I instantly recalled my trip to Spain and the fantastic membrillo discovery, of which her sample was exactly the same. That got quince into my head, so when I was at a farmer’s market in Los Angeles, I bought some quince fruits, brought them back home and cooked them up. It did not become membrillo. It turned into something more like gum. Very dark, very sweet, and very hard to cut. I rolled the cut chunks into little balls, then rolled them in sugar and served them as glittery, rubbery balls that came with coffee after dinner. They were delicious in a chewy sort of way, and there was no doubt about that exotic ultra-fruity essence of quince. I tried again with more quince I found here in Portland, with the same results.
I decided to plant a quince tree so I would have plenty to work with in the future. But last fall my tree had no fruit (it’s probably not mature yet). Barbara had lots of quince on her tree and she gave me a big bag full, and so began again a flurry of conversations again about quince. She sent over a little sample of her quince paste wrapped in a darling little envelope of wax paper. It was beautiful, deep rose-colored, with – that taste! - that unforgettable quince taste. And it was tender; it sliced beautifully, just like cranberry jelly.
I quizzed her about how she made it. I wrote down every detail. It is so simple, I can’t see how I could go wrong. I guessed that I had cooked my earlier batches too long, and with this year’s batch, I vowed to handle it very gently. I made two batches, and they BOTH turned out wonderful! I actually can’t say exactly what I did right this time, except that I was very careful not to leave it on the stove for long.
Wash some quinces, however many you can get your hands on. Cut out the cores, stems, and bad spots. Place in a cook pot and fill with water until the quince pieces are just covered. Bring to a boil slowly, then simmer until tender. This will take 45 minutes or so. Allow to cool for a bit. Use a stick blender to blend the cooked quince and water to a smooth consistency. Measure out how much quince sauce you have. For every cup of quince sauce, add one cup of sugar. Put the quince and sugar mixture on the stove and stir constantly with a wooden spoon. Stir every couple of minutes on low heat, it will keep getting thicker until the spoon will stand up in the pan by itself – this takes 45 minutes to a couple of hours. Pour the thickened sauce into a large pan that is lined with buttered parchment paper, and keep in oven on low heat until it has firmed up. I put it in the oven at 120 degrees, which is where it was set because I happened to be drying plums and tomatoes. My first batch, which I think I cooked until it was rather more thick than my second batch, and was poured into a dish to about two inches deep, became sliceable after about eight hours of oven cooking. I turned the quince paste after about four hours then a couple times more throughout the oven time. The second batch, which I think I did not cook on the stove top for as long as the first batch, I poured into a dish to about three inches deep. It took over 30 hours and was not yet sliceable. It was delicate, did not hold together well, was a pale golden color – and delicious! I raised the temperature to 150 and after about 30 hours more, flipping it over in the pan every now and then, it was still golden, but at last it had that sliceable consistency that said it is done. After drying at room temperature for a week or so, the color changed to a deep rose, as you can see in the photo.
The results are wonderful, and there is no noticeable difference in taste or texture between the two batches. I am totally happy with my membrillo! In the last four months, less than half is left, and what remains is on the shelf in my pantry, wrapped in parchment paper and covered with a cloth. It just keeps on getting better, a little firmer, a little deeper-colored.
Next year Barbara and I will make more, and we will have more details to share with you.
Because of its natural pairing and the feast of “perfect pair” references for wording, this gift makes a perfect wedding favor. It makes wonderful holiday gifts and hostess gifts as well. What is really fun about it is its rare quality of unfamiliarity. Most people have never heard of it, so it is an opportunity to introduce something to people that they have never tried before. It will be received well, believe me!
In northern Spain, slices of membrillo are served with matching thin slices of Manchego cheese as a light dessert. You eat them together. No bread. Just cheese and membrillo. To make these gifts, I bought a large chunk of Manchego cheese and cut it down to the right size blocks. Measure carefully, this cheese is precious and a mismeasured cut can be costly! I cut the membrillo to the same dimensions, again measuring carefully.
You Will Need:
• 3 x 3 x 2 boxes
• Manchego cheese
• Strips of wax paper or parchment paper
• Plastic wrap
• Shape 01 square labels
• Shape 10 tags
• Shape 14 seal labels
• Hard board to cut into dividers – I cut down one of my boxes into about six dividers
Assemble the boxes. Cut the manchego and the membrillo into exactly the same size blocks. Wrap each block individually in a small piece of plastic wrap. I laid out a large sheet of plastic wrap on the counter, then cut it into small squares that were the perfect size for wrapping the blocks. Seal with a small shape 14 oval label.
Cut parchment or wax paper into a strip 2 – 3/4” x 11”. Lay the strip in the bottom of the box, press it in so the ends are lined up to be centered once the cheese and membrillo are placed in the box. Cut small boards 1 – 3/4” x 2 – 3/4” to fit between the blocks in the boxes. Place a block each of cheese and membrillo in each box, separate with a board. Wrap the parchment over the top and seal with an oval shape 14 label. Wrap twine off-center around the box, tie in a bow, add label and tag.