I’ve come to think of quince as a sort of magical fruit. It starts out fuzzy like a peach, growing on a fragrant plant that’s apparently also cultivated for its flowers. A bowl of quince sitting on your counter will fill your kitchen with sweet, inviting perfume. As you slice a quince, you’ll find that it’s very firm and tough (much more so than the apple it resembles) — but when you cook it, you’ll witness its exquisite transformation from pale and rigid to soft, sweet and reddish-auburn. When I was given a bag of quince from a friend’s tree recently, I was naturally quick to celebrate its wonder by turning it into dessert. Along with sweet almond paste, tangy cranberries and flecks of orange zest, the quince became a toothsome tart, perfect for the season. Here is the recipe.
Quince skillet tart (Serves 8-10)
4 medium quince
1 and 1/4 cup fresh or frozen cranberries sliced in half, loosely packed, sliced before measured
1 orange, finely zested and juiced
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter
7 ounces high quality almond paste
1 sheet thawed puff pastry, preferably made with all butter
Rinse, peel and chop the quince into cubes that are roughly half an inch, being careful to avoid the tough core of the fruit. In a large bowl, whisk 1/3 cup of the orange juice with the extracts, salt and sugar; toss in the quince and orange zest to thoroughly coat. Fold in the cranberries. Over medium/high heat, heat butter in an ovenproof skillet (9″ or 10″) until melted, tilting pan to coat bottom and sides. Add the quince mixture and cook, pushing it down occasionally with spatula. Let it bubble for about 10 minutes or until tender. Remove skillet from heat to let fruit cool down a bit. Preheat the oven to 375 F. While oven heats, roll the almond paste into an even, thin circle large enough to cover the quince in the skillet. Center almond paste over quince, tucking in or layering any long edges. Unwrap the sheet of thawed puff pastry, then fold it in half to double its thickness. Gently roll it so that it’s large enough to cover the almond paste layer and to touch the inner walls of the skillet. Place it on top of almond paste and use a butter knife to tuck in the edges, trimming if needed. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until pastry has risen into a dome and is golden brown. (Don’t worry if the pastry is uneven or lopsided; it’s going to be the bottom of the tart and no one will see it.) Let tart cool in pan for at least an hour. Just when ready to serve, run a knife around the edge of the tart and carefully invert it onto a plate. If needed, heat the skillet for a minute on the stove to help loosen the tart. The crispness of puff pastry disappears quickly, so this tart is best kept at room temperature and eaten within 3-4 hours of baking.
Fragrant and refreshing, quince tart is an unusual, delectable dessert. Its notes of vanilla and orange are wondrous alongside the sweet almond paste and tangy fruit. Each bite bursts with unique layers of flavor and the wondrous fragrance that only quince can offer. And a generous topping of whipped cream, hard sauce or vanilla ice cream will delightfully increase its wonder.
Moriah VanVleet is the voice behind Butter Sugar Flowers where this post first appeared.