Heavenly ambrosia: quince jam and Hungarian short bread

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Bottom: First, good Peter Quince, say what the play treats on, then read the names of the actors, and so grow to a point.
Quince: Marry, our play is, The most lamentable comedy, and most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisby.

Midsummer night’s dream, Act 1, Scene 2

Quince. That un-beautiful, knobbly, hard, yellow fruit that appears in fruit shops each autumn. And goes through an almost magical transformation in the kitchen: when cooked, the fruit turns soft, then becomes pink-tinged, then red-tinged; pureed, and cooked over a leisurely stove, the fruit paste becomes a rich, translucent, jewel-like red.

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All this time, a heavenly perfume fills the house. The smell is a kind of perfume that evokes the Arabian Nights, the fabled quality of rose water and vanilla, with such a come-hither, heady, honeyed sweetness. A smell that we could almost taste

We made quince paste on the weekend, in a slow cooker. And the quince paste became the show-stopping star of this Hungarian short bread.

Don’t get me wrong, the Hungarian short bread was sweet, rich, soft-crumbly, airy-light. There was no hint of toughness or overworked dough. This was due to the unusual method of grating frozen dough into the pan rather than rolling out the dough. I have used this method before, for this stunning yet stunningly simple apricot and chocolate tart (link to UKTV website). If you don’t mind granted dough scattered all around the tart pan and on the bench, this pastry is fool proof, and seriously good.

And the Hungarian short bread couldn’t be simpler. Grate frozen dough. Spread quince paste. Grate more frozen dough. Bake. Dust in a snowstorm of icing sugar when the tart is just out of the oven. Cool (barely) and eat.

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I used cultured butter for the dough. Cultured butter has a more complex flavour than the “sweet” butter most commonly found in supermarkets, and this helped to offset the sweetness of castor sugar. Dorie Greenspan has posted an excellent discussion of butter here.

I also experimented a little with the filling (this is what food blogs are about, right?), by swirling a tiny amount of goat cheese into the quince paste. There was no tangy goat-y taste, just a subtle, savoury afterthought or background note to the honeyed sweetness of quince.

Next time, I may try for a stronger (goat) cheese flavour, taking the lead from recipes such as these goat cheese brownies from Une gamine dans la cuisine.

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I took some of the tart to work today. And spent the first half of the day sneaking off to inhale the ambrosial scent of the quince paste filling. I may have accidentally eaten some tart while inhaling the scent, accidentally. Time for another batch of quince paste this weekend.

The Hungarian shortbread was a catch up recipe for the Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) group. The Hungarian short bread recipe is available from 1smallkitchen and The Not So Exciting Adventures of a Dabbler. Or buy the book, Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan.

The quince paste is my riff, so here is the quince paste recipe I followed, along with some notes on using a slow cooker for part of the process. 

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Quince paste

(From many sources, including here)

Yields: much less than you put in, so go wild and use as many quinces as you can fit into the saucepan for step 1. This recipe can be halved, or doubled, easily.

Ingredients

2kg / 4 pounds quinces, cut into large wedges
2 cups castor / granulated sugar (note: some recipes ask for equal amounts of quince pulp and sugar in step 3)
Zest and juice from 1 lemon

Method

1. Add the sliced quinces to a saucepan large enough to fit the quince comfortably, no more than 3/4 full. Add enough water to just cover the fruit, and bring the water to a simmer. Cover the saucepan and continue to simmer until the quince slices become soft and tender, about 30 to 40 minutes.

2. Drain the quince slices. (Note, some recipes ask you to add 2 cups of water only, and to reserve the cooking liquid when you drain the quince slices). Press the quince slices through a food mill, or mash finely with a potato masher.

3. Add the quince puree, any reserved cooking liquid and sugar back into the large pan. (Note, here some recipes ask for an equal amount of puree and sugar. I also placed the puree and sugar into a slow cooker at this stage, and went on with household chores.)

4. Cook the mixture over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the paste turns pink and then red. It will reduce in volume and begin to pull away from the edges of the pan. Stir the lemon juice and zest and continue cooking the paste. (Note: I left the slow cooker on the lowest setting for a couple of hours, and the paste had begun to turn pink at the edges. I used a higher setting until the mixture seemed sufficiently dry and solid.)

5. Some recipes ask you to spread the just-cooked pastse into a shallow, rectangular baking tray and baking the mixture in the oven. Other recipes ask you to continue cooking the paste until the paste starts to turn brown on the bottom of the saucepan, pour the mixture into a shallow tray and refrigerate to set. (Note: I used the slow cooker until the mixture became very thick. It had more of a jam consistency and was great for the Hungarian shortbread, but would need to be thickened further before it can be used as proper quince paste.)

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25 thoughts on “Heavenly ambrosia: quince jam and Hungarian short bread

  1. Beverly Winchester 1 May 2013 at 3:37 am Reply

    That quince paste looks incredible; not sure if I can find them here in the Dallas, Texas area, but I may have to initiate an immediate search!

    • saucygander 2 May 2013 at 2:18 am Reply

      I hope you do find them, now or when fall comes around! It took me a couple of tries to find good recipes that fully show off their incredible flavor and smell, but so worth it! 🙂

  2. Jessica of My Baking Heart 1 May 2013 at 4:13 am Reply

    Love the pretty color of the jam! Well done!

  3. nina luz 1 May 2013 at 4:24 am Reply

    Quince jam – the Portuguese quintessential heavenly jam that gave the world the word ‘marmalade’… My mother wouldn’t agree with this recipe, though… Cutting corners making ‘marmalada’…?!?! Heresy! 😉

    And you should try the Portuguese version on the traditional corn bread… would give you a brand new meaning to heavenly.

    • saucygander 2 May 2013 at 2:23 am Reply

      Haha, it was still in the “spirit” of marmalada, maybe? 🙂

      I would like to try Portuguese corn bread! Two good friends went to Portugal for their honeymoon, and haven’t stopped talking about the food. There is a suburb known as “Little Portugal” nearby, I’ll see if I can find the corn bread there. Another idea for the blog!

      • nina luz 4 May 2013 at 7:22 pm

        Always in the spirit of ‘marmalada’: slow and unhurried, attentive, with attention to details… (naughtyyyy)

        There are two types of Portuguese corn bread: the one made with the yellow, polenta like flour and baked to a thick, brown, hard crust, which is traditional up North; and the one made with white corn flour, with a crust about half the thickness of the other, which is characteristic where I come from.
        I am still trying to recreate my grandmother’s recipe. She had to give up baking when I was still very young, long before I could be trusted to weigh the flours and make the bread from start to finish, and even though I can still remember all the procedural stuff, the proportions seem to be gone forever… Of course, it can also be a case that no bread will ever taste like hers, especially considering the oven it was baked in (one day, I’m going to get myself one of those…). She used a rye sourdough, which she ‘fed’ and halved every week, and what we believe was a quarter to a third of tradiotional wheat flour. And, of course, she chose the grain herself and had the flour milled to her instructions… After the old stone mills closed down, and she had to start buying industrially milled flours, she swore the bread never tasted the same again.
        The whole process, from mixing to kneading to baking, took 24 hours. It was the weekly day of deep, basic, primordial ritual – that’s probably why it is so ingrained still in me, and it’s been some 40 years. The outcome was a week’s worth of bread, something spongy and light and fragrant and moist and, yes, heavenly.

        Oh, and by the way, it is called ‘brôa’ (up North) or ‘borôa’ (the interior Beiras, the inland central region). And there’s also the word ‘esboroar(-se)’ (esbroar(-se)), which means to crumble (itself) like a ‘borôa’… Because no other bread crumbles like corn bread!

        But I’ll bore you no more…

      • saucygander 5 May 2013 at 10:53 pm

        Wow, thanks so much for all the information! I love learning about food from different cultures, and Portuguese corn bread – either the northern or southern type – is new to me.

        I agree that probably no bread will ever taste like grandmother’s. I’ve also heard of Italian farmers choosing the wheat for their bread, so that they know what is going into their food. That’s something I don’t think I will ever be able to experience. Well, maybe one day.

        BUT, you should still get that oven. And make bread. Because bread is Good Stuff.

  4. johnnysenough hepburn 1 May 2013 at 7:52 am Reply

    Firstly, I’ve never had quince. Yet, from your wonderful writing I’m begging for some right now 🙂 As for the shortbread, I’m intrigued by it so shall be diving into that link. I’ve always loved British shortbread (or should that be Scottish) so would definitely give this a go. Well , without the quince.

    • saucygander 2 May 2013 at 2:29 am Reply

      I hope you do give quince a try some day, when prepared properly they are unbelievably good.

      I also love Scottish shortbread, a healthy dose of butter never goes astray, right? Now you’ve also given me the idea to compare Scottish and Hungarian shortbread, in the spirit of scientific research of course. 🙂

  5. Anjo Angela Lim 1 May 2013 at 10:22 am Reply

    These look wonderful. And I guess quince is in season now, since it’s fall in the south? LOOKS SO GOOD. Anything shortbread + fruit jam = ….mmmmmmmmmmm…nummy.

    • saucygander 2 May 2013 at 2:31 am Reply

      Yes, quince season here, as well as apples and all kinds of good things. I totally agree on the shortbread and fruit jam goodness! 🙂

  6. SandraM 1 May 2013 at 11:51 am Reply

    Wow, great looking shortbread. I definitely have to try this recipe now! The grating the frozen dough sounds interesting.

    • saucygander 2 May 2013 at 2:35 am Reply

      Thanks. Do give this a try, the frozen dough works really well (even though a bit messy), since there’s less chance of overworking the dough.

  7. yummychunklet 1 May 2013 at 1:34 pm Reply

    I loved this when we first made it with TwD. Glad you were able to make this one!

    • saucygander 2 May 2013 at 2:35 am Reply

      It’s a good one isn’t it, simple and so tasty! 🙂

  8. sharron - one clever mom 2 May 2013 at 6:18 am Reply

    Hmmm, I don’t believe I have ever had a quince so I will have to check them out. I can’t have fruits out there that I haven’t tried! Your shortbread looks divine! I thought the recipe was fun – grating the dough! Bring it on!

    • saucygander 3 May 2013 at 1:24 am Reply

      It was fun wasn’t it? I hesitated about quince for ages, they just looked so…yellow and knobbly, but they are worth the effort!

  9. Anne ~ Uni Homemaker 2 May 2013 at 5:45 pm Reply

    That looks delicious! I’ll probably woof down a big piece with some coffee. Lovely post…

    • saucygander 3 May 2013 at 1:25 am Reply

      They were pretty good with coffee, and tea. Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  10. laurasmess 6 May 2013 at 3:28 pm Reply

    You are such a brilliant writer… this post was such a pleasure to read. Love the look of your jammy shortbread slice; I’ve never really prepared quince jam myself (though I am addicted to thick quince paste with creamy blue cheese) but now I’m definitely itching to make some! Thanks for the beautiful description, photographs and recipe. Following you from now on! 🙂

    • saucygander 9 May 2013 at 11:00 pm Reply

      Wow, thanks! The quince jam was time consuming, but otherwise surprisingly easy. Just keep cooking…and cooking… good luck if you do give this a try!

  11. […] Maybe it’s the bird reference. More likely, its the infusion of wonderful recipes like this quince jam and Hungarian short bread along with the author’s delightful writing style that warms the […]

  12. rabbitcancook 14 May 2013 at 12:45 am Reply

    I really enjoy the delicious and good looking photo and recipe, thanks for sharing 🙂

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