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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
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
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.)