Quince Cake

Nostradamus: “(the colour of a Quince) is so diaphanous that it resembles an oriental ruby
I have a great love and admiration for the ethereal Quince. It is like love, fleeting and impossible to describe. With it’s exotically perfumed scent, reminiscent of the South Seas, it is not hard to see why it is considered the fruit of love. In Ancient Greece, a virgin bride would delicately nibble a Quince to ‘perfume her breath’ on her wedding night. Paris presented Aphrodite with a Quince as a symbol of love, marriage and fertility, little wonder when you consider the bottom heavy, fertile shape of the fruit.
But the Apple of Gold was not just used for love. During the Quince-Baldarian War, fought in Biblical times, the fruit was filled with stones and lit on fire – a sort of modern day hand grenade. The Baldarian soldiers were finally defeated, after attempting to take over Quince land (owned by King Georgio Quince) and legend has it that the Quince fruit was named after the King and became forever a symbol of strength and intelligence within that noble family. The word Quince is also derived from the Greek, Kydonian Malon, meaning Apple of Gold, so it can be considered the fruit with the most interesting and puzzling past, truly a legendary fruit.
I encountered Quinces first hand last winter after reading so many delightful recipes and stories about them. They were for sale in a local supermarket, outrageously priced and imported from Central Asia (they are the fruit of the Cydonia Oblonga) and warm Mediterranean countries where they are much revered. Regretfully, I didn’t actually cook with them but made Quince Brandy (or Eau De Vie De Coings) with them, mostly because they had started to turn brown. I didn’t want to use up the precious Quinces that only appeared on the shelves for about a fortnight each year.
Along with the Fig, the Quince is one of the oldest fruits in the world and it has been suggested that the sinful apple that Eve tempted Adam with in the Garden of Eden was in fact a Quince, although how they quite managed to consume it raw (hard and unyielding as they are, they require the use of a meat cleaver and a pair of hod carriers arms to cut them into usable chunks). They certainly have a seductive shape, almost egg shaped, but smooth and firm, like the medieval Madonna’s bosoms in paintings from the Middle Ages.
Apples and pears are related to the Quince, though it is more likely that they have evolved from the Quince. In fact, the texture of a poached Quince, with its slightly grainy feel on the teeth, is similar to that of a Pear. It was the Quince that was originally made into what developed into modern day marmalade: Marmalada, which is derived from the Greek word for preserved Quince, Melimelon. It has an outstandingly high pectin content, hence the production of Membrillo, or Quince Cheese, which is a very firm, almost chewy preserve that is cooked for a couple of hours, then traditionally laid out in the warm sun to dry out. It is then cut into squares and served with savouries or as a sweet pastille, tossed in sugar.
Quinces have a heady apple-like scent, but much more complex, with undertones of apricots and exotic fruits like mango and pineapple are suggested, particularly during cooking process.
There are so few Quince trees left in England that actually fruit and are not just ornamental, that to be given some from a windfall is a real gift. They were first noted in English records dating back to the 13th Century when they would have been brought over from Spain but due to the cold weather in Britain, they only fruit when the weather is particularly tropical. This week I was given five beautiful specimens, all from an English country garden, and each weighing nearly a pound each. To smell them, freshly picked, is like breathing in the aroma of a letter that was once perfumed, just a memory of a scent but as they warm up in your fruit bowl, they start to fragrance the whole house.
Quinces are used widely in the Middle East, where they grow freely (and where most of the Quinces that we see in the supermarkets are imported from), in savoury dishes, in much the same way as say, squash or pumpkin, but with a much more mysterious flavour. They hold their shape well in slow cooked dishes and are particularly delectable with lamb.
Because of their size, several Quinces can go quite a long way. I recently prepared some Membrillo (Quince Cheese) using two fruits that had started to go brown and I used just one Quince to add a haunting whisper to a cake.

My Quince Cake recipe is my first fully hatched recipe. By which I mean, an original recipe (Torta Di Mele by Anna Del Conte) that I have taken and reshaped. I haven’t actually tried the original but when the Quince season passes fragrantly by, I will experiment using apple.
This is a really unusual cake in that it uses Olive Oil for its fat content, instead of the usual butter or (gasp!) margarine. Not only does this save on arm power when beating the sugar and fat together, but it makes the texture of the cake very light and moist and a bit crumby.
The Quince is the only awkward bit of the preparation but the whole thing still only took about half an hour or so to get oven-ready, and that was working around my husband who was cooking supper. There are two ways you could choose to do the quince:
1) Cut top and tail off the quince, do not peel. Halve and then cut thin slices off the quince, until you reach the hard core. Do this with both halves. Add 100ml water and 1 teaspoon caster sugar to a pan, add the sliced Quince and bring to the boil. Turn down, put the lid on and simmer until the Quince is tender (about 5-10 minutes, contrary to popular belief, if Quince is sliced thinly, it will soften in no time). I added a small sprinkling of sultanas to the poaching Quince. Once the Quince is poached, scoop out the peach coloured slithers, drain and pass through a mouli-legumes. This will ensure a smooth puree. The skin can be quite tough but the best flavour, scent and colour is there so this way you waste nothing. The puree is then added to the cake batter, along with the strained sultanas.
2) Peel the quince first, proceed as above but do not puree. Instead cut the slithers into 1cm pieces so that the cake will be dotted with the ochre tinted fruit.
Whichever method you find suits you the best, here is the recipe for the rest of the cake:
1 large Quince to give approximately 300g poached fruit
20g sultanas
1 teaspoon caster sugar for poaching the fruit
150ml Olive Oil
200g Sugar (I used 100g caster sugar and 100g unrefined caster sugar, which has a caramel flavour)
2 organic eggs
350g Plain Flour
1 teaspoon Cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoon Bicarbonate of Soda
½ teaspoon Sea Salt
Grated Rind of Organic Lemon
100g Ground Almonds
Demerara Sugar
Line and grease an 8” Cake tin with a loose bottom. I used Bakers Joy, which is butter and flour in a can, and no greaseproof paper and the cake didn’t stick at all, but unfortunately we can’t get Bakers Joy here yet (I imported some from my last trip to the US).
Preheat the oven to 180c.
Prepare the Quince as above, using either method 1 or 2.
Whilst the Quince is poaching, beat together the 200g sugar with the olive oil until it is thoroughly amalgamated. It should like a very pale olive colour. This is, of course, due to the olive oil. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until the mixture has increased in volume and looks like thin mayonnaise.
Sieve the flour, bicarbonate of soda, sea salt and cinnamon and fold gradually into the oil and sugar mixture, using a metal spoon. At this point, the mixture will be very stiff.
Stir in the Quince and sultanas, then the ground almonds and lemon zest. Again, the mixture will be stiff and have to be spooned into the cake tin. Sprinkle with some Demerara Sugar and bake for about an hour, but check after 45 minutes. A skewer should come out clean.
Leave to cool and serve in slices with some softly whipped cream.


Anonymous said...

I would like to see a post about pizza. The kind with a hand-thrown semolina crust and some really good chorizo. Oh, and as for sauce, a variant on the classic Gin version contained in the Erickson family cookbook. Anyway, that would be really sweet!

Shaun said...

Freya, love - I don't know how I missed this recipe first time around. Well, I suppose it is due to your astounding list of recipes that I may have missed this one. I have missed quince season in New Zealand being in the US, but nevermind. I will keep this recipe in mind for when it next comes to pass. Did you end up trying Anna Del Conte's Torta di Miele with apples? I have yet to read her! Any book of hers that you suggest I start with? Hope all is well with you and Paul.

smedyn said...

The venerable quince for which I have found a source at a local orchard is heavenly. I am able to pick a half bushel for the cost of the same amouunt of apples. I now am growing 2 trees that came from a test station and await their fruiting and heady aroma. I have been making quince jam, quince compote and quince jelly and paste. Paste dipped in dark chocolate is heavenly if you leave do not cook until it darken red but stays glowing orange.
Cooking quince slices in marsala, butter, sugar and lemon juice until they caramelize is a fabulous base for a tatin.