Oh, God, what IS it??

On this Halloween, I will share a very scary link with you.  Only click it if you dare.  Only the strong will survive.  Okay... here it is.

Okay, now calm down.  It’s okay.  It’s okay.  I know... it was a lot to take.  It’s terrifying really, that fruit that can’t decide if it’s an apple or a pear.  FOR GOD’S SAKE, WHAT IS IT???!!!

It’s a quince, people.  And there is nothing scary about it— though you would have thought it was a still bleeding heart from the way people didn’t go for this delicious quince custard tart.

Quince Custard Tart

There is absolutely nothing off-putting about the quince.  It’s one of those things that people may not have heard of, or if they have, they have a wrong idea about.  A quince is a pome like an apple and pear, but I don’t believe the way to describe it is as a cross of the two.  I think a quince has a heady, sweet, vaguely spiced scent.  They are unpleasant to eat raw (imagine what happens when you eat an under-ripe pear), but once cooked, the quince offers a deep floral taste with the texture of an apple that keeps it’s toothsomeness.  Is that even a word?  I mean it doesn’t mush out like apples will.

This quince tart is from the must-have textbook by Bo Friberg, The Professional Pastry Chef, is not unlike a pumpkin pie, but with quince instead.  I served it with a compote of diced quince and various dried fruit and amaretti cookies.  Autumn on a plate.


Quince Custard Tart
makes a rectangular tart or an 11” round tart

For the quince purée
1 lb 5 oz quince
2 cup water
8 oz sugar
Half of a lemon, juiced
Half of a vanilla bean, scraped

Peel, core and roughly dice the quince.  Combine with the rest of the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a simmer.  Cook the quince until they are tender (about 20-30 minutes).  Strain out the quince (remove the vanilla bean) and purée.  You will end up with something that looks like think apple sauce.  This purée can even be made several days in advance to save on time later.

For the tart filling
1 cup quince purée from above
Zest of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 oz flour, sifted
1 oz butter, melted
1 tsp lemon juice
3 egg yolks
2 oz sugar
1 cup half-and-half

Whisk all the ingredients together until smooth.  Pour into your pre-baked tart shell (you might not need all of it, if making a rectangular tart), and bake at 350º until the filling is set.  Now, this is a tricky one to know when it is done, you can’t go by the jiggle method like other custards.  The filling will feel slightly firm and it will have slightly puffed around the edges.  Cool the tart and chill completely before portioning.  The original recipe calls for a meringue topping, however this isn't practical if you're going to hold the tart for a couple days.  Instead, for the dessert, I sprinkle the tart with sugar and torch it to caramelize.

Quince and Dried Fruit Compote
makes about 5 cups 
4 quince
3 cup white wine or sparkling apple cider
1/2 cup quality honey
Half the zest of one orange in strips
3” stick of cinnamon
4 whole cloves
Half a vanilla bean, scraped
A hearty sprig of thyme
A couple sprigs of tarragon
12 dried plums, quartered
12 dried apricots, quartered
1/2 cup dried tart cherries
3 tbsp dried currants

Peel, core and dice the quince and combine with the wine, honey, orange zest, spices and herbs in a saucepan and bring to a simmer.  Cook the quince for about 20 minutes.  Then add the dried fruit and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the dried fruit has plumped, the quince have turned a golden color and the liquid has reduced (about another 20 minutes).  If the liquid hasn’t reduced enough to make a nice syrup, strain out the solids and reduce it separately and then toss with the fruit.

The compote is delicious by itself, or with yogurt for breakfast or over some cinnamon or vanilla ice cream.

And incidentally, I changed the quince custard tart to a maple pumpkin tart with the same exact compote accompaniment and plating and it’s flying out the door.  Sigh.