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, my quince became a scrumptious tart enjoyed by many. Here is the recipe.
- 4 medium quince
- 1 and 1/4 cup fresh or frozen cranberries sliced in half (loosely packed, measured after slicing)
- 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 a brand that contains all-butter (no oil or shortening) such as Dufour
Rinse, peel and chop the quince into cubes that are roughly 1/2″, 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 down occasionally with spatula. Let bubble for about 10 minutes or until tender. Remove from heat; set aside. 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’ll 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, loosen edges of tart with a knife and carefully invert it onto a plate. If needed, heat the skillet for a minute on the stove to help loosen the tart. Because the crispness of puff pastry disappears quickly, this tart is best kept at room temperature and eaten within 3-4 hours.
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.
Maybe next time… This dessert definitely invites whipped cream, hard sauce, or vanilla ice cream — I strongly suggest a dollop on every slice. To make a deeper tart, add two more quince or a couple of tart apples such as Granny Smith. If you prefer another fruit to cranberries or want to omit them all together, feel free to remove or replace them. (I chose cranberries for a seasonal flare and to help balance the quince’s perfumed sweetness.)