When you set out to make quince paste, you would not be blamed for wondering how it all takes place. Making quince paste is more akin to the art of alchemy than cooking and it’s something I never grow tired of watching. Seeing the quince transition from pale, solid, fibrous flesh to the glossy, glorious, scarlet paste is nothing short of kitchen wizardry.
Whether you call quince paste: quince cheese, ‘membrillo’ as the Spanish do, or “pâte de coing’ as the French do, all that matters in the cooking is the safety measures you take. Please take heed from some learned injurious experience: quince needs to be treated with respect. It is like working with molten lava!
As the quince progresses and takes on it’s wonderously warm ruby red colour, it bubbles and erupts with lava-like impulses. When the lid is removed and the spoon submerged to stir (and there is quite a lot of stirring) the quince paste can vent unpredictably, exploding paste about the kitchen, potentially inflicting scalding burns. For this, I take heed of Stephanie Alexander and Maggie Beer; I wrap my hand and arm in a tea-towel before I attempt to stir and always lift the lid toward me, so as to make a shield between me (most particularly, my face) and the volcanic pot. As with all kitchen adventures, wear an apron; and it would be best to keep children and fluffy four-pawed loved ones out of harms way.
4 kg fresh quince
3 kg sugar
Peel and core each quince, dice each one roughly into 4cm cubes and place them in a large pot. Pour enough water over to just to cover the fruit. Bring the pot to the boil then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Leave to simmer for about 45 minutes until each cube is mashably soft.
Strain the quince in a colander and then blitz in a food processor until you have a smooth paste-like consistency. You may need to break this step into smaller managable batches depending on the size of your food processor.
Weigh the paste then measure 3/4 of it’s weight in sugar. For example, 4kg of paste will require 3kg of sugar. Return the paste to the pot and stir in the sugar.
Place the pot on a very low heat and make sure you have the lid ready. Stir the paste regularly to ensure the bottom does not burn, a non-stick pot is very useful. Place the lid on the pot when you are not stirring.
The gentle simmering stage can take at least 3 to 4 hours, so try to be patient as well as attentive. As the paste progresses, it will take on it’s more familiar rich dark red colour. Continue stirring to ensure the texture of the quince is even. When the paste has reached it’s darkest glossiest point, remove it from the heat. Very carefully, pour the paste into two non-stick pans, roughly 10cm by 30cm.
Leave the paste to cool which is often best done overnight, before covering it with cling film. Place the trays in the fridge. When they have chilled compeletely, slice the paste into your desired shapes, wrapping each in cling film and store in the fridge. You can keep the paste for up to a year in the fridge.
Quince paste is best eaten with great cheese.