Membrillo is the original inspiration for this blog. Although I have been Internet active for many years, it was the search for a Membrillo recipe that caused me to stumble into the world of food blogs. Membrillo is a Spanish version of quince paste and is a truly glorious condiment with cheese or as a little desert on its own.
If you are not familiar with quince, it is a fruit that looks like a yellow cross between a pear and an apple. A good, ripe quince has an amazing floral and sweet aroma, but the fruit has to be cooked to be truly edible. High in natural pectins, quince is frequently used to help thicken and set other jellies. If you thicken it enough, you get a paste solid enough (like the consistency of the insides of a gum drop) to slice. That’s Membrillo.
In Spain, a slice of Membrillo is often served atop a slice of well-aged Manchego cheese. The combination of sweet and salty is sublime. If you have access to a good cheese shop, you are likely to find small packages of artisanal Membrillo there. But being the fanatic (or food dork depending on your point of view) that I am, I had to see if I could make it myself. So I searched for a recipe. It was harder than I thought. I found a few, but they varied widely in techniques and my first attempt, shall we say, fell way short of the mark. I promised myself that if I could perfect the technique, I’d post it on the web for others to use. After much experimentation, the result is the following recipe.
- 6 medium quince, scrubbed and dried
- 2 to 3 cups of sugar or more
- Flavoring options: lemon juice, lemon rind, ginger, spices
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the quince in a baking or roasting pan and seal the top with foil. Bake for about 2 hours or so, until the quince is tender. I find that baking concentrates the flavor, removes some water and makes the quince easier to peel. Other recipes call for peeling and boiling the quince, but I found that roasting is easier and produces a better end result.
Allow the quince to cool somewhat after its removed from the oven and peel and remove the core and seeds. A melon baller works really well for this task. Cut up the pieces and puree in a food processor. If the mixture is too thick you can add a little water to thin it (a quarter cup at a time), but you’ll extend your stirring time in the next step. I try to avoid the water if possible.
Use a food mill (the easiest option) or force the puree through a sieve. Measure the quantity and add an equivalent amount of sugar cup for cup. If you want the end result a little less sweet, you can cut back the sugar somewhat, but be careful, it is easy to get a too tart result. Put the sugared puree into a heavy sauce pan and add flavorings if desired. I like adding the juice of half a lemon plus a teaspoon or so of grated for very finely minced lemon peel. Finely minced fresh ginger root is also excellent or you could add cinnamon, ground clove or similar spices.
Put the flavored mixture into a heavy sauce pan and get ready for a lot of stirring. Cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly. The mixture will start to get thick and boil and can throw a lot of hot splatter. I cover my stirring hand with a kitchen mitt or a welder’s glove (an idea from Alton Brown!) Over time, the color will become a beautiful, deep rosy brown and will eventually start to pull away from the bottom and sides of the pan. I find it takes at least 25 to 30 minutes (and more if you have to add water!). But don’t let dissuaded by the effort, you’ll end up with enough Membrillo to last for months and it will be worth every minute.
Lightly oil a deep glass baking dish and pour in the mixture. Smooth the top with a spatula and let it cool. Put it in the refrigerator, loosely covered with plastic wrap and let it firm up overnight. Run a knife around the edge of the paste and invert the baking dish to unmould. Wrap it well in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator. It keeps for many months, but it will be long gone before storage becomes an issue!
To serve: Slice a little and eat! Cut into small cubes and dust with sugar to serve as petite-fours after dinner. Or best of all, pair a slice with a slice of Manchego or another flavorite cheese. Enjoy!