Until about a week ago, I had never seen a quince before. I probably hadn’t said the word “quince” out loud more than a half dozen times. So when a friend gave me a bag of quinces from her neighbor’s garden, I was not only smitten with their dusty furriness but also a bit nervous. What would I do with them?
They were so romantically beautiful that first I simply put them in a bowl in the kitchen so I could admire them. My children both walked by (on separate occasions) and asked why we had a bowl of moldy pears. They did smell peary, but there was nothing moldy about them.
While the quinces sat patiently on my countertop, slowly ripening, I began to hunt for recipes. The first cookbook I reached for was Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. But after finding not a single quince in the index (maybe they meant to call it How to Cook Everything Except Quinces?). I moved on to three different farmer’s market cookbooks, looking for a good seasonal recipe. Nothing. Was I wrong about these “moldy pears” being edible?
So we at Food News Journal sent out a plea for help, asking readers for favorite quince recipes. “Send it in! Anything goes!” we wrote. At first, we heard nothing. Then (I kid you not), we got three responses from readers who said they’d never cooked or eaten one. Or even seen one. Another day went by. Then, at last, a small handful of recipes arrived. Hallelujah. These quinces would not go to waste.
We looked through our sampling of recipes and ultimately — like the unapologetic Francophiles we are — chose a quince tarte tatin. Maybe it would remind us of France. Or maybe it would introduce us to something we’d never experienced before.
It did both.
It came out of the oven, crust puffed up and buttery. Bubbling dark caramelized quinces peeking out along the edges. And rising out of the pastry crust and caramel was a scent unlike anything I recognized: A blend of pear, apple, and sweet potato. After one bite, I knew that not only were those quinces edible, they were magnificent.
Thank-you, Suz Lipman, of Slow Family Online, for sending in what is now our tried-and-true favorite (developed by Jill Silverman Hough for Bon Appétit). And thank-you, Dianne Jacob of Will Write for Food, for the quinces. Now that we’ve taken our maiden voyage, we’re fully obsessed with them. You will be too.
Quince Tarte Tatin
by Jill Silverman Hough Bon Appétit
Makes 8-10 Servings
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2–inch cubes
3 tablespoons (or more) ice water
1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon honey
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
8 small quinces (about 3 1/4 pounds), peeled, each cut into 1–inch–wide wedges, cored
For crust: Mix first 3 ingredients in processor. Using on/off turns, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Mix 3 tablespoons ice water and vinegar in small bowl; add to processor. Blend until moist clumps form, adding more ice water by teaspoonfuls if dough is dry. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic; refrigerate at least 1 hour. Do ahead Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep refrigerated. Soften slightly at room temperature before rolling out.
For filling: Fill large skillet with ice cubes; set aside.
Combine first 3 ingredients in heavy 11–inch–diameter ovenproof skillet. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to medium–high; boil until caramel is deep amber color, occasionally brushing down sides of skillet with wet pastry brush and swirling skillet, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in butter and cinnamon. Immediately place skillet with caramel atop ice in large skillet; let stand until caramel is cold and hardened, about 30 minutes. Remove skillet from ice.
Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 400°F. Arrange quince wedges tightly together, rounded side down, in concentric circles atop caramel in skillet. Fill center with any broken quince pieces. Roll out dough on lightly floured surface to 12 1/2–inch round. Place dough atop quinces; tuck edges of dough down around sides of quinces. Make three 2–inch–long cuts in center of dough to allow steam to escape during baking. Place skillet on rimmed baking sheet. Bake until quinces are tender and crust is deep golden brown, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Remove from oven; let cool 30 minutes.
Place large platter atop skillet. Using oven mitts, hold platter and skillet firmly together and invert, allowing tart to slide out onto platter. Rearrange any dislodged quince wedges, if necessary. Serve warm or at room temperature.