Saturday, January 14, 2012

Dulce de Membrillo

I've seen them in the Turkish grocers and wondered what they were, and only recently discovered that they are quinces (kweeperen in Dutch). A South African colleague said he used to eat them sliced with a bit of salt, and apparently the Chinese and Turks also eat them this way. The Spanish and Portuguese, however, make them into dulce de membrillo. This is a firm, jelly-like paste that is traditionally sliced and served with a good cheese, such as the Spanish sheeps cheese manchego. The sweet and salt combination really works for me!

I recently acquired a new cookbook called Comfort Food by Janneke Vreugdenhil, which despite its name, is in Dutch. This recipe comes from her, but I've also seen recipes that call for some lemon juice and/or rind, a vanilla bean, and lots more sugar.  Although I like the idea of the lemon rind, I can't imagine using more sugar. This is plenty sweet enough.

Apparently membrillo is supposed to be a very rosy pink or red color. For whatever reason, my mebrillo turned out to be a caramel colour. It tastes fine, but I'm sorry it didn't turn pink. I wonder if it has to do with the variety of quince.

Dulce de Membrillo
Adapted from Comfort Food, Janneke Vreugdenhil

It is not difficult to make membrillo, but it is time-consuming. Ideally, you should have a kitchen scale (the amount of sugar you use depends on the weight of the cooked quinces) and a food mill (to puree the cooked quinces and separate the peels and cores). I don't have a food mill, so I used a sieve, but this was a lot of work.  I have since discovered some tips that would have made this less work. I've made note of these in the instructions.

4 quinces (this was1.6 kilos)
500-600 grams (2.25 - 2.75 cups) sugar
  1. Wash the quinces, chop them, and put them in a large heavy pan. However, next time I will first peel and core the quinces, wrapping the peel, cores and seeds in a couple of layers of cheesecloth or muslin. (If these are hard to come by, consider using a very fine mesh laundry bag, or a knee-high stocking). 
  2. Add enough water to the pan to reach a depth of 2 inches, add the peels and cores in muslin, and cook the quinces for 45 minutes until they are cooked soft. The peels and cores add a lot of pectin, which is needed to set the membrillo, so they really should be included.
  3. Drain the cooked quinces, reserving the liquid for another purpose (add some sugar to make it into a syrup for pancakes or ice cream), and discarding the peels, cores, and seeds.
  4. Purée the cooked quinces using a food mill, sieve, or food processor. (Using a spoon to push small batches of cooked quinces through a sieve took a good half hour. If I had separated the peels and cores, I could have used a food processor which would have been so fast and easy!)
  5. Weigh the quince purée and return the puree tthe pan.
  6. Add sugar that is equal to half the weight of the quince puree. In my case, the purée weighed about 1120 grams and had a volume of 4.5 cups, so half the weight in sugar was 506 grams.
  7. Cook the quince purée, stirring frequently, to reduce it to a thick paste. Although you can start cooking over medium high heat, you'll need to turn it down soon to prevent the bottom from burning. I even used a flame spreader. 
  8. Line a 9-inch square pan with baking parchment.
  9. After 1.5 to 2 hours, the purée should no longer or hardly flow back when you stir it. At this point it's ready.
  10. Pour and scrape it into the lined pan, spread it evenly with a spatula. Let it cool and set for a day. If the bottom has not quite set, turn the membrillo over onto a plate lined with more parchment paper, and return that to the pan. Let it stand for another 12 to 24 hours so that it can dry out and set some more. 
  11. Cut the membrillo into squares or rectangles and wrap these in pastic wrap.  These will keep a long time int the fridge.
  12. Serve with a good hard cheese, cutting it into thin slices. 

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