Quince Paste and Memories of Spain

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Confession: I didn’t actually cook anything this weekend, as my right wrist has been acting up lately and it seemed wise to not push it too much. Thankfully whilst making last weekend’s quince tarts I used the rest of the quince to make membrillo, quince paste. In our travels through Europe over a year ago, we were served mebrillo with manchego (a sheeps milk cheese) and walnuts whilst in Spain, so with these leftover quinces I decided to recreate that beautiful end to a beautiful meal.

As I mentioned last week, the quinces really tried my patience and I’m not sure that I’d bother with them again, unless it just happens that I managed to get a particularly difficult to work with lot. Following this recipe from Always Order Dessert, I poached the rest of my quinces in water for an hour before blitzing them with a stick mixer. A this point the mixture was not looking particularly attractive, and I was not feeling very good about quinces. Thankfully it seems that this is how it’s supposed to look.

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I returned the quince puree to the saucepan with an equal amount of sugar, some lemon juice and a scraped vanilla pod to boil and thicken. I was quite skeptical of how this brown sludge would turn into a thick ruby red jelly, especially given my past experiences with jellies not setting, but after a couple more hours of boiling with occasional stirring, the mixture darkened and thickened due to the natural pectin content of the fruit. Recipes I’d looked at suggest boiling the mixture for a few hours (?!), but after seeing it start to burn at the bottom and seeing how thick it was getting I decided to pour it into a small ceramic tray after just two. Feeling thoroughly exhausted and tired of cooking by this point (as I was multi-tasking with the tarts), I completely forgot to line or oil the tray, and resigned myself to having to just scoop it out.

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However, it seems luck was on my side – after leaving it to set overnight, cutting around the edges and gently lifting with a spatula, it lifted up beautifully!

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It’s interesting how food can bring up memories – this dish reminds me of the dinner we had at a sidreria in San Sebastian where it came at the end of a traditional three course meal. The walnuts remind me of being shown how to crack them with your hands by a fellow traveller in Munich, as well as eating them with a wine tasting in Tasmania.

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My quince paste is a bit on the grainy side as I wasn’t fastidious enough in removing the tough cores of quinces (I tried to push the puree through a sieve, but it was having none of it), but the sweet, floral and fruity flavour is still a perfect compliment for the hard manchego cheese.

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I decided to take photos in our courtyard today as a change from my kitchen benches, but opted to head back inside to enjoy the cheese with a beer in the comfort of our air-conditioning! Perth is late to the party with autumn as always. I don’t take advantage of our outdoor nearly enough, so I have my fingers crossed for nice (but not too hot) weather over the Easter long weekend.

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I’m not so sure I’d go through the effort of making quince paste again, but now I have more than enough to last me a good while – apparently it can last about a year if stored correctly. Now to find some more cheeses to pair it with…

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Quince Tarts

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Did you miss me last week? Feeling a bit time-poor, I decided to take a short break from cooking and blogging. There are times when I feel like I have this whole grownup thing down; other times my house is a mess, friends are feeling neglected and all I want to do is nap and watch Grey’s Anatomy. Kudos to you people who look after another human or creature as well as themselves – I wish I had your strength!

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This week I couldn’t resist buying a bag of quinces for $2 – an ingredient that I’ve eaten here and there but never cooked with myself. I wondered vaguely at the time why this cousin of apples isn’t eaten more often, but soon found out why – it is the most contrary fruit I’ve ever worked with. Inedible when raw, quinces need to be cooked for long periods of time before they consumed. Peeling, quartering and coring the massive bag of fruit was a struggle for me – the misshapen, uneven surface is a pain to clean, and the almost rock hard flesh and core was a challenge even for my cleaver. After getting through just a couple of them, I was swearing to never ever cook with quinces again. Looking at my pile of rapidly browning quince slices, I had to wonder if I’d made the right choice in choosing this difficult fruit instead of a nice sensible pear, which was also on sale at the time. This is not a fruit that wants to be eaten; it resists you every step of the way.

quince-tart-3 quince-tart-6 I poached the quince in a syrup spiced with star anise, cinnamon, a vanilla pod and lemon juice. One of the recipes suggested adding a muslin bag filled with the peelings and cores of the quince, presumably to take advantage of the natural pectin and allow the syrup to solidify when cooled. After an hour and a half those ugly duckling slices of solid, astringent fruit had turned into a bright orange, soft, sweet and somewhat floral ingredient. I was a bit disappointed to not get the ruby red shade I’ve seen in other recipes, but maybe that takes a bit longer.

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Meanwhile, I prepared my tart bases from the shortcrust pastry I’d made earlier and have been keeping in the freezer and blind baked them (a little too much, unfortunately). I sliced and arranged the poached quince in the shells, then poured the reduced syrup over the top. Not quite the most beautiful result, but a worthy attempt to use a very difficult ingredient I think!

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No recipe this time as I’m not completely happy with this attempt, and I’m not sure I’ll be a having another go! Prepared properly quince can be amazing, but I think I’ll be putting it on the list of things that I like to eat only when other people make them for me.

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Of course that whole bag of quinces didn’t all go into those two little tarts. Half has gone into a quince paste (more on that next week), and the rest of the poached quinces have gone into a jar topped with the syrup. Any ideas of what I can make with it?

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Orange & Guava Jelly

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Well, you can’t win ‘em all. This weekend’s dessert was rushed and didn’t turn out quite as planned, so I considered just not posting one for this week. But not everything turns out perfectly all the time, and with cooking in particular I’ve found that the best wins are gained from venturing beyond the comfortable – even if there are a few misses along the way.

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The aim here was to use some sad oranges and guavas which were hanging around my kitchen far too long, and turn them into jubes. I began by blitzing up the fruit with a stick mixer, then straining out pulp and seeds from the juice with a sieve. This orange and guava juice (which was delicious, maybe I should have stopped there) was then heated on the stove and sugar and soaked gelatine leaves added in. I poured the jelly mixture into a square dish to set, and crossed my fingers that I’d added enough gelatine for that nice firm jube texture.

Apparently not.

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I don’t have the best track record with gelatine, and unfortunately this ended up as a slightly soft and wet jelly rather than the firmness I was after. Rolling the jelly in sugar resulted in the sugar melting into it, and then started to melt itself in the warm and slightly humid weather. It did taste brilliant with that distinctive guava flavour, and I loved the beautiful pinkish-orange colour, but that texture was just not what I was looking for. Usually I’d figure out a way to turn it into something else that looks intentional, but since I’d been patiently waiting for the jelly to set all day I only had fifteen minutes to shoot, sprinkling on some sugar and snapping away quickly before it melted too much.

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Oh well, better luck next time!

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Melon & Coconut Parfait

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I have a confession to make: whilst I’ve done a decent job of making myself a decadent dessert every weekend, I haven’t been so good at the not eating dessert for the rest of the week part. One of reasons I started doing this weekly sweet treat post is get out of the habit of having sweets and desserts every day, and move towards a healthier habit of indulging in something entirely homemade once a week. I managed well for the first couple of weeks, but then started making a little too much… then buying the odd ice-cream… then failing to resist treats offered at work… until I’ve gotten to a point where I’m still having a dessert a few times a week, and then also making one on the weekend. Not good!

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Anyway, I’m going to try a bit harder this week and make up a little for previous indiscretions with a guilt-free dessert this weekend. This melon and coconut parfait is pretty much just dressed up fruit and coconut milk, with a dash of honey for sweetness. Watermelon is so cheap at the moment that I end up buying them whole then realising that we won’t be able to eat it all before it goes bad. I ended up cubing and freezing the leftovers this time, then realised I could make a cheat ‘sorbet’ by just blending the frozen fruit. Although it isn’t as sweet as your average dessert, I think it’s enough to be satisfying; otherwise you can add a bit of sugar or honey for extra sweetness.

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For this dessert I decided to take inspiration from the coconut milk, sago and melon dessert that I like to get from Chinese restaurants. To hold the melon sorbet on top nicely, I started the bottom layer with a simple jelly made from coconut milk, a dash of honey and gelatine, then let it set in the fridge. As you can see I struggled to decide on a good vessel so hedged my bets with three different ones.

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I don’t own a blender, so make do with a little stick mixer with ice crushing attachment. Sometimes a little water can loosen up the frozen fruit a little and get a nice smooth texture; just don’t add too much or you’ll end up with a slushy.

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Melon & Coconut Parfait

A sugar-free, grain-free, dairy-free, guilt-free dessert which is super easy. This isn’t really a recipe; just experiment and have fun with it!

You’ll need:

  • fruit
  • coconut milk
  • gelatine
  • honey or sugar if desired

Here’s what you do:

  1. Cut up fruit into cubes and leave in the freezer overnight.
  2. Make the base layer by combining coconut milk, sugar/honey and gelatine according to your gelatine’s instructions; pour into glasses then leave to set in the fridge.
  3. Blend fruit, adding some water if necessary, and sweeten to taste. Return to freezer for an hour or so if too melty.
  4. Pile ‘sorbet’ on top of coconut jelly layer and top with fresh fruit.

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Banana, Date & Walnut Muffins

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The Boy started a new job recently, and apparently the process for welcoming new teachers includes having them bake muffins, then judging said muffins to see if they are worthy. It was very specifically stated that they must be muffins, not their showier, sweeter (and smaller) cousins, cupcakes. We take such challenges quite seriously – The Boy is (arguably) a better baker than I am – so to make sure he was the worthiest of the worthy, we ended up discussing what makes a muffin a muffin, and what makes it a really good muffin.

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Of course the difference between a muffin and a cupcake is technically quite small – the line is muddy, but it seems cupcakes are closer to a cake, and muffins generally closer to bread. Personally I feel that icing on a muffin is a no-no, whereas a cupcake wouldn’t really be a cupcake without that delicate crumb. Cupcakes must always be dressed up like it’s going to a tea party; muffins are more like comfy jeans and baggy t-shirts. A cupcake is allowed to look better than it tastes, all icing and not a lot of flavour; a muffin is allowed to be ugly, but must taste better than it looks. A muffin is allowed to be rugged, chunky, have random ingredient substitutions and additions, and be low in sugar. I am definitely more of a muffin person.

It’s possible I’ve been overthinking this. Anyway, The Boy made his muffins (apple and rhubarb – no I didn’t help), which were very delicious, and he was allowed to keep his job.

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But these muffins aren’t those muffins. I’ve just recently started a new job as well, and although there was no muffin challenge issued I feel like I should take the opportunity to force my baking onto other people, especially now I work somewhere where everyone isn’t on a diet. Since I had a few overripe bananas collecting in the freezer and the weather was cool enough for baking to be bearable, it was muffin making time.

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I followed a basic muffin recipe from Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook’s Companion, adding mashed banana, chopped dates and walnuts, substituting honey for the sugar, wholemeal self-raising flour for white, and brown butter for the oil. Between the sweetness of the banana, dates and honey it didn’t need any extra processed sugar – in fact, if I were to make it again I’d probably reduce the honey a bit. I’ve seen debate for both sides on whether butter is better or worse than vegetable oil, and have decided to err on the side of butter, because it’s just more awesome.

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With more bananas left, I decided to experiment with baking using coconut oil, which is supposed to be a big improvement on both vegetable oil and butter health-wise. The unrefined coconut oil I tried has quite a rich coconut flavour, although this comes through only very subtly in the muffins and probably wouldn’t be noticed unless you know it’s there.

I used this banana muffin recipe from Averie Cooks, once again using wholemeal flour and honey instead of sugar. It isn’t a completely fair comparison as the coconut oil muffins are intended to be vegan and didn’t have egg, so didn’t rise as much, but as you can see above there isn’t much difference between the butter muffin (left) and coconut oil muffin (right). I do think that butter gives a more beautiful golden brown colour, but in terms of taste, fluffiness and crumb texture I think it’s fairly even. I ended up using the butter ones in my photos as I under-filled the coconut oil ones, so (through no fault of their own) they mostly ended up a bit small and unattractive, even for muffins.

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Banana, Date & Walnut Muffins

Not the prettiest of desserts, but using wholemeal flour and with no (processed) sugar these muffins are almost healthy enough to have for a sweet breakfast or afternoon tea. These are based on the basic muffin recipe in Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook’s Companion, which I completely bastardised. This recipe makes 24 mini muffins, or 12 regular sized muffins. Although I generally prefer muffins unadorned, I couldn’t help dressing them up just a little, with some dipped in cinnamon sugar and some topped with walnuts and a marmalade glaze.

You’ll need:

  • 220g wholemeal self-raising flour
  • 2 tbspn honey
  • 3/4 cup of milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup of brown butter (or vegetable oil)
  • 1-2 overripe bananas, mashed
  • 4 dried dates, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, roughly chopped

Here’s what you do:

  1. Preheat oven to 180˚C and grease a muffin tray.
  2. Combine egg, milk and butter/oil in a bowl and whisk lightly.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix until just combined.
  4. Spoon into a muffin tray to 3/4 full and bake for 10 minutes (mini) or 20-25 minutes (full), or until lightly brown on top.
  5. Remove muffins and leave to cool on a wire rack

For cinnamon sugar tops: mix caster sugar and cinnamon, brush melted butter onto the tops of muffins then dip in cinnamon sugar mixture. I like the way these look like mini doughnuts.

For walnut and glaze tops: add some chopped walnuts to the top of muffins before baking. After baking, melt marmalade or jam and brush on the tops for a super simple glaze.

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About

that Chisa & her blog

Heyo! I am Teresa Watts (oft known as Chisa), a graphic & web designer with a passion for all things creative. ChiGarden is my place to talk about my various projects, daily life and musings. There's a bit more info about me over here.

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