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Taming the quince: Deborah Madison's recipe for 'nearly candied quince'

November 10, 2010 |  8:00 am

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I've written before about my old friend Deborah Madison's terrific "Seasonal Fruit Desserts." I got an advance copy last winter, and immediately started cooking my way through it. One of my absolute favorite dishes is her oven-roasted quince. But alas, the book came out right at the end of quince season, so I only had a chance to make it two or three times. This fall I'm remedying that shortcoming. I've already made this twice and I know I'll make it many times more. It's the kind of dish that's perfect to have in your refrigerator. Spoon some candied quince into a bowl with a dollop of lightly sweetened yogurt and you have a dessert from heaven.

Quince can be hard to find, even at farmers markets. They look like Neanderthal pears, blocky and rough. Often, they're covered by a light fuzz. Most varieties are nasty when raw –- they are so high in tannin they dry your mouth. But cook them and they become rosy and spice-scented, like a perfect poached pear.

I've been a quince fan for years, but already this is my favorite way to prepare them.

Nearly candied quince

Adapted from Deborah Madison's "Seasonal Fruit Desserts"

3 cups water or 2 cups Riesling plus 1 cup water
1 1/2 cups sugar
Zest of 1 tangerine or 3 wide strips orange zest
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon cardamom seeds
3 cloves
6 large quince, peeled, cored and sliced (about 4 cups)
1/4 cup late-harvest Riesling, Muscat or other dessert wine

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Combine the water, sugar, zest, cinnamon and spices in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir to dissolve the sugar, then simmer over low heat while you slice the quince.

Peel the quince, cut them into wedges about 3/4 inch wide at the center and remove the cores. Put them in a shallow dish, like a gratin dish. Pour two-thirds of the syrup over the fruit, including the spices. Bake, uncovered, for about 2 hours, turning the fruit every 30 minutes for the first 1 1/2 hours and then more frequently during the last 30 minutes, as the syrup will be well-reduced by then. You want it to caramelize and thicken but not burn. When done, the quince should be nearly translucent and slightly rosy.

Remove from the oven and immediately add the remaining wine. At this point, you can use the sticky, candied pieces as a sweetmeat or with a slice of cheese. To store them, add the remainder of the syrup and keep in the refrigerator.

--Russ Parsons

(Photos of quince before and after by Russ Parsons)