Quince season is here! From October to January you can find these quirky-shaped fruits in Middle-Eastern stores and larger vegetable stores. And if you happen upon them, I strongly urge you to buy a batch immediately and make the most of this seasonal treat. By turning them into this warm-spiced quince compote, for example.
Quinces are puzzling fruits. When nice and ripe, they spread an intoxicatingly sweet fragrance, somewhere in the middle between apples, pears and roses, which makes you want to bite into them immediately. Yet if you cut them, the interior turns out rock-hard, grainy, astringent and inedible in its raw state. It’s when they’re cooked that their sweet nature re-emerges.
With their delicate flavour, quinces are ideal for making compote, jam, jelly and the famous Spanish quince paste, membrillo. All this starts by poaching the fruits. You can do this in plain water, but the fun really starts if you add extra flavours to match your taste, mood and the dishes you want to serve them with. Quinces pair well with quite a lot of flavours. Think sweet and rosy spices, like cinnamon, star anise, vanilla and rose water, but also fresh and zesty ones, like citrus fruits and cardamom, or even bold and hearty flavours, like black pepper and bay leaves. You can go as wild as you like; just keep in mind you want to accentuate the flavour of the quinces, not overpower it.
Poached quinces make a wonderful two-in-one treat. After simmering them for some time, you’ll have a batch of beautifully flavoured stewed fruit to spoon over your breakfast or dessert, serve alongside hearty dishes or use as a tart filling. And you’ll be left with a pan filled with quince and spices infused poaching liquid, which makes a delicious base for quince jelly. Every little bit of the fruit has its function when making these treats. The skin and seeds contain a lot of pectin, the gelling agent which helps liquids set to jam. If you cook the peel and seeds along with the flesh, the poaching liquid can be easily reduced to jelly or a syrupy sauce afterwards.
When it comes to cooking times, quinces can vary considerably. If you intend to use the poaching liquid to make jelly, you’ll want to simmer the fruit until just tender and not longer, because mushy fruit will turn the jelly cloudy. Of course, if you’re only in it for a full-flavoured quince compote, by all means, cook them to a pulp if you like. The time needed for the quince pieces to turn tender can be anything between 20 minutes and 2 hours, so just keep an eye out and test for doneness every now and then.
Now back to the fun part: the flavouring! When I picked up the first quinces of the season, I poached them in two batches using different combinations of added flavours. I intended to pick one favourite and write down the recipe, but while the two pans were filling the house with the most delicious fragrances, I already knew I didn’t want to choose after all. Though completely different, both batches turned out equally delicious and the more recipes you have up your sleeve for different occasions, the better, right? That’s why you’ll find the recipe for a light and zesty quince compote with fresh ginger and cardamom here. And if you’re in the mood for a festive, warm-spiced compote featuring white wine and star anise, the recipe’s right down below.
This festive quince compote is spiced with a classic combination of cinnamon, vanilla and star anise and gets a bit of punch from white wine added to the poaching liquid. You can even go all out and use spiced white wine only. I wanted to keep things light and fresh, so I used a mixture of water, wine and lemon juice and zest and the result is amazing. While cooking, you can see the fruit turning from pale yellow to a beautiful natural pink, which deepens the longer they cook. The fragrance filling your kitchen is intoxicating and the stewed quince pieces taste delicious as soon as they’re done. If you can refrain yourself from finishing them immediately, though, you may want to let them stand for another day. This gives the flavours time to develop and the beautiful colour to deepen even more.
Once ready to use, lift the poached fruit from their liquid with a slotted spoon, or drain them with a sieve over a bowl to retain the liquid. Depending on your preference, you can mash the fruit to a course purée or keep the chunks whole. Use the purée and the poached cubes to top ice cream, oatmeal or quinoa porridge, or pair them with almond yogurt and granola. The liquid can be reduced in a saucepan to make a syrup to go with the compote. Alternatively, turn it into a fragrant quince jelly, to enjoy all winter long or pass along as a festive gift.
Quince compote with white wine and star anise
If you have the time and the patience, this recipe will yield the prettiest and most flavourful result if you start a day ahead.
The listed ingredients make enough compote to serve 4 people. After draining, it yields about 500 ml of poaching liquid. If you want to use this to make quince jelly afterwards, depending on the method you use, you may want to double the ingredients to have enough flavoured liquid to make 1 or 2 good jarfuls.
- 2 large quinces, rinsed and rubbed with a cloth to remove any remains of the white felty layer on the skins
- 400 ml water
- 200 ml dry white wine
- grated zest of 1 lemon
- juice of ½ lemon
- 200 g sugar
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 vanilla pod, slit lengthwise
- 1 star anise
Start by getting the poaching liquid ready. Add the water, wine, sugar and the lemon zest and juice to a pan. Bring to a boil and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Add the cinnamon, vanilla and star anise, then turn down the heat and keep the liquid at a low simmer.
Using a sharp knife, peel and core the quinces. Dice the quince halves and tip the cubes into the poaching liquid immediately to prevent them from discolouring. If you intend to turn the poaching liquid into quince jelly afterwards, retain the peels and cores. Bag them in a muslin bag for easy removal and add them to the quince flesh.
Over a low heat, simmer the quince pieces until just tender. This may take anything between 20 minutes and 2 hours. Simply keep an eye out and regularly test a cube for doneness by pricking it with a fork.
When the quince cubes are done, take them off the heat. Leave to cool completely, then store in the fridge overnight. This will give the flavours extra time to develop and make the quince pieces and syrup turn a lovely pink.
When ready to use, discard the bag with the peels and cores. Using a slotted spoon, lift the quince cubes out of the poaching liquid. Mash part of them to a course purée if you like. Use the purée and the poached cubes to top ice cream, oatmeal or quinoa porridge, or pair them with almond yogurt and granola.
The poaching liquid can be reduced to a syrupy sauce to pour over your breakfast bowl or dessert. Alternatively, it can be turned into a fragrant quince jelly, with this easy recipe.