Quince may not be my favorite fruit for eating, but it is definitely my favorite for cooking. Unlike most fruit for pies, quince is a bit high-maintenance, and requires the critical step of cooking it twice—once on the stovetop and once in the pie itself. It takes time and patience to coax the sweet, floral taste out of the fruit, so when I'm working with quince I make the most of the time at home to relax in the wonderful, fruity aromas that fill my apartment as it simmers away on the stove and bakes in the oven.
The fruit only comes from trees that have grown old and gnarly, which lends some mystique to its already alien-looking, ghostly appearance. Quince are at their peak when they turn a golden yellow color, but they are often picked and sold when they are still on the green side, since they don't hold well once they ripen. When purchasing quince, try to get fruit that is at least partially, if not fully yellow. Most quince will be at least partially coated with a sticky, dusty layer of fuzz.
To work with quince, first peel the exterior skin using a peeler, then remove the core and the tough inner stem and cut the fruit into chunky half-inch pieces. When raw, quince has a yellowish-white appearance with some brown spotting, and it has a tough texture and slightly bitter flavor.
To bring out its natural sweetness, floral aroma, and pink hue, simmer the quince in a solution of a little sugar and water with some mild flavoring (I prefer vanilla bean and a little lemon zest) over very low heat until the fruit softens and begins to turn pink. Since quince varies naturally in sweetness, it is important to taste the quince once it's been cooked and add more sugar to taste before filling your pie with the fruit.
Since I enjoy the flavor of cardamom and the texture of a crispy, buttery topping with quince, I decided to make a streusel topping for the pie instead of the traditional double crust. This pie is a wonderful medium for enjoying the mysterious and aromatic quince.
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About the author: Lauren Weisenthal has logged many hours working in restaurant kitchens and bakeries of Brooklyn and Manhattan. She is a graduate of the Artisan Bread Baking and Pastry Arts programs at the French Culinary Institute. You can follow her on Twitter at @evillagekitchen.