Every year, the branches of my quince tree are lit up with golden globes of deliciously perfumed fruit. First I make jelly, then I make quince cheese (paste) – wonderful with a sharp cheese such as Manchego or any of those wonderful Catalan artisan cheeses I recently wrote about in an article in the Weekend FT. After a pause (quince cheese is very, very messy and arduous and I need a break and a lie-down in a darkened room after making it), I might brew up some quince chutney with oranges and raisins, which will be nicely ripe for Christmas. But there are still golden globes hanging on the tree to tempt (or maybe taunt?) me. Cue for quince tarte tatin.
The famous tarte, created originally by Fanny and Caroline Tatin in the 1880s at their restaurant in the Sologne, is normally the exclusive province of apples and comes loaded with caramel and butter. In this version, the fruit is baked in a sugar and honey syrup and there’s no caramel and no butter, which makes for a lighter result. Plus quince has such a distinctive and delicate flavour, more interesting than most apples (certainly more interesting than Golden Delicious). The tedious part is peeling and coring the quinces, which are very hard and unforgiving. Persevere; you’ll be richly rewarded with some gorgeously flavoured fruit which, in the cooking, turn – by some mysterious alchemy – from primrose yellow to an alluring coppery-pink.
This is a two-step tart: first you make the syrup and bake the quinces in it until just soft, then you reduce the juices to a rich syrupy jelly, pour it into a mould, top with the fruit and cover with pastry. Later – much later if this suits you better – you bake the tart and invert it as usual for serving. It looks and smells heavenly, with the upturned quince quarters cradled in the pastry. Serve the tart warm, with ice cream or crème fraiche.
6 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons honey
400ml (about 2 cups) water
seeds from 6 crushed cardamom pods
grated zest and juice of ½ a lemon
4-5 ripe (i.e. golden), unblotched quinces, peeled, quartered and cored
1 x 230g pack ready-rolled puff or shortcrust pastry, 30-cm diameter
- Heat the oven to 180 C
- Put the sugar, honey, water, cardamom seeds, lemon zest and juice in a shallow ovenproof pan with lid – it should be just big enough to take the quince quarters in one layer
- Bring the syrup to a boil, lower the heat and simmer gently for 5 minutes
- Place quince quarters in the simmering syrup – it should not quite cover them
- Cover the pan and bake the quinces in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until just tender when pierced with a knife – they shouldn’t collapse, so keep an eye on them in the oven and remove earlier if necessary
- Lift the quince quarters out of their cooking juices and put them on a plate
- Reduce the cooking juices to about 5 tablespoons by fast boiling – don’t let them burn
- Spoon the reduced juices into the bottom of a round, straight-sided baking tin (moule à manquer) about 22cm diameter and arrange the quince quarters rounded sides downwards, packing them in well and overlapping them if necessary
- Unroll the pastry and lay it on top of the fruit, tucking any excess pastry into the sides of the dish. Cut holes in the top to let steam escape – refrigerate if not baking immediately
- Heat the oven to 200 C and bake the tart for 25-30 minutes or until the pastry is golden
- Remove tart from the oven and let it rest for about 10 minutes so the juices settle, then invert a plate on top of the tin and carefully turn out the tart – be careful of hot juices. [NB if not serving at once, leave it with the pastry uppermost. Reheat briefly in the oven to loosen the juices and warm it up, then invert onto a plate.]
- Serve warm