Quince

Making Quince Membrillo

December  7, 2012

Every week, a DIY expert spares us a trip to the grocery store and shows us how to make small batches of great foods at home.

In today's Small Batch, Alexandra Stafford of Alexandra Cooks shares her recipe for quince membrillo.


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Knobby, pale green, unpalatable — a quince, in its raw state, is perhaps best suited as the subject of still life oil paintings. But its history is rich: Paris awarded Aphrodite a quince, a gesture that incited the Trojan war; the ancient Greeks, who equated the golden fruit with love, marriage and fertility, ritually offered quince at weddings. And the properties of the fruit are enchanting: when cooked, the flesh of the quince transforms from white to a glorious rose and the once astringent taste becomes sweet and floral.

My first cooking experience with quince — a batch of membrillo, a paste often served on cheese plates paired with manchego — had me transfixed. As soon as the quince pieces began simmering in water, an alluring citrusy aroma filled the air. And after watching the simmered and puréed quince cook down slowly with sugar, thickening with every passing minute — the high amount of pectin working to transform the mixture into a thick, bubbling mass — I was addicted.

When I see a bowl of quince on my kitchen table, the scent perfuming my entire house, I know the holidays have arrived and with them a favorite tradition. About this time of year every year, I find a half-dozen or so quince — even when it means, which it most often does, breaking my buy-local practices — and make a large batch of membrillo to serve on cheese plates all winter long. Wrapped in parchment and paired with a few wedges of various cheeses, membrillo makes a lovely gift, too. Making membrillo is like making bread or soufflé or caramels — when it works, you’re hooked, the dramatic transformation inspiring you to experiment more. If you’ve never given this most unsuspecting fruit a chance, 'tis the season. It won’t take long to see why it is considered the fruit of the gods.

A few notes:

• Quince can be found at Asian markets, markets like Whole Foods (if you’re lucky), your local farmers market, and if you’re luckier, a neighbor’s backyard.

• Don’t limit the cheese spread to just Manchego — membrillo pairs nicely with so many cheeses: Zamorano, Roncal, Idiazabal, Blue de Basque, Monte Enebro, Garrotxa, Petit Basque, La Serena, to name a few.

Quince Membrillo

Makes 1/2 Sheet Pan

6 quince
1 lemon
3 cups sugar

Wash quinces and remove any stickers, fuzz or leaves. Cut straight down around the core to remove the flesh, then cut into big chunks and discard the core. Place quince pieces in a large pot and cover with about 6 cups water. Cut lemon in half and juice into pot. Gently simmer until the pieces are very tender, about 1½ hours. Note: if water boils off so that the quince are not submerged, add enough water to cover the quinces and bring back up to a simmer.

Drain the quince pieces. Pass through a food mill. If you don't have a food mill, purée in a food processor. You should have about 3 cups of purée. While you don't have to, it's helpful to measure the amount of purée you end up with as you want to add an equal amount of sugar in the next step.

Transfer purée to a large non-stick sauté pan. Add about 3 cups of sugar (depending on the amount of purée you measured) and cook over low heat, stirring frequently for about an hour. If you get impatient, it's OK to turn the heat up to medium, but keep a close watch on it and stir frequently. The mixture will thicken and will be rosy in color. It will start bubbling almost as a complete mass and will be shiny when done.

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. (It's helpful to use clips of some sort to secure the parchment to the sheet pan.) Spread the quince paste so that it is about a half-inch thick. Smooth with a spatula and try to form into an even rectangle—it most likely will not cover the whole surface area of the pan. Set aside to cool completely.

When cool, transfer parchment paper-filled membrillo to a large cutting board. Fill a large vase or cup with hot water and have a clean towel by your side. Line a glass storage vessel with parchment paper. Cut membrillo into 2 x 4-inch pieces approximately, dipping the knife into the hot water and drying it off as necessary. Fill one layer of the storage vessel with cut membrillo, top with another layer of parchment and continue filling in this manner until all of the membrillo is cut. Store in the refrigerator for months. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Save and print the recipe here.

Photos by Alexandra Stafford

24 Comments

Jennifer B. September 5, 2018
Can you tell me how to store the membrillo and for how long it will keep?
 
dgourmet September 5, 2018
It has so much sugar in it that it will keep a long time. I usually store it in the refrigerator in the plastic container it came in, with a tight lid. After 3-6 months it will dry out, which makes it harder to cut. You can heat it up (in package in hot water, of a little microwaving. <br />I've never kept it long enough to go bad.
 
Author Comment
Alexandra S. September 5, 2018
Hi Jennifer. dgourmet is right — it keeps for a long time. I store it in the fridge, cut into squares, layered with parchment paper, in an airtight container. I would say it keeps for a month, but maybe longer. Toss it, of course, with any sign of mold. Otherwise, if it tastes good, I think it's fine.
 
Ms. T. October 30, 2018
It will keep for far more than a month. In Spain, I've seen it kept unrefrigerated and simply covered with parchment for more than 6 months. However, it does become more and more firm with time when kept that way. I have also known of English cooks who jar it for long term storage.<br />PS the longer and slower you cook it, the deeper the color will become and the flavor also -- it will get ruby red. I usually have mine cooking over low heat, or in the oven at around 220F, for several hours.
 
beejay45 November 2, 2015
Just had a duh! moment. My mom always used our quince to make quince and orange marmalade. I have bought membrillo, too, but never thought of making it myself. Idiot! ;) Unfortunately, I'm seeing this article in the throes of a drought which has, I'm afraid, killed off many of our older fruit trees, at least they've produced no fruit this year since we've been unable to water them. It's raining now, and I'm hoping we'll get enough good rains this winter to at least save the trees. Enough to get past the drought may be too much to hope for. If (when) I have quince again, I'm definitely going to make this for myself. Thanks, Alexandra, for another great recipe.
 
Author Comment
Alexandra S. November 2, 2015
Yes, you must! I haven't made it in ages, but it's such a fun recipe to make — there's a moment when the fruit magically turns from pale yellow to bright pink. There is a quince tree in the front yard on a street a few blocks away from me. I might need to go foraging...
 
Don October 27, 2013
Yes! There is something you can with the water. I use 5 lbs quince and 10 cups of water. Boil and simmer for 1 1/2 hour. Strain the whole mixture through cheese clothe and you will have about 4 cups of rich pectin stock. Add 4 cups of sugar, 2 tsps of lemon juice, and make the best quince jelly ever! It will come to set in about 20 minutes or so. Process for 10 minutes. And... then make membrillo paste with the rest.
 
Danny R. October 19, 2013
Also, I was wondering if anything can be done with the water that's drained off? Seems a waste.
 
Danny R. October 19, 2013
What type of sugar is best? I'd rather refrain from white, bleached sugar!
 
Teri B. February 27, 2013
PDXpam.... I am new to the quince fruit had it in restaurant with a cheese plate, I now have store bought in my fridge but dont really know what to do with it! suggestions? oh and can I purchse some from you???? fresh homemade would be amazing! thanks!
 
Author Comment
Alexandra S. February 27, 2013
Teri — hi, so do you have a tub of quince membrillo in your fridge? Honestly, the best thing to do is to just take a little bit out each day and to enjoy it with some cheese and crackers or fresh bread. Membrillo is traditionally paired with Manchego, but there are so many great pairing options. Some were mentioned in the article, but just go to your local cheese shop (or your grocery store) and pick out a few that look good to you or if you are able to speak to someone knowledgeable, tell them you have membrillo at home and are looking for a few nice pairing options. The membrillo will keep for months in your fridge, so don't worry about having to use it up immediately.
 
PDXpam December 12, 2012
My quince tree didn't produce much fruit this year, so a farmer friend took pity on me and gave me 5 boxes of fruit. I'm still not done processing all the fruit. This year friends are getting the "Quince Quintet" of Poached Peaches, Spicy Quince Apple Chutney, Quince Cranberry Sauce, and Membrillo. Now I have to try that Quince vinaigrette...
 
PDXpam December 12, 2012
meant Poached Quince, of course!
 
Author Comment
Alexandra S. December 12, 2012
I am so jealous, one, that you have a quince tree, and two, that you have a back-up plan when your quince tree doesn't cooperate! May I ask where (roughly) you live? It would be so much fun to have a local source for quince. Your quince quintet sounds heavenly!
 
PDXpam December 13, 2012
OH my gosh! I forgot to add the fifth item: Quince jelly, of course. Alexandra, I live in the Portland, OR area. I could probably ship you a box now. The fruit is pretty sturdy... If not this year, then next for sure!
 
Author Comment
Alexandra S. December 13, 2012
No I'm even more jealous! I am dying to visit Portland. I know I would be in heaven. You are too kind. Honestly, next year, I would love to buy a crate of quince from you or your farmer friend. And I love quince jelly!
 
sophiea December 10, 2012
This looks so good! I just made a quince galette, quince syrup, and quince vinaigrette (http://painterlychef.blogspot.com/2012/12/quixotic-quince.html), but now I need to get more quince to try this!
 
Author Comment
Alexandra S. December 10, 2012
Sophiea — I am so impressed! I am going to check out your quince galette immediately — sounds delectable.
 
Burnt O. December 8, 2012
Could you do this with persimmons, I wonder? I just pureed a bunch of them through my food mill. They may not require as much sugar, but I bet they would taste wonderful.
 
Author Comment
Alexandra S. December 10, 2012
Burnt Offerings — I love the idea and would love to hear how it turns out if you decided to give the experiment a try. My only concern is about the amount of pectin in persimmons? Quince have a high amount of pectin naturally, which is why it turns into paste so nicely. I'm just not sure if persimmons would gel in the same way. I'll have to look into this. I think you are definitely right about the sugar — you wouldn't need nearly as much. Love this idea. Report back if you make any discoveries!
 
Burnt O. December 10, 2012
Good to know about the pectin levels. I found a couple of very similar recipes, but they call for the non astringent persimmon - Fuyu. My pulp is from the astringent variety that is only edible once it's nearly rotten, and very sweet. I'm not sure it will work, but I may try a small amount and add a wee bit of pectin to see.
 
Author Comment
Alexandra S. December 10, 2012
Interesting. It sounds so wonderful and unique. Good luck with it!
 
Christina S. October 12, 2015
Did you end up trying this with Hachiyas? My tree is LOADED this year (60? 80?) and I'm trying to make anything and everything I can. Going to go for it, but any tips would be appreciated!
 
dgourmet December 7, 2012
Lovely description of the process.