Membrillo or quince paste has been served alongside good hard cheese in Spain since, well..forever. Here in North America, it's been appearing on finer cheese plates for the last decade or so. Membrillo is a glorious confection made from cooked down quince. Time-consuming, but not complicated—membrillo is well worth making. It's also great to give as gifts!
MEMBRILLO (QUINCE PASTE) RECIPE
As many quinces as you desire (4-5 will do), washed, cored, roughly chopped
Sugar (amount to be determined when cooking - but have at least 4 cups on hand)
1 vanilla pod, split (1 bean for every 4-5 quince)
Ground cardamom (to taste)
Rind of one lemon (peel only, no pith) in strips
1 Place quince pieces in a large saucepan and cover with water. Add the lemon peel and vanilla beans and let boil for approximately one hour or until the quince are tender.
2 Strain the water from the quince, toss out the vanilla and purée the quince pieces and lemon peel. Measure equal amounts sugar to the amount of the quince purée. So, if you have 3 cups of purée, you'll need 3 cups of sugar. Measure one teaspoon of lemon juice for each cup of puree
3 Return the purée to the pot over low-medium heat and add the sugar, cardamom, and lemon juice, stirring to dissolve sugar completely. Cover, and let simmer for 2 to 3 hours, stirring frequently to keep from burning. The paste is ready once it has become very thick, pulling away from the sides of the pot, and has turned a deep red colour.
4 Line a baking dish with parchment paper and grease the paper with a thin coating of butter. Pour the hot paste into the dish and smooth the top. Place in a 125°F oven for a couple of hours to dry out. Remove and allow to cool completely. If it hasn't quite set yet, return it to the oven. Some old recipes call for air drying for days.
5 Wrap in more parchment paper and refrigerate overnight until the paste is quite solid. Cut into squares or wedges to serve.
Scattered with sunflower seeds or nuts, your membrillo is ready to take its place of honour on your cheese board! To store, wrap in fresh parchment and foil or in an airtight container for up to six months.