Friday, February 21, 2014

Apple Quince Tarte

by Sheila Connolly
As you might have heard by now, New England, like much of the country, has been suffering through back-to-back snowstorms. Bad for driving, but good for baking, if you are so inclined (and have power).
I was happy to find fresh quince at the supermarket a couple of weeks ago. They’re odd little critters, with a long history. I have to say upfront, you can’t eat them raw.  They taste kinda like Styrofoam. But cook them, and you have an entirely different story: they become sweeter and they give a kind of silken texture to whatever you cook them with.

Quince tree at Old Sturbridge Village

Being snowbound, I had only a few fresh apples. But since I write about an apple orchard, I happen to have the last of last year’s crop from my own trees. They’ve been refrigerated since I picked them, but otherwise I haven’t done anything to them. When I pulled them out they were soft and a bit wrinkled, but not rotted, and they tasted fine. I felt like one of my ancestors, pulling out the last season’s harvest, while waiting for reluctant spring.  Bottom line, I had two new Cortlands, and three old Cortlands, plus two quince.

This is basically a tarte Tatin, which I first encountered in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art etc. a long time ago. But the dish scared me, because serving it for guests (which helps justify the effort that goes into making it) is risky because of that heart-stopping moment when you have to invert the tarte from its cooking pan onto a serving dish. It is fraught with peril: will the tarte emerge intact? Or will you be serving your guests an apple cobbler disguised with ice cream? (Hey, it tastes good either way.)

This one worked! And the result had a wonderful, rich flavor—the combination of caramel, apples and quince is delightful.

Apple Quince Tarte 
For a 9” tart
One 10” circle of pastry (use whatever you like—puff pastry, home-made, or straight from the supermarket freezer))

2 Tblsp unsalted butter
6 Tblsp sugar
1-2/3 – 2 lbs apples (soft to middling)

2-3 quinces, poached in vanilla syrup

To poach the quinces:
Make a syrup of 1 cup water, ½ cup sugar, and a vanilla bean, in a non-corroding saucepan (not aluminum).

Quarter and core the quinces, and slice 1/2 inch thick. Add the slices to the syrup, bring to a simmer, cover and let cook, barely simmering, for about 2-1/2 hours, until the slices are a warm pinkish-tan color and soft.  Do not stir: if the slices float to the top, push gently down again.  Let the slices cool in their poaching liquid.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Quarter, core and peel the apples, then slice them lengthwise.

Just starting--once it starts to caramelize,
you don't have time to take pictures!
In a 9-inch cast-iron skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat then immediately add the sugar and stir constantly.  Cook until the sugar is a golden caramel color, stirring steadily. Remove from the heat (the sugar will continue to cook from the heat of the pan for a bit). (Note: this will harden on its own, so move fairly quickly to add the next ingredients.)

Make a ring of apples over the caramel in the pan, around the edge, then make another ring in the center.  Press the slices of poached quince between the apple slices. (Another note: when liquid, the caramel is hot, so don’t burn your fingers!)

Set the pastry on top of the fruit, and when soft enough (if chilled), press in down over the filling at the sides of the pan.

Bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes, or until the apples are soft and the pastry is browned. (Test the apples with a sharp knife.)  Remove the pan from the oven and let rest for a minute or two. Set a serving plate upside down on top of the pan. Lifting the two together (three asbestos hands would be helpful about now!), flip them both over so that the tart drops onto the plate (hopefully intact!) If a few bits of fruit stick to the pan, you can rearrange the tart.

It worked!

Serve warm with crème fraiche or vanilla ice cream. (If you have to wait, leave it in the pan, then return it to the oven for 5-10 minutes to soften the caramel again (shake the pan to make sure it’s dislodged).

A New York Times bestseller!

And this one is a Nook
bestseller this week!


  1. That is spectacular, Sheila! Makes you want the snow to stay (although it might not essential to the recipe).

    Thanks for sharing it!



  2. Wow. The quince needs to cook a long time, doesn't it?
    That is beautiful. You can be justifiably proud of yourself.

  3. Love the photo of the quince tree at Old Sturbridge Village. Didn't know they had a quince! Next time, I'd recommend subbing the vanilla bean for a cinnamon stick. I've found that vanilla overpowers the delicate flavor of poached quince. Topping with vanilla ice cream is a great way to finish.

  4. Congratulations on your second week on the NYTs list! WOOHOO!

    I have never cooked a quince in my life. But your tarte Tatin is beautiful. Maybe I'll have to try quince the next time I see them.


  5. That looks gorgeous and delicious! I don't think I've ever had quince. I will have to remedy that!

  6. I always wondered what a quince was. Now I know. Looks like a mini-pear! Love the recipe.

    Daryl / Avery