My daughter Amanda had given me these beautiful antique Sicilian ceramic molds she had purchased. I immediately fell in love with the designs on them. They have been used since medieval times to make quince paste, considered a luxury food at that time because only the rich that could afford sugar. Most quince paste (membrillo paste in Spanish) that is available commercially, is very thick and bland in flavor. The process for making quince paste is not difficult, and homemade quince paste is way more delicious. And think about all the beautiful shapes you can present it in.
Some recipes call for cutting the raw quince in pieces and then boiling. I found this process to be laborious because raw quince is hard and difficult to cut. Boiling the quince whole makes it much easier to handle and there is less waste. This recipe uses the least amount of sugar necessary, 700 grams per 1000 grams (1kilo) of fruit pulp. Most recipes use equal amounts of sugar and fruit (1 kilo quince to 1000 grams sugar), which is way too sweet for my liking. However, the more sugar added, the quicker the quince paste will set.
You don’t need the traditional fancy molds to make the paste in. Nonstick tart tins work best but any small, shallow metal form will work. The paste needs to set covered in the sun for 5 to 7 days. This is to prevent any insects or other predators from munching on your goodies. I usually make one test mold to determine if the paste has properly set. I also recommend making the paste no thicker than 1-inch, otherwise it will take longer to set.
Quince Paste – Cotognata
Difficulty Rating: Easy
6 quinces (about 3 pounds)
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 whole cloves (optional)
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon orange zest
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Bay leaves (optional)
Special Equipment Needed: Small metal or ceramic molds, tart tins, or brioche molds. A food scale to get exact sugar measurements.
Wash quinces, place in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and cook covered for 40 minutes. Drain quinces and let cool.
Peel each quince, cut into quarters, remove core and any hard parts. Place the pulp into a bowl.
At this point you need to weigh the pulp to determine the correct amount of sugar you will need. The typical base recipe calls for 700 to 1000 grams of sugar per 1000 grams (1 kilo) of pulp. In this recipe the pulp weighs 971 grams, multiplied by .07 (971 grams x .07 = 679.7); equals about 680. Therefore, the amount of sugar needed for this recipe is 680 grams.
Place the quince pulp in a food processor and process until smooth, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Combine the pulp, sugar, lemon juice, zests, and cinnamon in a heavy pot. Bring to a low boil, reduce heat to low and cook for 30 to 35 minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.
The mixture will become very thick and dark in color.
Fill each mold with the quince mixture no higher than 1-inch.
Place the molds on a flat board and cover with a light, lint-free dish towel. Place outside in direct sunlight for 5 to 7 days. The middle of the molds should feel dense when pressed. Unmold using the tip of a butter knife. Store in an airtight container with several bay leaves. Refrigerate up to 5 months. Serve with cheese and or prosciutto on thin slices of Italian bread or crackers.