October 19, 2010
I scored big last week, as not one, but two generous friends asked if I'd like to take a few quinces off their hands. I am systemically incapable of resisting free produce, especially when it comes from a friend's garden (or a friend's neighbor's garden), and especially when it's as old-world charming as quince. I said yes! yes! just tell me where and when and I'll come a-running with my wheelbarrow!
And this is how I found myself with about five kilos of the yellow-green fruit, making my apartment smell very precisely like Maïa's country house. Maïa was one of my sister's childhood friends, and her grandparents owned a beautiful stone farmhouse a little way outside of Paris -- geography didn't exist outside the classroom when I was little, so I have no idea where it really was -- where my sister was invited from time to time, and I got to tag along one weekend in the fall.
The adults stayed in the main house, but we kids were allowed to play and sleep in the upstairs room of an outbuilding that may have been a stable at some point, and was the ideal setting in which to reenact boarding school scenes from Roald Dahl's autobiographical book Boy.
Further in the back of the property was a large garden with numerous fruit trees, many of which were quince trees (cognassiers) and bearing big gnarly fruit when I visited. This was my first encounter with quinces, those woody not-pears covered with fuzz. I don't think I actually tasted their flesh until many years later, but their pervasive, extraordinary smell -- like a musky cross between the pear and the pineapple -- was everywhere around and inside that house, and the two are forever linked in my mind's sensory library.
Going through five kilos of quince takes some stamina, and I devoted part of my weekend to the task. The first thing I did was poach as many as would fit in my pressure cooker, following this recipe for vanilla poached quince I wrote about two years ago. This is (yet) an(other) instance when the pressure cooker is the cook's best friend, as it slashes down the poaching time to just thirty minutes, and makes zero mess on your cooking range.
Most of these poached quince quarters will be eaten just like that, in a bowl, with a little yogurt or cream and an optional sprinkle of granola, but some were enrolled into this simple quince and almond cake.
It is a variation on my trusted yogurt cake. I've tweaked it a little to add some ground almonds and fold in the diced quinces* for a lovely fall cake, fragrant and very moist, that's best eaten with your hands, while sitting in a patch of sunlight on the wooden floors of the living room.
* If you maintain a sourdough starter, you'll be happy to hear that I've replaced the yogurt with an equal weight of the starter I collect at each feeding instead of discarding it. Indeed, I have found that sourdough starter (not particularly ripe, but not super old either) can be used as a yogurt substitute in cake recipes like this one: it has more or less the same consistency and acidity, and produces a wonderfully tender crumb.
Quince Almond Cake
- 200 grams (7 ounces, about 1 2/3 cups) all-purpose flour
- 100 grams (3.5 ounces, about 3/4 cups) ground almonds (= almond meal or powdered almonds)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 large organic eggs
- 200 grams (1 cup) unrefined cane sugar
- 50 grams (1/3 cup) vegetable oil (I used extra-virgin rapeseed oil)
- 200 grams (7 ounces) plain yogurt (or sourdough starter)
- a good splash of rum (optional)
- 400 grams (14 ounces) vanilla-poached quinces (about 2 large quinces, see recipe), drained and coarsely chopped (if you don't have quinces, pears can be substituted; no need to precook them)
- unrefined cane sugar in coarse crystals, for sprinkling
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, almonds, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir with a whisk to aerate and remove any clumps.
Preheat the oven to 180°C (360°F) and line a 28-cm (11-inch) cake pan with parchment paper.
In another, large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar for a couple of minutes. Add the oil, yogurt and rum, and whisk again to combine. Add the chopped quinces and stir gently just to combine. Add in the flour mixture, folding it in with a spatula until just incorporated. Don't overmix.
Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan, level out the surface, and sprinkle with coarse crystals of sugar.
Insert in the middle of the oven and bake for 40 minutes, until the top of the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer to a rack to cool and serve, slightly warm or at room temperature.
Note: Stephanie, over at Dollop of Cream, offers a gluten-free adaptation of this recipe.
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