Our intrepid contributor Alexandra Jones returns again, with a recipe for apple-quince fruit cheese. This homemade fruit paste (this month’s mastery challenge topic) is the perfect thing to make your holiday cheese board stand out from the crowd! -Marisa
I confess that over the past few months, I’ve fallen off the Mastery Challenge train. The contents of my kitchen and the time I have to devote to preserving just didn’t add up. But I’m excited to finish out the year strong with December’s topic: fruit pastes, one of my favorite ways to preserve seasonal fruits.
I canned a spreadable version of the typically sliceable quince paste last month. I had a few more quinces than would fit in my Dutch oven when I made that recipe, and they sat patiently in my fruit bowl while I figured out what to do with them.
Since I’ll be entertaining friends with a cheese-centric holiday party next week, I decided to combine my remaining quinces with a few apples and whip up a concentrated, sliceable apple-quince fruit paste that would combine both flavors, with this recipe as my framework. And since I’ll be serving this paste with cheese, I’m choosing to call it a fruit cheese, but it’s basically a pate de fruits.
The beautiful thing about fruit pastes is that they’re pretty forgiving. The thing you want to avoid when making jam and jelly — a firm, overly-set preserve — is exactly what you’re going for in this case. It’s also quite easy, as there’s no peeling necessary, thanks to a food mill or fine mesh strainer.
But there is a trick to it: the goal is to cook down the milled fruit puree until it’s as stiff as possible while still being spreadable, but there’s even a trick for that — if you’ve got a programmable dehydrator or an oven that goes nice and low.
After cooking my fruit till it was thick and mounding, spreading the mixture into a pan, and letting it sit overnight, the paste was still soft and moist. Mine spent several hours in the dehydrator at 150 degrees F, which firmed up the surface quite a lot.
However, because the paste wasn’t spread perfectly evenly, some areas were firm on top but soft underneath. No problem: I put the pan in the fridge to firm up for a few hours, then simply pulled the block paste out of the pan by hand and flipped it over. The pan went back into the dehydrator for a few more hours until the paste achieved a more uniform consistency.
At this point, all that’s left to do is slice and serve with a wedge of something pungent. (You could also cut the paste into cubes or squares, toss them with sugar, and serve as a dessert treat.) I like to pair this paste a cave-aged cheddar, but Alpine cheeses, blues, tangy fromage blanc, and other cheeses will all work with its sweet-tart, slightly floral flavor.
While you can simply slice the paste into cubes, batons, or squares, I think this recipe is a great excuse to bust out your cutest cookie cutter. It’s the holidays, after all.
- 2 apples
- 2 quinces
- 1 cup water
- 3/4 cup sugar
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- Pinch of salt
- Brush an 8" x 8" pan with a small amount of neutral oil and line with parchment paper. Brush the parchment paper with oil.
- Core and roughly slice the fruit. Place slices and water in a heavy-bottomed pot with a lid.
- Cover and cook the fruit over medium heat for 20 minutes. Uncover and cook for an additional 10 to 15 minutes or until the fruit is very tender and falling apart. (The quince will take a little longer to get tender than the apples will.) If the mixture dries out before the fruit is tender, add another splash of water and put the cover back on the pot.
- Remove the pot from the heat. Pass the mixture through a food mill or press it through a fine mesh strainer until skins are removed.
- Return the fruit puree to the pot and add the remaining ingredients. Simmer for an hour or more, stirring frequently to keep the bottom of the pot from burning. Keep an eye out for when the mixture begins to mound up. You want the mixture to be as sturdy and thick as possible while still being spreadable.
- Once the puree has thickened, spread it into the prepared pan, doing your best to achieve a smooth surface and uniform thickness. Allow to dry overnight.
- The next morning, gently touch the surface of the fruit paste. If it's still wet or tacky and the paste is soft, put the pan into a 150 degree F oven or dehydrator. Check every hour or so and remove the paste when the surface is dry to the touch.
- Press gently around the pan, especially on any areas that may be thicker than others. If the underside of the paste is still soft and spreadable, put the pan into the fridge to cool for an hour or two. Once it's cooled, you should be able to gently pull up the square of paste and flip it back into the pan, soft side up. Return the pan to the dehydrator or oven, checking every hour or so. Remove when the surface feels dry and the texture has firmed up.
- Cut into shapes using a knife or cookie cutters and serve with cheeses, or cut shapes, toss in granulated sugar, and serve immediately as a sweet. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.