Quince Caramels – Caramels aux Coings

Quincecaramel

I am going a bit mad for caramels, can you tell? I’m blaming it all on Heidi who instigated this round of my caramel lust. So, what did I do this time? I made quince caramels. Isn’t that such a pretty-sounding name, quince caramels? And let me tell you they taste just as lovely. Actually, before you read any further, I should warn you that if you didn’t like quince, you should just stop now. Because what we are about get to is one of the quince-y-est of quince flavors, so if you didn’t like the taste to begin with you might as well not waste your time, or mine.

Last weekend, after our visit to that hidden citrus grove somewhere in the hills above Watsonville, ostensibly to pick some fruits for a special dinner at Manresa this week, I somehow came home with two big bagfuls of quince. I know we were there for the citrus, which were wonderful and quite worthy of a post on their own soon, but what also caught my eyes, and my nose in fact, were two giant quince trees bearing the most fragrant fruits. Even the sticky and thorny underbrush around them couldn’t deter me. Kendra, the new pastry chef at Manresa, and I fought over the choice fruits. She turned hers into delicious Membrillo – that’s for another day and another post too.

Quince

The fuzzy, fragrant fruits stared at me from the countertop for a couple of days. I thought I would poach them in simple syrup and keep in the fridge. The sweetened quince and the poaching syrup make a wonderful topping for my morning yogurt. The batch that my neighbor Beccy and I made a couple of weeks ago is running out, so this would be a good time to replenish. Then the real inspiration struck, caramel! I could use the sweet poaching liquid to make quince caramels, combining two of my favorite things to eat in the world, caramel and quince – I just love quince, I even love a restaurant named after it. How wonderful would that be?

I’ve had fruit caramels before. My favorites are the little morsels served after a meal at Le Meurice. They were passionfruit caramels, which somehow blended the tang and the unmistakable spirit of passionfruit with the sweet and buttery caramel. A marriage made in heaven, and a French one no less.

Poachedquince

Now I just have to figure out how to turn my beautiful vision into no less lovely a result. I normally poach quince in a regular simple syrup, one part water two part sugar. This time, after the poach, I’d let the fruit and the syrup mingle off the heat for hours after the fruits were soft and cooked through, to extract just a bit more of the fragrant and flavor. Then I would remove the quinces and use the syrup as the base for my caramel, only mounting with salted butter at the end to add the luscious creaminess to the end results.

How were they, the end results, you asked? Heavenly. Just heavenly. And so very simple.

Trayquincecaramel

Quince caramels, Caramels aux coings (make about 50 caramels)

  • 2 pounds, or about a kilo of quinces (When buying quinces, pick the most fragrant fruits)
  • 1.5 cups of water (350ml)
  • 3 cups of sugar (600g)
  • a candy or deep-fry thermometer*
  • 4oz of salted butter (120g), at room temperature

In a medium pot set over medium high heat, add the sugar and water and let cook until the sugar crystals are completely melted. Remove from heat. The reason I do this first is because I like to drop the pieces of fruits as I clean them into the pot of simple syrup immediately. This prevents the quinces from oxidation and turning an ugly shade of brown.

Peel, core, and cut the quinces into quarters. You might need to cut them into smaller pieces, depending on the size of the quinces you’re working with, just use your judgement. Drop the fruits into the pot of syrup as you go along.

When you are done with the fruits, set the pot back on the stove. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer, and let cook until the quince slices are soft and cooked through. You should see a uniformed pink-red tone in the fruits. If you’re not sure, insert the tip of a pairing knife into one, the knife should pierce through the fruit without any effort.

Remove the pot from heat and let cool on the countertop. I left mine for quite a few hours, to let the fruit macerate and impart as much fragrant and flavor into the syrup.

Quincetocaramel

When you are ready to make your caramels, use a slotted spoon to fish out the poached quinces** from the syrup. Strain the syrup into a deep pot. I used a my deep pasta pot for this. (As you cook the syrup down into caramel it will bubble up and spatter. Using a large pot will prevent the flying bits of molten caramel from landing on your pretty self.)

Set the pot with the syrup back on the stove, on high heat. Stick your candy thermometer into the pot. Cook the caramel over high heat until it reaches 240-250F (115-120C). Turn the heat off, then stir in the butter, a small knob at a time, until all the butter is incorporated into the caramel. Turn the heat back on, continue to cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until the thermometer register 260F or 125C, the hard ball stage. Remove from heat immediately and set the pot aside to cool for a few minutes.

When the content of the pot stops bubbling and seems a bit safer to approach, pour it onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper (not waxed paper, just regular parchment.) In the photo I use a Japanese mold lined on all sides with parchment. Let stand until cool enough to handle. If you want to cut the caramels into squares and wrap them that way, you can wait until the caramel is completely cooled. I like to roll and wrap mine into cute little packets with twisted ends, so I have to do that before the caramel is completely cold or it won’t roll.

Caramelsquares

I use unbleached waxed paper to wrap the caramels. I love the understated brown color of the paper. It’s also semi transparent, so the dark caramel inside can peek through.

David saw me laboring with a knife to cut the caramels with sheer force, so he offered a helpful advice before I tried to slice of my other index finger. So, according to him, one should cut the caramel with a hot, wet knife, using a gentle sawing motion. If you try to use force, the caramel will fight back becoming gooey, sticky, and impossible to work with. (Try it and you’ll know what I mean.) I put a tall glass of water next to my pan of caramel, stick a knife in it, and use the knife to cut the caramel into one long strip at a time, then cut small squares from the strip and wrap them before cutting another long strip from the pan.

Roll the caramel into a tiny tube with the waxed paper cut into rectangles. The ones I use are about 4×3 inch in dimension.

I’d like to suggest that you make a large quantity of these to give away to friends, but I must warn you that you will need a very, very strong will to give them away.

———
*The only unusual equipment you’ll need is a candy (or deep-frying) thermometer. It’s very important to cook the caramel to a precise temperature, otherwise you’ll end up with caramel sauce and not caramel candies, not that a quince caramel sauce would be such a bad thing to have. You don’t have one? No worries, you can just buy a simple analog model for just a few dollars. Wait a minute, don’t you have one of those probe thermometer? The kind that you stick a probe inside a chicken or a piece of roast, and the other end plugs into a little digital thermometer? That one should work as well. If you really want to go fancy, you can try these two I have, a digital candy thermometer, or an infrared thermomether – a point and shoot thermometer that’ll read the temperature of anything, including the back of your kitten’s head.

**Keep the sweet poached quince slices in a jar in your fridge, they make a great topping for yogurt, or use them in a crumble or fruit tart. I think I might even try to make a quince “tarte tatin” with them.

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  • http://www.restaurantreviewworld.com foodette

    How innovative, and it doesn’t look too complicated either. Thanks for sharing your story and recipe.

  • http://singleguychef.blogspot.com Single Guy Chef

    Pim, nice to see you busy in the kitchen again! I’m not a big sweet person, but this post has defintely got me interested in quince. I’m definitely going to look for some at the farmers market this weekend.

  • http://canelaycomino.blogspot.com Gretchen Noelle

    I see quince all the time in the stores here and have *no idea* what to do with it! Thanks for some great info!

  • http://www.101cookbooks.com Heidi

    Can’t wait to try this version Pim! -h

  • http://stickygooeycreamychewy.blogspot.com StickyGooeyCreamyChewy

    Caramels are my favorite things in the world. I would have never thought to make them with a fruit. I’ll bet they’re wonderful!

  • http://www.katehill.blogspot.com Kate Hill

    Nice to see quince coming out into the delicious world; I’ve been making membrillo and jam but love the idea of these sweetmeats. thanks for the walk through Pim!

  • http://herbivoracious.com Michael Natkin

    Nice one! Let me concur 100% with the need to actually take the temp of your caramel. I tried to make some by the seat of my pants the other night and ended up with caramel sauce, just as you said. Quite tasty, but not what I was going for. I have some homemade membrillo in the fridge, too late to make your recipe but maybe I could roll little bits of that in the caramel?!?
    Michael
    The Herbivoracious Blog

  • http://pastrystudio.blogspot.com/ Gayle

    I’m obsessed with quince and, like you, I prefer salty dark caramel. Thanks so much for the perfect combo.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/marc.r/ Marc

    What a great idea!
    I’m also a bit obsessed with caramel — I mix it with cocao nibs, bits of pecan, and other ingredients. But I hadn’t thought of using a poaching liquid as a base.
    I was planning on making another apple-quince tart, and so now I have a delicious use for the cooking liquid.

  • http://appetiteforchina.com AppetiteforChina

    I imagine poached quince would be great with ice cream as well.
    Wonderful pictures, by the way.

  • http://divineambrosia.blogspot.com Annemarie

    I’ve never had fruity caramels before, but these quince ones sound lovely – I think the flavor of quince would go perfectly with the boiled sugary-ness of the caramel. Yum.

  • cigalechanta(mimi)

    Don’t know where else to post this.
    CONGRATULATIONS PIM !!!!!!
    She and her boyfriend are featured in the latest FOOD AND WINE>

  • http://half-bakedbaker.blogspot.com Paula

    Like the comment before mine, I didn’t know where else to post this. I finally got a chance to read my latest Food and Wine this morning, when I came across your article! It’s Pim!!! was my reaction:) CONGRATS! It’s a wonderful article can’t wait to try some of the recipes! You and your boyfriend make an adorable couple;)

  • Michael Gentry Harris

    Hey Pim! Good to see you doing the quince thing. I’ve recently taken an interest in the fruit, too (even planted a few). If you read up on them, it seems that a hundred years ago, no self-respecting American household would have been caught without a quince tree. What really got me going, though, was your “L’Ambroisie” post (Friday, December 02, 2005), http://chezpim.typepad.com/blogs/2005/12/lambroisie.html , first slide (or http://www.flickr.com/photos/72317194@N00/69771378)
    I’ve been working hard, trying to reproduce the look of those (candied/vinegared?) quinces!

  • http://omnivoreherbivorecarnivore.blogspot.com Pieds Des Anges (Kyla)

    Really fabulous. I made pates de fruits with my coings mais ils etaient un peux trops soft. I have about fifteen quince left, and I think I’m going to follow your recipe. how brilliant!

  • Diane

    This is timely! I poached the last two quince from my tree in simple syrup with vanilla and lemon this Saturday and have been having it on my AM yogurt every morning since. I do love quince….

  • http://chefgreypoupon.com ilovemustard

    This is the second blog I’ve viewed that posted a recipe using quince and I must admit that till now I have never heard of quince. Seeing it everywhere however I’m going to definitely have to try it.

  • http://www.ceresandbacchus.com mary

    I absolutely adore quince, I’ve got some wonderful recipes for it, but this one really takes the cake. I told myself with your last post that I really must make some caramels, but this baby has really got me excited about it. Thanks!

  • http://www.xanga.com/chef_kayenne kayenne

    hmm… how come no cream here vs the salted butter caramel? won’t it be too hard?

  • http://www.bigfatgreeksummer.blogspot.com bollybutton

    WONDERFUL! Add a note that you shouldn’t attempt these if you have rubbish tinfoil pans like I do. The caramel started to burn in patches but I was able to rescue them and it gave a deeper flavour. Turned out delicious, thanks Pim.

  • http://sooishi.blogspot.com/ sooishi

    this is a great idea!
    I’ve recently made my first “pâte de coings” it was really good, next year i’ll try de caramels :)

  • http://merzville.blogspot.com Jessica

    This is truly a delicious idea and, as such, I felt compelled to forward this post along to my mother whose quince tree had a bumper crop last harvest. As soon as she saw the recipe, she gave it a try (thanks Mom!). Today she brought over a handful of them and they really are terrific. Mmm, thanks!

  • Beesmithgilbert

    I have lots of quince ready for the pot, ready for quince jelly bur now that i have come across your quince caramels I will have to give it a go! your pic’s look great. I will let you know how I go, thank you for sharing your recipe. Bee

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  • savannalee

    I just tried this with peaches instead. It was my first attempt at making caramel of any sort. I think it turned out alright. The middle part came out grainy, but the edges were smooth enough that I could roll them out into little candies :)

  • sara

    I read about these in the newsletter from Happy Girl Kitchen Co., and they look fantastic! So tasty, wow! :) What a great way to enjoy fall produce.

  • Betsy

    Thanks for this recipe – I just made it, and it tastes like sour gummy candy caramels. I eyeballed the amounts so I may have used too little sugar and butter, but they are yummy! One tip I have for you is to cut the caramels with kitchen sheers – it makes it so much easier. Also, I cool the pan of caramels on top of ice packs, and that speeds up the process greatly as well.