Membrillo Paste

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When it comes to sweets, I harbor a special love for all things chewy. From Swedish Fish and Twizzlers to Dutch salt licorice and pate de fruit. With the exception of the vile British Jelly Babies (Dr. Who was wrong!) I’ve almost never met a gummy candy I didn’t like. Juju Bees (whole movie theatre sized cartons of them) were my companion in misery during sad adolescent moments; red shoelace licorice accompanied me on college road trips; and in the first year of my relationship with my boyfriend, one of our earliest couple’s rituals was to devour an entire package of Red Vines while watching The Gilmore Girls. So yes, I’m a bit of a chewy candy addict.

But alas, a whole foods lifestyle allows for no Red Vines. I’ve mostly eliminated packaged sweets, but I’ve never been able to do without the occasional piece of licorice. Somehow pate de fruit never does the job. The stuff I’ve made at home doesn’t stiffen the way I want it to and it never gives your jaws the pleasurable workout you get from eating licorice.

Fortunately, there’s Dulce de Membrillo, or quince paste.

I’d have to say this is one of my favorite things to eat. It has the hard chewiness of licorice, but also the powerful flavor of quince. The fruit, cooked down over many hours, contains a flavor I can only compare to the smell of hot fruit cooking. The non plus ultra of chewy candies, it’s what you want all those packaged licorice bits to taste like; it’s what I yearned for in all those boxes of Juju Bees: true transmogrification of regular fruit into a wholly alien substance.

Dulce de Membrillo has a complex, sophisticated flavor and not all Twizzler gobblers may enjoy them. They are delicious by themselves, but are also good with a slice of sharp Manchengo cheese. Remember also that this candy sticks to your ribs. It’s sublime, but also dense. If you try to consume more than a few pieces in one sitting you will get a serious stomachache.

 Dulce de Membrillo

(Adapted from Ready for Dessert by David Lebovitz)

4 quinces

½ lemon

4 cups water

3 cups sugar

1.)   Wash the quinces and cut into quarters. In a pot combine quince, lemon, and water and cook on medium heat for one hour, until the quince is tender.

2.)   Discard lemon and using a spoon or a melon baler, scoop the seeds out of your now tenderized quince pieces. Discard lemon and push cooking liquid and quince pieces through a wire mesh strainer.

3.)   Put quince puree and sugar in a good cast iron saucepan (I used my Le Creuset) and cook over medium low heat, stirring constantly. Wear oven mitts. The puree will spit at you while it cooks.

4.)   Next comes the hard part. You’ve pretty much got to keep stirring for as long as it takes. Just stir the motherfucker until it is a thick mass, so thick your spoon can stand straight up in it by itself.  It should be a dark red color and incredibly difficult to stir by the time you’re finished. I’ve stirred membrillo for two and a half hours in the past. It may take you only an hour and a half so long as you keep your pot good and hot.

5.)   Get out a small baking sheet and line it with parchment paper. Spread quince paste in a layer. Once it’s cool enough, spread it smooth with your hand. Let it cool and then cut it into bite-sized pieces.

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Membrillo paste on the cheese plate at the holiday party.

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