Quince Caramels - Caramels aux Coings
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.
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.
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.
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 (3.5dl)
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.
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.
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 4x3 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.