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There are certain foods that go hand-in-hand—that are so permanently paired, that if you’ve had one, you can’t have helped but have had the other. Peanut butter and jelly, bread and butter, oil and vinegar. And because cheese is my very favorite food, it was only a matter of time before I was exposed to the jelly to cheese’s peanut butter: dulce de membrillo, or membrillo for short.
Membrillo is that dark apricot-colored, jam-textured paste made from quince and served with cheese, especially Manchego. One sees it most often in Spain, but also Portugal, Italy, and some South American countries. The quince fruit is related to the apple and pear, and indeed, it tastes like a marriage of the two, although unlike its cousins, it is too hard to be eaten raw.
Quince paste tastes to me like a combination of dried apples, sweet pears, and honey—there is something definitively floral about it, though its only ingredients are quince, sugar, and water. Its texture is more firm than a jam; in fact, you could serve a slice or cube of it and it would stay intact, reminiscent of the jellied fruit squares you find in French patisseries.
Membrillo is a usual suspect on a cheese board, next to the crackers, just beyond the walnuts, and nudging up against a wedge of uninterested Camembert. This is the only place I had ever seen it. But I decided to buy it, stick a spoon in it, taste it, and then go from there.
This first recipe is a delight, and inspired by another traditional use of membrillo: pastries, where it is used in a similar manner as guava paste. It is an apple and pear turnover, spiced with membrillo, so that the floral spicy-sweetness of that honey accent perfumes the entire filling. It is subtle, but definitely present: a perfect secret ingredient. I use bought puff pastry so the recipe is easy. Absolutely perfect for breakfast.
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 Golden Delicious apple, diced small
- 1 Red d’Anjou pear, diced small
- 2 tablespoons membrillo
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- pinch salt
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 2 sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed and very cold
- 1 egg and a splash of milk, whisked together for egg wash
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the apple and pear, and sauté for two minutes, until they start to soften.
Next, add the membrillo, sugar, and salt, and sauté another three minutes on low heat. The fruit should start to be quite soft.
Add in the flour and sauté on low for another minute or two, until the mixture has a pie-filling look to it. Set aside to cool.
Take the puff pastry out of the fridge, and unfold it. Brush all four sides of both pieces of pastry with the egg wash. Spoon half of the fruit mixture into the center of each puff pastry, arranging it so that it makes a diagonal line across the pastry. Fold one corner over the line of fruit to the opposite corner, and press down to eliminate any air trapped within the turnover. Press the sides together, and then use the tines of a fork, or a ravioli cutter, to seal the edges. Place the pastries on a Silpat-lined baking sheet, brush lightly with egg wash, and bake 35 to 40 minutes, until puff, golden, and steaming hot within.
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