Nick Malgieri
Nick Malgieri

Stephanie Alexander's Quince Tart

When I visited Australia for the first time in May 2002, I was on a mission to meet Stephanie Alexander, Australia's most widely acclaimed food writer. Through friends of friends I finally managed to get a phone number and made an appointment to see her at the Richmond Hill Café and Larder, a business she runs that encompasses wine, cheese and specialty food sales and a successful restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. A veteran author of many cookbooks and the chef-owner of Stephanie's Restaurant for many years, she is the author of the impressive tome The Cook's Companion: The Complete Book of Ingredients and Recipes for the Australian kitchen, from which this recipe is adapted.

Quinces appear in the fall, but you’re more likely to find them in a farmer's market than in the supermarket. There are several varieties of quince; apple, pear, and pineapple quinces: Choose the ones that look like large apples. Botanically related to apples and pears, quinces are hard and tough and not meant to be consumed raw. Many southern European countries make all sorts of jams, jellies, and pastes with them, because they always require long, slow cooking to become edible. Plan on cooking the quinces a day or two before you intend to prepare the tart because cooking them can easily become an all-day job. It doesn’t require your constant attention, but make sure to be nearby to test them for tenderness and not overcook them. Be careful when peeling and paring the quinces: Their tough flesh can easily make the knife slip and cut you.

One 10-inch tart, about 10 servings

Poached Quince

6 cups water
3 cups sugar
6 large apple quinces, peeled, halved, cored, and each half cut into 3 pieces
1 vanilla bean, split
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Shortcrust Pastry

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold, cut into 8 pieces
3 tablespoons water

Brown Butter Filling

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

One 10-inch tart pan with removable bottom

  1. The day (or up to several days) before you intend to prepare the tart, poach the quinces. Set a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees.
  2. Bring the water and sugar to a boil over medium heat in a large, enameled-iron casserole with a lid. (You make the syrup in an uncovered pan, but you’ll use the lid later on). Stir occasionally, to make sure all the sugar dissolves. Add the quince, vanilla bean, and lemon juice and return the syrup to a boil. Invert a small ovenproof plat on the quince to keep them submerged in the syrup, cover the pan and bake the quinces for 1 1/2 hours. Test the quinces by plunging the point of a small knife into one of the piece. The quinces should be tender and have turned red. If the quinces are not tender, bake for up to 3 hours longer, testing once every 30 minutes. Don’t stir the quinces while they are cooking or they may break apart. Cool the quinces in the syrup and refrigerate right in the pan or in a large plastic container until you intend to prepare the tart.
  3. For the dough, combine the dry ingredients in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse several times to mix. Add the butter and pulse 3 or 4 times, until the butter is in pea-size pieces. Add the water and pulse 2 or 3 times, until the dough forms clumps, but not a ball. Invert the dough to a floured work surface and carefully remove the blade. Form the dough into a disk and wrap it in plastic. Refrigerate the dough for at least 1 hour, or up to 2 days.
  4. When you are ready to prepare the tart, set a rack in the lowest level of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.
  5. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and place it on a floured work surface. Flour the dough and gently press it with a rolling pin in close parallel strokes to soften it. Roll the dough to a 12-inch disk. Fold the dough in half and transfer it to the pan, lining up the fold with the diameter of the pan. Unfold the dough and press it well into the bottom and sides of the pan. Use a bench scraper or the back of a knife to sever any excess dough at the rim of the pan. Chill the crust while preparing the filling.
  6. With a slotted spoon Carefully remove the wedges of quince from the syrup and place them on a pan lined with several thicknesses of paper towels to drain.
  7. For the brown butter filling, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook until the butter begins to become foamy and turns a light brown color. Immediately pour the butter into a heatproof bowl to cool slightly. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the eggs to break them up, then whisk in the sugar. Sift over and whisk in the flour, followed by the cooled butter.
  8. Arrange the wedges of quince on the tart crust, close together and perpendicular to the edge of the crust. Fill in the center with more wedges. Pour the brown butter filling over the quince in the crust. Bake the tart for about 40 minutes, or until the pastry is baked through and the filling is puffed and well colored.
  9. Cool the tart on a rack. The filling will fall as the tart cools.

Serving: Remove the side of the pan and slide the tart from the metal pan base to a platter. You may need to use a long thin spatula or knife to loosen the bottom of the tart from the pan base. Serve the tart in wedges.

Storage: Keep the tart at room temperature on the day it is baked. Wrap and refrigerate leftovers. Bring them to room temperature before serving again.