Quince and Almond Cake

We never ate quince at home when I was a child, nor did my mother make jam from quince, but I do remember tasting it when I was very young. That unusual sweet tang was firmly embedded in my food memory, like a little chip of sensual data, by my Aunt Edna. She was an excellent cook and often made quince jelly, one of the many jams that appeared at her banquet sized afternoon tea of scones and cakes. I didn’t understand the taste then, but I loved it. Now, I might describe it as ambrosial, ancient, and enticing.

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Poached quince in sugar syrup, with lemon peel and vanilla bean.

Years later, at the age of thirty to be precise, we moved to the country and I rediscovered that refined sweet flavour of Persia, Aphrodite and roses. The annual gathering of quinces from Norma’s orchard involved roaring down a rutted and overgrown dirt track in her old Subaru, with Poppy the dog on board, to the old fairyland quince grove beside the banks of the Diamond Creek. It was well hidden from human and bird predators. The trunks were grey and lime with lichen, the neglected trees gnarled and contorted, but they still cropped yearly. They were planted by the creek banks in the 1890s when the area around St Andrews was largely a fruit-growing district. That secret quince grove disappeared in the devastating bushfires of 2009.

Quince and Almond cake in Autumn light.

In the old days, the orchards bordering the Diamond Creek relied on its regular flow through this valley from its source in the Kinglake hills to the north. Records were maintained by orchardists up until the 1960s. As land holders turned away from agriculture, records of the Diamond Creek’s flow became impressionistic, but most locals will tell you that the volume has decreased significantly over the last 25 years, and in summer, the creek invariably dries up. Coincidentally, Coca Cola/ Amatil began buying up most of the underground water in the aquifer at Kinglake from the 1990s onwards, effectively dehydrating the communities further downstream. Kinglake water is bought for a song and is used to bottle Mount Franklin water. Thoughtless consumers drink pure water from plastic bottles, when they have a very good source of it in their own tap, while a beautiful local creek, a tributary of the Yarra, is left with an irregular flow, not to mention the ramifications for wild life, further desiccation of the bush, increase in bushfire hazard and the problem of plastic.

Just for the colour

Returning to the glories of quince, I am happy to see that quinces are now widely available in markets, appearing from April onwards.  My 5-year-old Smyrna quince tree produces well, but wild birds and summer water shortage makes for a small harvest. I make a few batches of poached quinces each season, which last quite well under poaching liquid in the fridge. I take out slices to make various cakes and desserts, then boil up the poaching syrup, reducing it to a jelly glaze to use as a sauce or jam.

The Original Recipe

  • 250 g butter, at room temperature
  •  1 ¼ cups caster sugar
  •  1 teaspoon finely grated lemon rind
  •  3 eggs
  • ½ cup almond meal
  • ¼ cup flaked almonds
  • ¾cup milk
  •  2 ¼ cups self-raising flour, sifted
  • 2 large pre- poached quinces, drained and cut into slices, liquid reserved.
Quince cake to share. Enough for 10.
  1. Preheat oven to 180°C or 160°C fan forced. Grease base and sides of a 22 cm springform pan and line with baking paper.

  2. Use an electric mixer with a paddle attachment to beat butter, sugar and lemon rind in a bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Stir in almond meal and flaked almonds. Then stir in milk and flour, alternating.  Spoon 2/3 of batter into prepared pan. Top with half of quince. Top with remaining batter. Top with remaining quince. Bake for 1 hr 20 mins or until a skewer inserted in centre comes out clean. Stand in pan for 5 mins, then remove sides of pan.  You may need to cover the cake with tinfoil after an hour if the top is already brown.

    Serve cake warm or at room temperature with cream and reduced, thickened quince syrup or more simply with sifted icing sugar.

    The Adapted Recipe. I didn’t like the sound of flaked almonds inside the batter but I still wanted a strong almond taste. I changed the ratio of almond meal to flour and removed the flaked almonds altogether. My version used 1 cup of almond meal to 1 and 3/4 cups of SR flour and a scant teaspoon of baking powder. Try either version. Maybe add a little slurp of Amaretto or a drop of almond essence. I also glazed the cake with some of the reduced hot syrup.

 

22 thoughts on “Quince and Almond Cake”

  1. I love quinces and they never appeared in my family home either. My intro to the flavour was similar to yours, a fave auntie made quince jelly to serve on scones with cream. It’s the cake that caught my attention, reminding me of a delicious almond butter cake I need to try converting to GF. If I can manage that then this cake will be high on my list to try.

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    1. I am sure it can be made into a frangipane almond meal cake, with some added GF flour. Can you use baking powder at all? If not, the rise could come from beating the egg whites then adding them to the batter. As the precooked quince are a little heavy, the batter needs to hold the suspended fruit.
      I liked this cake as a simple little thing, but I would like to do a totally almond one, so may muck around with it too.

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  2. Quince is like magic. That gnarly yellow fruit is transformed to a jewel-like hue by slow, long stewing. I must look in the local shop to see if they have some. Or, find a neighbour who grows them.

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  3. I love quince. I have a tree at Casa Debbio and I am hoping for fruit this year. I can make this gorgeous cake when I return to Australia in a few weeks…and again when I am back in Italy in autumn…thank you.

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  4. So good Francesca, this looks like a glorious cake. I have two quince trees…a Smyrna and a Pineapple. They are about four years old and both produce abundantly, without any fuss or high maintenance. I am enjoyed poached quinces on my porridge and I have plenty in the freezer for cakes and tarts. Happy days x

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    1. They are such good trees Jane, but mine seem to attract desperado birds towards late summer. They come and peck off fruit or just knock them on the ground. My tree is big so its hard to net, and I love it’s natural shape. On porridge, in cakes, tarts, its a lovely fruit.

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  5. Beautiful, Francesca! I love these memories! I do remember eating quince as a young child when we lived in Adelaide. We had a quince tree I think, and I remember cored baked quinces with brown sugar in the middle… I don’t remember my mother making quince jelly or jam though. After that I didn’t eat them for years when my family moved north, but have rediscovered the love here in Canberra, and even have a little one year old tree I look at optimistically 🙂

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    1. Quince trees grow really well without much fuss. In three years you will have some. Quince memories are lovely things and its so good that they are creeping back into the markets and embraced once again.

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  6. I had never even heard of quince until coming to Australia. In Darwin we lived across the street from a Greek family. The Mum made something she called ‘quince sweet’ and she served it on the side of a cup of Turkish coffee. It had cinnamon and clove spices in it and was delicious. But the colour is the crowning glory. Thank you Francesca.

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  7. I’ll have to try this next time we have quinces, somehow I’ve never tried them, although I found that my partner eats them raw, with fish sauce and salt I believe!

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  8. As quinces take time to cook, make a bigger batch and store covered in cooking syrup in the fridge for up to 10 days. Serve with ice-cream or Greek yoghurt for a quick dessert or with porridge for a special breakfast. You could also cook the quince in a pressure cooker. They should only take about 35 minutes on low pressure.

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