The stars of our dishes today are the quince and the shallot.
Quince: The quince is the sole member of the genus Cydonia in the family Rosaceae. It is a small deciduous tree that bears a pome fruit, similar in appearance to a pear, and bright golden-yellow when mature. 1 fruit = 52 calories.
Due to its sour flavor that comes through even after cooking, quince is often well-paired with winter meat dishes like pork, lamb, and duck.
Upside-Down Quince and Honey Spice Cake
For the poached quinces:
3 medium to large fresh quinces
1 bottle (750 ml) dry white wine
3-1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 3-inch strips fresh orange zest (use a vegetable peeler and avoid the white pith)
For the cake:
Nonstick cooking spray
8-1/2 oz. (1-3/4 cups plus 2 Tbs.) unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. table salt
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
2 oz. (1/2 cup) almond flour
5 oz. (10 Tbs.) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
3 large eggs
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Unsweetened whipped cream, for serving (optional)
Poach the quinces:
Peel the quinces, trim the ends, and cut them in half from stem to base, leaving the cores intact. Place the quince halves in a 4-quart saucepan and add the entire bottle of white wine, the granulated sugar and the orange zest. Bring to a boil over medium heat, and then lower the heat to a bare simmer. Weight the quinces down with a small plate to submerge them in the liquid and poach until pink and tender, 50 to 60 minutes. Cool the quinces to in the syrup. Transfer the quinces and syrup to a container and refrigerate overnight.
Make the cake:
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350ºF. Coat a 10-inch round cake pan with the cooking spray, line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper, and lightly coat the paper.
Using a sharp knife, halve each quince and run the knife under the cores to remove them. Cut the quinces into 1/8th-inch-thick slices. Arrange the slices in slightly overlapping concentric circles in the the prepared cake pan until the bottom of the pan is covered. (You may have some slices of quince leftover to enjoy with cheese or add to applesauce). Pour 3/4 cup of the poaching syrup over the quinces, reserving the rest.
Sift the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and cloves into a medium bowl. Whisk in the almond flour and set aside. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, dark brown sugar, and honey on medium speed until creamy smooth and light, 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract.
Mix in the dry ingredients on low speed to combine them, then turn the speed to medium and beat the batter until smooth, thick and emulsified, stopping once to scrape down the sides of the bowl, about 1 minute. Spoon the batter over the quinces in the pan, and with an offset spatula, gently and evenly spread it to the sides of the pan, smoothing the surface.
Bake the cake, rotating it 180 degrees after 20 minutes to ensure even browning, until it springs back lightly when touched, and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for 15 to 20 minutes. While still warm, run a knife around the sides of the cake and invert the cake gently onto the rack to cool completely. If any slices of quince break or are dislodged, gently place them back on the cake with a butter knife.
Before serving the cake, brush the surface of the quince with some of the leftover poaching syrup. Serve the cake with dollops of the unsweetened whipped cream (if using).
Shallots: Part of the onion family. 1 Tbsp = 7 calories.
French Shallot Soup
2 batches caramelized shallots and/or onions (see Caramelized Shallots Recipe)
2 tsp unsalted butter
1 quart beef stock, at room temperature
1 cup red or white wine (optional)
1 to 2 tsp cognac per serving (optional)
4 thick slices day-old bread (traditionally baguette)
4 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated or cut into 4 thick slices
Melt the butter over medium-low heat in a deep pan, stockpot or Dutch oven. Add the caramelized shallots and stir to warm through. Add the stock and wine. Simmer for at least 20 minutes and up to 40 minutes. Near the end of cooking time, preheat oven broiler.
Divide the soup into 4 ovenproof bowls, and stir 1 to 2 teaspoons of cognac into each bowl. Gently float a slice of bread in each, then add the grated or sliced cheese atop the bread. Broil until golden and bubbly, about 3 to 5 minutes. Be sure to watch carefully to prevent burning.