No Quince-idence
9 Nov 2007

This was supposed to be a post about Quince. It's my new fall fruit obsession. Last year, you might remember, it was persimmon. I became temporarily obsessed with the sweet and tropical tomato like fruit. Their vibrant tangerine color and supple round shape as beautiful to photograph as the name is to say. This year, it's all about the quince. I just love to say the word... "quince, quince, quince" just rolls off the tongue. It's floral aroma and silky texture (once it is poached or roasted) is warm and rich and just a little indescribable. Quince offers all the best qualities of a good cooking apple teamed up with the butteriness of pear and come into season at the perfect time for pies, cobblers and crisps.

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As a photography subject, each unique bump and crevice creates an opportunity for light and shadow. It's like portraiture, where every line tells a story. Quince is a fruit with character, sometimes serious, sometimes whimsical. Always delicious. And, lucky for me, it's easy to find organic and local in the pacific northwest in October and November. So I've been roasting and poaching a myriad of ways, trying to find my favorite. Do I prefer slice or dice before roasting? Should I poach in a simple lemon, vanilla and sugar concoction or something a bit more potent like port and cinnamon? How about freshly grated nutmeg or some cardamom pods? Should I spoon the velvety soft fruit over a big scoop of vanilla ice cream? Or toss it on to some puff pastry for a no-nonsense tart? Maybe I should toss in some cranberries, and top it with an almond crisp topping.
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But then, I went to the bookstore and picked up a copy of Pure Dessert. I've almost purchased this cookbook now about 5 times. I've added it into my Amazon basket (only to remove it after I splurged on "Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 Tilt Shift Lens instead). But finally, at my last trip to the local bookshop (where I was looking for Shauna's book and to my disappoint haven't been able to find it locally!), I could no longer resist that gorgeous cherry on the cover. Flipping through the pages, looking for something that might help me make a quince decision, I stumbled upon this gorgeous sesame cake. I scanned the ingredients and was intrigued. Black sesame seeds flecked the coffee-cake like crumb. I just couldn't imagine what it might taste like... sesame oil baked into a cake. I had to try it, quince be damned.
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It was a good decision. This cake is phenomenal. Subtly sweet, and fragrantly nutty, like almonds and brown butter wrapped up together but with a little eastern kick thrown in where you least expect it. And, as it turns out, it pairs wonderfully with a simply poached quince, prepared as Shuna suggests.
Quince-000007-1 Sesame Cake with Poached Quince Adapted from Alice Medrich's Sesame Cake recipe in Pure Dessert I used white sesame seeds, rather than the black which are harder to find, and although the cake doesn't have that same striking appearance, it's just as delicious. Also, the book specifically notes to make sure your sesame oil is fresh... if it's been in your pantry for 3 months or longer, it's time to buy a new bottle. This recipe bakes up the cake in an 8-inch round pan... but these are great also baked up as individual cakes in little paper cups. Just be careful not to overfill them... the batter rises a lot in baking, so only fill between 1/2 and 3/4 full, or give your cups little parchment collars. Serves 8 to 10 1 1/3 c all-purpose flour 1/2 t baking soda 1/4 t baking powder 1/4 t salt 2 large eggs 2 1/2 t Asian sesame oil 1 t vanilla extract 8 T unsalted butter, softened 1 c caster sugar 1/2 c buttermilk 1/4 c sesame seeds Toast the sesame seeds in a hot, dry skillet until they become fragrant and start to brown just slightly. This might be hard to tell with the black seeds, but they will probably also start to glisten a bit giving up some of the oil and start clinging together some when they are toasted. Set aside to cool. Preheat the oven to 350F. Prepare an 8-inch cake pan by greasing the sides and lining the bottom with parchment... I found this cake sticks even to non-stick bakeware. Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Repeat twice and set aside. Whisk together the eggs, sesame oil and vanilla. Take a moment to indulge in how wonderful the vanilla and sesame oils smell together. Mmmm. Beat the butter just a little until creamy. Add the sugar and continue to blend on medium until it becomes a very light yellow, about 2 to 3 minutes. Start adding the egg mixture a little at a time, making sure it is fully incorporated before adding the next little bit. Once all the egg mixture has been added, turn off the mixer and add one third of the flour, and stir in on low until all the flour has been mixed in. Add half of the buttermilk and beat until the liquid is absorbed. Repeat this process, turning off the mixer and scrapping the sides of the bowl before adding the flour, until the remaining buttermilk and flour have been added. Then, add the toasted sesame seeds. Transfer the batter into the cake pan. I like to place the cake pan on a parchment lined baking sheet... just in case there is overflowing for some reason. Bake on the center rack of the oven for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Use a knife along the edges of the cake pan to help it release, then invert the pan over a plate. Remove the piece of parchment from the bottom of the cake, and then flip it back over. Let the cake cool to room temperature. This cake keeps well for a few days if kept in an airtight container, and can be frozen for up to 3 months. To serve, slice into wedges and serve with a garnish of roasted or poached fruit and a spoon of lightly sweetened, freshly whipped cream.

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