This is always a childhood throwback – for those of us who grew up in Argentina, that is. After all, you cannot spend your childhood in that country without trying – and almost certainly falling in love with – this sweet quince pie.
What the heck is quince, you wonder? It’s a fruit that resembles a pear, but you’d be crazy to eat it fresh. When cooked, it has the most delicious floral aroma, sandy texture, and tangy taste. I’ll tell you more about it at the bottom of this post.
Anyway, if you live in Allston you are in luck: Mayfair Foods – a small grocery store with a great selection of Latin American products, including many from Argentina: alfajores, yerba mate, dulce de leche, tapas para empanadas, pascualina – carries sweet quince paste, which is the main ingredient of a good ol’ pastafrola.
If you’re not an Allstonite, do not despair. Other stores in the Boston area carry the product. Just do a quick Google search and you’ll see. But, if you can’t find the damn quince – mom, cover your ears – you can use guava paste, dulce de leche, or any other (firm) fruit jelly of your linking. Okay, that probably just offended a bunch of Argentines.
I’ve never been crazy about sweets, but every now and then, when I remember being a kid and eating a slice of pastafrola on a cold winter afternoon with a cup of tea next to my mom and grandmother, I get pastafrola withdrawal symptoms.
Here’s how I fix that.
- 1 ¾ cups (almost two sticks) of butter, room temperature
- 1 whole egg + 1 yolk (room temperature)
- 4 tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- 3 1/3 cups self-rising flour (or regular flour with 1 tbsp baking powder) + a few additional spoons
- Pinch of salt
- 1 ½ lb quince paste (homemade or store bought)
- 3 tbsp milk
- 1/3 cup water
- grated coconut
- If you are using store bought quince paste, you need to soften it first. Cut the paste into small pieces, add half a cup of water and simmer for a few minutes. Mix well with a fork. You want the quince paste to be soft but firm, not runny. Set aside to cool while you make the dough.
- In a large bowl, mix well butter, one whole egg, vanilla, and sugar.
- Add flour, baking powder, salt, and mix gently with your hands. Do not knead.
- Line your baking vessel with the dough by patching little pieces of it together.
- Add the quince paste into the dish (but save a couple of spoonfuls aside to brush onto the pie at the end and make it glisten.)
- Take some of the leftover dough and add the milk and some flour to make the dough malleable.
- Make a few thin, long rolls with this dough and build a trellis on top of the pie.
- Brush with the egg yolk and bake at 325 for about 30 minutes or until golden brown.
- Brush with the leftover quince (and make it runnier if you need to).
- Decorate the edges with the coconut flakes.
These measurements will make one huge pastafrola or two smaller ones (9-inch round baking pan). You can also make a rectangular one using a casserole dish or even a cookie sheet. Or you can cut the whole recipe in half. Or, better yet, you can put half in the freezer and make another pastafrola in a week’s time. Because you know what’s better than one pastafrola? Two pastafrolas.
You really need to try making this; it’s super easy and it goes great with tea or coffee on a cold winter day. Let me know how it goes, and I especially want to know all the offensive ways in which you changed the recipe.
Kill your curiosity about the quince on Wikipedia. I love what The Joy of Cooking says about it:
Given our cultural predilection for breeding the most uniform, shelf stable, and prettiest fruits and vegetables, it’s a wonder the quince has survived our agricultural fervor.
Quinces are knobby and irregular, like lumpy pears. They are a bit drab-looking and neglected and are prone to patches of rot. Their flesh is pale and grainy – much like the flesh of a pear, but far more pronounced. They do not soften as they ripen, and they cannot be eaten like an apple, for their flesh is highly astringent, making them unpleasant to eat out of hand.
Hearing all this, you may think, indeed, why has the quince, a highly inhospitable specimen, survived the quest for “ideal” fruit? I can only attribute the quince’s staying power to the inexplicable inertia of longevity. The quince has played part in humankind’s orchard for centuries at least. The quince was Paris’s offering to Aphrodite, and Apicius’s ancient Roman cookbook contains recipes for stewing quince with honey. If quinces have one thing going for them, it is time.