In starting to clear out the fridge yesterday, I found a jar of Greek quince preserves I picked up at the Middle Eastern market ages ago because I cannot resist anything quince, and didn’t have the heart to just throw it out. Even if I don’t have time or ingredients to make a traditional pastafrola now, I wanted to try something in its general vicinity so the preserves wouldn’t simply go in the trash.
My initial idea was to process the preserves until smooth and spread them over a simple shortbread base for lemon bars, and possibly to sprinkle some kind of crumble over the top. Then I shifted my eyes a few feet over and saw the pile of many, many Ziploc bags of nuts, and remembered that I really need to finish those off. Instead of a plain shortbread base, I devised one incorporating toasted sliced almonds, and sprinkled the rest of the almonds on top for crunch and better eye appeal. Because the preserves just didn’t have as much quince flavor as other brands I’ve tried (the major reason why this jar was still in the fridge), I perked them up with lemon zest and juice before spreading the filling over the pre-baked almond base.
The finished product, which I decided was more of an Italian-style crostata than a bar cookie, was not as rosy and pretty a color as I would have liked, but it was still pleasantly sticky, fruity and nutty. It was especially nice served with a scoop of the egregiously expensive but competent Thai coconut milk gelato we picked up on Sunday from our town’s duly appointed Gelateria of Hype.
(Warning, rant ahead)
Pardon the aside, but you know what I mean: the one every city of any size has, the place that you are told is “Oh my god, not to be missed”, and which half the schmancy yuppie-trap restaurants in town advertise in bold typeface on their dessert menus. Naturally, after you’ve sat through the fifteen-minute line and paid your seven-fifty for a teeny scoop and a half, you get to suffer the disappointment of simply adequate gelato nowhere near worth the blind following nor the extortionate pricetag. Call me an overweening snob if you will, but I have had the offerings of numerous Gelaterias of Hype on both coasts, and none of them would have cut it as a middling joint in Italy with their insipid, dull and even icy offerings. I still say if you want good gelato in this hemisphere, you’re better off in Buenos Aires.
My righteous gelato cudmudgeoning aside, since this tart is quite sugary from the preserves, I think creme fraiche or sweetened sour cream would be nice garnishes if you don’t happen to have or don’t want to fork over for emperor-has-no-clothes frozen extravagances. Also, if you don’t fancy quince or can’t get your hands on it, this same base should work with any number of other preserves for a quick and rustic cusp-of-autumn dessert.
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1 cup (5 ounces) all purpose flour
1/3 cup (2 1/3 ounces) packed dark brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) cold unsalted butter
1 16-ounce jar quince preserves
Grated zest of one lemon
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a quarter sheet pan with two pieces of foil, placed perpendicular to each other to cover all surfaces and leave overhang for lifting out the finished tart/cookies.
Spread the almonds on a separate baking sheet and bake 7 minutes, or until the nuts are lightly toasted. Place 1/4 cup of the almonds in the bowl of a food processor and allow to cool to room temperature, and set aside the other 1/4 cup.
Once the almonds in the processor are cool, add the flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder and salt, and pulse 6-8 times to combine. Cut the butter into 1/4-inch pieces and add to the bowl, pulsing 8-10 more times, or until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Press tightly into the prepared quarter sheet pan and bake 20-22 minutes, until golden and slightly puffed.
While the base is baking, combine the quince preserves, lemon zest and juice in the processor and process until smooth. Spread the filling evenly over the base as soon as it comes out of the oven, and bake until the filling bubbles, 15-20 minutes.
Sprinkle the remaining toasted almonds over the warm crostata, then allow to cool completely. Once cool, lift it out gently off the sheet with the foil handles and cut into 8 rectangles, then cut each rectangle in half on the diagonal.
Because quince products can be very sugary indeed, my initial concern over this being a very thin layer of filling was misplaced. A thicker layer would have been serious overkill.
If you did want to convert this into bar cookies, just cut into 16 smaller rectangles and then into 32 triangles.