Quince and pear souffle

The quinces and pomegranates of autumn teach you a salutary lesson: never judge a fruit by its beauty, or lack of it. Quinces are a bit as they sound: round and heavily dimpled, and hard as rocks. Nothing, in short, to write home about. Pomegranates, on the other hand, are Hollywood stars. Alluring, expensive, a gorgeous colour, but totally lacking heart or flavour. The pair make for a good comparison, coming into season.

Fortunately quinces take on a new life when you cook them. But nothing can save pomegranates. Cut them in half and you are faced with a mass of seeds stuck in a red pulp. Once you get through them, an endless job, they are not worth the trouble. They are a waste of time, an absolute bore.

There are those who like the look of the quince, but they are usually old and grey, wearing thick glasses and filled with memories or dreams of the time they pinched them from the neighbour’s trees fifty years ago. My dear old mother is in this school.

‘We used to pinch them on the way to school,’ she said (I tried not to listen — my mother a thief!) ‘and eat them before getting to class, and the teacher would smell them — they have such a powerful aroma — and rush around shouting: “Who’s been eating quinces?’”

She told me that story after I had been fiddling with this forgotten fruit. All praise to her for trying the forbidden fruit, but the teacher should have handed them all a medal for managing to eat them raw. It’s not easy. I mention this tale because I had been slavishly following a recipe for cooking quinces, one of a dozen references to quinces I had consulted. Each claims the fruit is only decent when it is cooked for ages, and so it is, but… why don’t any of them say: ‘Taste it and see’?

I had cut up three quinces before I thought of tasting. It’s something of a shock: hugely acid palate, with a final sweetness. Something like a sweet’n’sour lolly: only with the quince it’s a case of sour, sourer, sourest and, oh yeah, sweet. And it’s that final sweetness which separates quinces from rocks to throw at avowed enemies. They are great slow cookers and mixers. And, fortunately for us, quinces love the microwave.

Before the microwave I wouldn’t have touched quinces with a goal post. Quinces in the preserving pan were testament to patience, patience and more patience. These days there are few enough of us with patience for anything, much less standing and stirring. Although the oldies and the goldies are still content to do it. One told me that preserving days were days of quiet reflection, days of stirring with a good book, page wedged open at the side of the stove, or times for good old-fashioned radio. Never TV.

So to the microwave, and all the possibilities with quinces: purees, chutneys, jellies, compotes, paste, anything. And the remarkable thing is that when you cook them in the microwave, they stay their original golden colour. None of this delicious pink/orange/magenta, but gorgeous golden.

I have rarely been entirely content with pear souffles, although they are big deals in restaurants; nor apple, nor quince. But if you put the three blood brothers together, cook them down a little to intensify their individuality yet commonality of flavour and texture, then you are in for one of the great souffles. And so simple too.

2 quinces, peeled, cored, cut into slices and sprinkled with lemon juice to keep the colour — Try a slice before you sprinkle on the juice. Sour, hey?

60g caster sugar for the quinces

3 pears — William pears are great, prepared as above.

5 egg whites

20-30g caster sugar for the souffle


Sprinkle the quinces with the 60g sugar and cook on high in the microwave (covered) for about 10 minutes, or until tender. Test with a knife. They should be tender as butter and have given out a deal of juice.


Cook the pears in the microwave. Pears in season have no need for sugar and should take half the time that the quinces take. If it’s winter and they’re from the cool-room, add a little sugar and they will take a little more cooking.


Mix the two fruits together and whizz until they form a thick puree.


Put the puree back into the microwave again, uncovered, and cook for between 5 and 10 minutes, depending on the power of your machine. You don’t want it to be solid, as in quince paste, but thick enough to hold its own on a spoon. This is! a double whammy episode:

  1. to intensify the flavours by reducing any extra water;
  2. to provide a firm base for the souffle.

The puree should have a thickness something like stewed rhubarb in puree.

Note: At this point you could easily turn the mixture into a jelly, by adding several leaves of gelatine while warm, or mixing a little whipped cream through and adding gelatine to form a sort of bavarois.


Taste and see. What you have is the flavour base for the souffle. This, and the sweetened, mounted egg whites, will make the souffle. No more, no less. So taste it now. Is it sweet enough? Too sweet? Your answer to these questions will decide how much sugar to add to the egg whites. Allow the puree to cool.


Now to the egg whites. The secret to perfectly mounted whites is scrupulously clean everything: whisk and bowls. Wash everything twice. You can’t be too careful. Whisk to your heart’s content, adding about a dessertspoon of sugar, gradually, after the egg white loses some of its thickness and starts to lighten. Whisk and whisk, left hand, right hand, until the whites hold their own and form soft peaks.


Toss a quarter of the whites into the fruit mix, folding gently. Then add the rest in quarters, folding, folding, lifting the mix in the air as you go. That’s it. There ain’t no more folks. Taste it. The final product will be no more than a warm version of what you have now: the flavours will be much tighter when the mix is cooked, so if it tastes great now, the best is yet to come.


Fill a souffle bowl or oven-safe bowl (don’t worry if it doesn’t come to the rim) and bake at 200°C for about 20–25 minutes. The souffle is done when it is well risen and just brown on top. It should be just warm in the middle — definitely not firm.

Note: What you’ve done here is form the basis of most fruit souffles — full-flavoured fruit puree, reduced to intensify, mixed with mounted egg whites and baked until just done. Try it with raspberries, apples, pears … anything.

WINE: What couldn’t you serve with this? It’s delicate enough to put on a full- flavoured champagne and yet a sweet white wine would go just as well.