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The Secret Ingredient (Membrillo): Apple and Pear Membrillo Turnovers

[Photographs: Kerry Saretsky]

There are certain foods that go hand-in-hand—that are so permanently paired, that if you've had one, you can't have helped but have had the other. Peanut butter and jelly, bread and butter, oil and vinegar. And because cheese is my very favorite food, it was only a matter of time before I was exposed to the jelly to cheese's peanut butter: dulce de membrillo, or membrillo for short.

Membrillo is that dark apricot-colored, jam-textured paste made from quince and served with cheese, especially Manchego. One sees it most often in Spain, but also Portugal, Italy, and some South American countries. The quince fruit is related to the apple and pear, and indeed, it tastes like a marriage of the two, although unlike its cousins, it is too hard to be eaten raw.

Quince paste tastes to me like a combination of dried apples, sweet pears, and honey—there is something definitively floral about it, though its only ingredients are quince, sugar, and water. Its texture is more firm than a jam; in fact, you could serve a slice or cube of it and it would stay intact, reminiscent of the jellied fruit squares you find in French patisseries.

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Membrillo is a usual suspect on a cheese board, next to the crackers, just beyond the walnuts, and nudging up against a wedge of uninterested Camembert. This is the only place I had ever seen it. But I decided to buy it, stick a spoon in it, taste it, and then go from there.

This first recipe is a delight, and inspired by another traditional use of membrillo: pastries, where it is used in a similar manner as guava paste. It is an apple and pear turnover, spiced with membrillo, so that the floral spicy-sweetness of that honey accent perfumes the entire filling. It is subtle, but definitely present: a perfect secret ingredient. I use bought puff pastry so the recipe is easy. Absolutely perfect for breakfast.

Apple and Pear Membrillo Turnovers

About the author: Kerry Saretsky is the creator of French Revolution Food, where she reinvents her family's classic French recipes in a fresh, chic, modern way. She also writes the French in a Flash series for Serious Eats.

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