1 ½ cups water
1 ¾ cups sugar
½ vanilla bean
Nonstick pan spray
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup sour cream, at room temperature
Combine the water and 1 ½ cups of the sugar in a small pot. Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise, scrape out the seeds, and add both the pod and the seeds to the pot. Heat until the sugar dissolves. Peel, quarter, and core the quinces. Add the quinces to the pot and drape them with a piece of cheesecloth. Bring to a boil and simmer for about half an hour, or until tender. Using a slotted spoon, remove the quinces to a paper towel-lined plate, reserving the poaching syrup for another use, and let cool.
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease 4 6×3 ¼×2 ¼-inch loaf pans with nonstick pan spray and line the bottom of the pans with parchment paper. Sift together the flour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, allspice, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the butter, brown sugar, and remaining ¼ cup of sugar on high for 3 to 4 minutes, or until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time until thoroughly combined and then beat in the vanilla extract. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture, then ½ of the sour cream, then 1/3 of the flour mixture, then the remaining ½ of the sour cream, and then the remaining 1/3 of the flour mixture, mixing on low for only a few seconds after each addition until just combined, and stopping the mixer once or twice to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Do not overmix. Divide the batter among the loaf pans. Slice the quinces thinly and fan out the slices atop the batter in each loaf pan. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the edges of the cakes start to shrink away from the pans and a toothpick inserted into the center of a cake comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pans for about 10 minutes. Transfer to cooling racks and finish cooling completely.
Makes 4 small loaves, serving 8. With these aromatic and moist cakes, which were inspired by the first harvest from the small quince tree in our garden, I welcome fall. If you don’t happen to have your own quince tree, quinces can be a bit hard to find, but they’re delicious and definitely worth the effort. Look for them at well-stocked gourmet markets. When ripe, quinces are very firm with fuzz-covered golden skin and an intense perfume like that of pineapples and lemons combined. Quinces must be cooked before eating, as they are too astringent to eat raw. Try these cakes with either apples or pears if quinces are unavailable. Buttermilk may be substituted for the sour cream, and a 9-inch square cake pan can be used instead of the loaf pans.