Quince crumble and thyme custard

My loving wife looked at me adoringly, and then the pudding, and back at me again, and said:

“Did you f*cking put f*cking spices in the f*cking custard again?”

Sensing it was not the time to mention that, technically, thyme is not a spice but a herb, I simply mumbled and wandered off to the freezer to get some ice cream.

You, however, might like the addition of thyme to a classic vanilla custard. To my mind it adds a really pleasing, floral aroma, a touch of menthol and some clove too. Moreover, thyme’s flavour notes go particularly well with things like apple and (in this particular instance) quince.

Just don’t tell her about the fact I also shoved thyme in the crumble recipe too, as she’ll probably give me a dead arm or something. Which would be a little unseasonal.

Yuletide greetings and all that jazz.

This recipe is from my latest ‘herb guide’ post for Borough Market. Do take a look at the piece in full.

Quince crumble

Quince crumble with thyme custard

Serves 6-8

  • 2-3 large quince (approx 1-1.2kg) 
  • 180g caster sugar
  • 3-4 sprigs of thyme 
  • 300g plain flour
  • 200g good butter
  • 100g light brown demerara sugar
  • 300g double cream 
  • 300g full fat milk
  • 2 sprigs of thyme and 1 vanilla pod
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 40g golden caster sugar

Peel the quince, cut them into six pieces and cut the hard core out. Put the peel and core in the base of a non-reactive dish (earthenware, pyrex, stainless steel). Cover with a sheet of greaseproof paper and place the quince pieces on top, tucking 4 sprigs of thyme between the fruit. Bring 700g of water and the caster sugar to the boil, then pour this over the quince.

Cover the quince with another sheet of greaseproof – this will help keep the fruit mostly submerged. Then place a lid on the dish (if there is one) or cover tightly with foil and place in an oven heated to 120C for 3 hours.

Once the time is up, remove the dish from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature (with lid or foil still on), occasionally disturbing the cores and peel – this will help to encourage the rose colour.

Remove the thyme sprigs and drain about 60% of the syrup from the dish (use this as a cordial for soft and gin based drinks). If the dish you cooked the quince in is suitable for a crumble, leave the fruit where it is. If not, decant the fruit and remaining syrup into a new one (discarding the peel and cores) – I personally like a deep dish, rather than one where the fruit and crumble layers are spread thinly.

Make the topping by rubbing the butter and flour with your fingertips until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add the sugar, sprinkle on the fruit and bake at 180C for 20-30 minutes until the top is golden brown and the fruit bubbling up.

To make the custardcombine the milk and cream in a thick bottomed milk pan. Scald the milk and cream (bring to the boil then turn the heat off). Add two sprigs of thyme, split the vanilla pod in two, scrape the seeds in and add the pod too, then let this sit to infuse for 30 minutes before passing through a sieve.

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar until the mix is light and thick. This will be about 2 minutes of hard whisking – give it some.

Check the temperature of the milk. It should be a little warmer than your body temperature. If not, gently heat until it is.

Add a small amount of the warm milk into the egg mix. Stir well, then repeat, gradually adding more liquid each time until everything is combined.

Wash the saucepan. Pour the egg/milk mix back into it and place on a very low heat. Stir continuously with a wooden spoon until the custard gives a lush and lasting coat to the back of the spoon – I find this tends to take about ten minutes. Pass the custard through a sieve once more. Leave to cool (press clingfilm directly to the surface to stop a skin forming) and gently reheat without boiling when required.