Plant Potential: Natasha Pickowicz
In this series, we spotlight the boundless potential of a single ingredient.
By Natasha Pickowicz
Chef: Natasha Pickowicz
Job Description: Executive pastry chef at Cafe Altro Paradiso, Flora Bar, and Flora Coffee and head of annual bake sale fundraiser held at Altro, which has raised over $130,000 for the NYC branch of Planned Parenthood.
Cooking Aesthetic in 3 Words: Lush, feminine, generous
Favorite Savory Ingredient: Lemons
Favorite Sweet Ingredient: Coffee
Food philosophy: The most beautiful and satisfying food is an expression of love and simplicity, elevated. I gravitate towards timeless, classic dishes, unfussy yet unexpected preparations, and a luscious, abundant approach to plating, eating, and celebrating.
Beauty Mantra: Keeping my brain and heart full has a huge effect on how I feel physically. Surrounding myself with the things and people I love makes me feel like my whole world is a special, beautiful place. I pretty much live in the kitchen, so keeping things extremely simple is important for me to feel my best. Also, I love sleep.
I love the effort that goes into extracting the indescribably delicious flavors and aromas from quince. I like that you have to work for it a bit. You can’t just peel a quince and munch away. There is planning and anticipation and labor, and I like that a lot. What starts as a starchy, rock-hard lump softens into something ineffably sexy and soft and gorgeous. When quince are in season — and the season is so short — I slip its perfumed lobes into as many desserts as possible: not-too-sweet sorbets, fanned fruit tarts, and sticky, glossy jams to spread on biscuits. Using my method, quince poached in syrup can be used in so many ways, but will happily live in its syrup and kept in the fridge for a month or two.
Peel the quince and chop into quarters. Slice out the cores and seeds at an angle. Bring the sugar and water up to just under a simmer, or until steaming heavily. Add all the peels, cores, and lemon quarters. Drop the quince quarters into the syrup. Cover the surface with a round of parchment paper if they bob to the surface; any quince exposed to the air will oxidize and brown.
Cook the quince as slowly and gently as possible; I never bring the syrup to a rolling simmer; otherwise, the fruit will fall apart and get mealy, instead of firm and candied. On very low heat, this confit process takes me at least 2 to 3 hours. Check periodically with a cake tester or sharp knife to feel for doneness. Knife should slip in easily and cleanly, and fruit should look jeweled and almost translucent. Let cool in the syrup and rest overnight. The acid in the lemon should set the hue and deepen over time. When ready to eat, cut each quarter into thin slices or chunks. Strain a cup of the syrup and reduce until glossy and sticky. Pour back over quince and eat.
Turn oven on to broiler setting low. Using a serrated bread knife, slice the old brioche into toasts ½” thick. With a pastry brush, soak bread with reserved quince syrup. Shingle the quince slices to lay flat on top of the brioche. Using a small spoon or knife, spread the almond frangipane on top of the quince, covering the fruit and spread evenly to the edges of the bread. Sprinkle with white sesame seeds and white sugar. Broil until frangipane is puffed and sesame seeds are golden, about 4 to 5 minutes. Sprinkle generously with a finishing salt (I love crunchy, damp gray salt). Eat immediately, with an extra drizzle quince syrup.