Quince & thyme crumble with thyme custard

by Ed Smith

Warming fruit and herb crumble

The puddings mentioned in my post on thyme got me thinking about a warming fruit and herb crumble and a thyme-infused custard. While apples work in tandem with the thyme very nicely indeed, I’m a sucker for quinces and think you will be too once you try the perfumed stewed fruit of this crumble, enhanced by a few sprigs of thyme.


2-3 large quince (approx 1-1.2kg)
3-4 sprigs of thyme
180g caster sugar
200g good butter
300g plain flour 
100g light brown demerara sugar

For the thyme custard:
300g full fat milk
300g double cream
2 sprigs of thyme
5 large egg yolks
40g golden caster sugar


Peel the quince, cut them into 6 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 700ml 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 to help encourage the rose colour.

Remove the thyme sprigs and drain about 60 per cent 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 mins until the top is golden brown and the fruit bubbling up. 

To make the custard, combine 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 2 sprigs of thyme and let this sit to infuse for 30 mins.

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar until the mix is light and thick. This will be about 2 mins 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 10 mins. Pass the custard through a sieve. Leave to cool (press clingfilm directly to the surface to stop a skin forming) and gently reheat without boiling when required.

Recipe and image: Ed Smith