Monday, June 29, 2009
Have you ever heard of tonka beans? I read about them on Cannelle et Vanille, Tartelette, La Tartine Gourmand, and Dessert First, some of my favorite food blogs. They said that tonka beans smell and taste like a mix of almond, vanilla, and clove. Let’s just say that I was more than a little bit intrigued.
So, you know me, I decided I had to get my hands on some and try them for myself. I started poking around and immediately discovered that, while tonka beans are legal and even quite fashionable to use in desserts in France and other parts of Europe, they have been banned in the U.S. from use in food. Yeah, I’m sure we know something that the Europeans don’t. Anyway, I read up about the little tonka bean and figured that anything will kill you if you eat enough of it.
I boldly continued my search and found that tonka beans are readily available on the internet, just ask Google. I hit the jackpot at an obscure local herb shop. The owner said that he stocked the tonka beans to sell to a lady who uses them for voodoo. Not for food use, so I guess that makes it OK.
I can’t tell you how exciting it was to finally score some illicit tonka beans. The smell hit me even before I even opened the bag—it’s no wonder the scientific name is odorata. Their fragrance made me flash back to eating apricots and peaches as a little girl. I remembered being at my Baba and Deda’s house and eating the sweet, juicy flesh and then the bitter kernel from inside the pit.
It’s that same bitter almond quality…
Funny how a certain smell or food can make you feel someone’s presence again…
The memory of eating apricot kernels is what inspired me to pair tonka beans and fresh apricots together in these cakelettes.
It was a happy marriage, and even my husband, who hates almonds (crazy, I know), loved it.
I would love to do a giveaway to share my tonka beans with you, but I figure I shouldn’t stray that far to the wrong side of the law. Instead, I’ll be giving away a set of 6 mini brioche tins, just like the ones I used to make these cakelettes, to one lucky reader. All you have to do to enter the giveaway is leave a comment between now and Sunday, July 5 telling me if you are willing to consume tonka beans or not. One winner will be chosen at random from the commenters (so don’t sign in anonymously!). Good luck! I will announce the winner on Monday, July 6, so be sure to stop by to see if you’ve won.
Apricot-Tonka Bean Cakelettes
5 ounces (1 ¼ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pans
All-purpose flour, for dusting the pans
9 ounces cake flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon freshly grated tonka bean
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
10 ounces sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 ounces crème fraîche, at room temperature
12 apricots, peeled, halved, and pitted
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter and flour 2 standard 12-cup muffin pans or 24 3 ¼-inch brioche tins. Sift together the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, tonka bean, and salt.
In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the butter and 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 crème fraîche, then 1/3 of the flour mixture, then the remaining ½ of the crème fraîche, 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 muffin cups or brioche tins. Press 1 apricot half cut side down into the center of each one. Bake for 22 to 24 minutes, or until the edges of the cakelettes start to shrink away from the pans and a toothpick inserted into the center of a cakelette comes out clean. Let the cakelettes cool in the pans for about 10 minutes. Invert onto cooling racks and finish cooling completely.
Makes 24 cakelettes. You can substitute a few drops of almond extract and a pinch of ground cloves for the tonka bean. If you are using muffin pans, feel free to use paper liners instead of greasing and flouring them.