Monday, June 29, 2009

Intrigued by Tonka Beans and a Giveaway


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
Printable Recipe

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.

17 comments:

Jo said...

Lovely cakelets and I also know of friends who will eat anything else except almonds. I just had one rejection this morning for my macarons. I've not heard of tonka beans but the flavours you have mentioned sound very intriguing. Definitely am game to give it a try in a dessert.

Lone Acorn said...

Ah !! I am sure Tonka Beans Apricot Cakelettes will be wonderful to eat. With the lovely flavor of vanilla, cakelettes will taste superb. Only thing is that Tonka beans are banned both in US and UK, as can be lethal if eaten in large doses. But on the same time it is a fashionable ingredient in French cuisine. So, everyone use it in small proportion as suggested by the cook and enjoy its wonderful vanilla flavor. Lovely recipe.

Avril said...

I absolutely would try tonka beans!

Ciao Chow Linda said...

Absolutely. After your post, now I've got to try them.

Jamie said...

I have always been curious about Tonka Beans!!! I would so try them!

avaserfi said...

It wouldn't be fair for me to play this game being the brother and all, but I will try tonka beans. I have a little stash that will be broken into for this very recipe in the next few weeks. I can't wait to find some worthy apricots!

Tashva said...

The name would make me say that I wouldn't try them, but your description makes them sound lovely. So long as they're not actually "bean-ey" I would eat them!

Josh Wenthold said...

I would try them, always up for something unique!

Alejandra said...

I bought some tonka beans a few months ago to experiment with. they have a lovely fragrance. (I bought mine from a wiccan supply store...go figure!). Would love to be entered in the drawing.

Claudia said...

always good to try something new, and from you description it is intriguing. Please enter my name.
Claudia

Bailey said...

I love trying new things and after reading about the tonka beans, I would be up for trying them! I love food exploration!

LyB said...

I just love Tonka Bean. I'm lucky, they're not banned here in Canada, but I can only find them in a little spice shop for 1$ a bean! Still, they're worth it. I love the idea of using them with apricots, sounds absolutely delicious. :)

NourishedKitchen.com said...

Wonderful! I love tonka bean in perfumery but hadn't considered their potential in the kitchen. I wouldn't hesitate to eat tonka bean, though. I like illegal food. ;)

coolchair said...

tonka beans are legal in food all over europe except in the uk. i first tried them in a chocolate made by zotter (www.zotter.at/4.html) who produced a chocolate bar that you dissolve in hot milk to get lovely hot chococlate. the flavour was maca-tonka which was quite intriguing. so i started cooking with tonka beans myself. my favourite: peach and tonka bean.
as for tonka beans being banned: i don't understand that at all. eating nutmeg can be lethal as well but nobody banned it. as you said: anything can be lethal if eaten in large doses.
it's very hard finding tonka beans over here too - i usually buy them when i go to france but i just got this tip from a viennese restaurant: you can buy them in pharmacies over here! probably worth a try!

hungry dog said...

What beautiful pictures!

Olga said...

Such pretty photos! I haven't had apricots this year yet.

By the way, I have the same yellow bowls (and also in the red!).

dextershaven said...

I'm pretty sure it is also illegal to sell apricot kernels because of their potential to form prussic acid, but for some reason Italian amaretti cookies (which are made with them) have not been banned. Which is good for those of us who love them.

In summer, I collect apricot pits, dry them and eventually crack them all open to mix with almonds in cookies and cakes.

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