A couple of weekends ago, my friend Genevra gave me an unusual and welcome gift – a box of tonka beans (an intensely aromatic spice, with strong elements of marzipan and vanilla, with hints of cinnamon and raw tobacco – you can also read about her brave renovation of on old townhouse in Brussels here). I’ve used this spice before to make chestnut jam, but didn’t have any of these beans left, so I’m glad to have them back in the store cupboard as they are not so easy to find.
If anyone had ideas what to do with them, then I would love to hear your suggestions. Leave a comment or email to email@example.com.
In the meantime, I thought I would turn my hand to macarons flavoured with tonka bean. This time, I went all out. I had allowed the egg whites to age (I left them in a bowl in the fridge for a couple of days), and I used the “difficult” method to make the batter (using hot sugar syrup to make a cooked meringue). All this effort seemed to work well, as I ended up with a batch of perfect macaron shells. Smooth, shiny and crack-free!!! All in all, I was very happy with the result.
To fill the macarons, I used two different ganaches – one using white chocolate, and one based on dark chocolate. I thought this would be a good way to see whether tonka works better with white chocolate (which would emphasis the tonka flavour) or dark chocolate (where it would be more a care of the tonka complementing the dark chocolate).
These macarons were sublime. The flavour was just right – the aroma was in the shells and the filling, and it was sufficiently strong to be noticable but without be overpowering. Over time, the strong almond/vanilla notes mellowed, allowing some of the spicier notes to come out. If you are making these, just be sure to store in the fridge, but allow them to come to room temperature for eating so that the flavour is at its best.
And which was better? I can’t choose – the white chocolate has a stronger tonka aroma, but the dark chocolate is as good but tastes quite different. In short, I encourage everyone that has tried them to have one of each. No-one seems to mind.
Now…I just have to sit back and wait for someone to send me a tonka bean challenge!
For the tonka bean macarons:
• 1 tonka bean
• 150g ground almonds
• 150g icing sugar
• 110g egg whites (4 egg whites – but weigh them to be sure)
• 165g white sugar (granulated or caster)
• 35ml water
Use a nutmeg grater to grind a tonka bean. Sieve the powder finely and discard any larger pieces.
Combine the icing sugar, ground almonds and ground tonka in a bowl and sieve well. Set aside.
Put 55g of egg whites in a bowl. Whisk very lightly (they should remain liquid). Set aside.
Whisk the other 55g of egg whites until it reaches the firm peak stage.
Put the white sugar and water in a saucepan. Heat gently until it reaches the “soft ball” stage (118°C, or when you drop a little of the sugar into cold water, it forms a soft ball). I find this happens once all the sugar dissolves and the mixture boils. Once ready, pour in a thin stream into the whipped egg whites, beating continuously. This is best done using a Kitchen Aid or beater. Allow to cool to just above room temperature.
Add the remaining liquid egg whites to the almond mixture.
Add one-third of the meringue to the almond mixture and combine. Add another third, combine, then add the remainder of the meringue. With a light hand, mix well until you have a smooth, glossy batter.
Pipe the batter onto a sheet of greaseproof paper on a baking sheet. Leave to sit in the open for 20-30 minutes, then bake at 150°C for 15 minutes. Half-way through cooking, turn the baking sheet around.
Once cooked, remove from the oven and allow to cool on the baking sheet. Assemble the macarons with the filling of your choice.
For the chocolate ganache:
• 80g chocolate, finely chopped (dark or white)
• 60g double cream (if using dark chocolate) or 50g double cream (if using white chocolate)
• 1/2 tonka bean, finely ground
• 20g unsalted butter, at room temperature
Put the chocolate into a bowl.
In a saucepan, heat the cream with the tonka bean. Bring to the boil, allow to sit for a moment, then pour over the chocolate. Stir until the chocolate has melted and there are no lumps.
Finally, add the butter, and stir until smooth.
Allow the mixture to cool, and place into the fridge until set. Use in a piping bag to fill the macarons.
Worth trying? Macarons are always popular. The question here is whether they are worth trying with tonka? I think so. This is an unusual, very aromatic spice and macarons are a great way of showcasing the flavour without it becoming overpowering. Everyone that tried these loved them and commented on the unusual flavour. I would happily give these another go in the future.