Tag Archives: tonka

Tonka Bean Macarons

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 london.eats.blog@gmail.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.

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Chestnut jam with tonka bean

I recently became the proud owner of a couple of pounds of Kent chestnuts. It’s just too cold and dark to make something as predictable as a nut loaf so I was on the  lookout for something more exciting. Then I remembered a recipe that I’d quickly scribbled down when visiting my friend S in Brussels – chestnut jam with tonka bean.

The mystery element here was the tonka(*). By chance (meaning “on purpose, for for the day I make the chestnut-tonka thing”) I have a jar of tonka beans at the back of the cupboard. The beans are dry, black and hard with a strong vanilla/tobacco/almond aroma. I tend to put two or three times the amount of spices in recipes as I like things to be flavourful and aromatic, but tonka seems so strong that it would be prudent to use the suggested half-teaspoon (on balance, the right call – the finished jam had a subtle marzipan-like flavour but was not overpowering).

* Tonka is prohibited for food use in the United States!

HOW TO MAKE IT

Set aside an afternoon for this – you will be back and forth to the kitchen for a couple of hours.

• 2 kg chestnuts
• 1-1.5 kg sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon ground tonka bean
• water

Make a cross on each chestnut (removing any bad ones) and boil for around 10 minutes. Drain the chestnuts and peel off the tough outer skin.

Return the chestnuts to a pan and boil for a further 45 minutes, and then drain and peel the inner skin (again removing any bad nuts).

Weigh the chestnuts, nothing the weight, and return to a pan with cold water (for each kilo of chestnuts, add 750 ml of water).

Gently warm the mixture, bring to the boil, and then purée with a hand blender (careful, it’s hot!). At this stage, it will look a rather unappealing grey-brown translucent goo.

Now add the sugar – add the same amount of sugar as the weight of the chestnuts (or less if you prefer a less sweet jam) and the ground tonka bean. Stir well and cook for 15 minutes or until you have a thick paste which becomes firm when you put some in a saucer. Just remember that, unlike fruit jam, you won’t get a “set”. Once ready, put into sterile jars and seal.

Now enjoy the jam on crêpes, croissants or with yoghurt.

To sterilise jars: wash in hot, soapy water, and then rinse very well – do not dry them. Now place up-side down on the shelf of a cold oven, and heat to 120°C / 250°F for at least 20 minutes. Remove from the oven using gloves, and fill with the jam. Leave the jars in the warm (not hot!) oven until you need them, as the glass is less likely to crack from the hot jam if the glass is at a similar temperature. You should also sterilise the lids by washing in hot, soapy water, then rinsing well and then boiling in a pot of hot water for five minutes.

WOULD I MAKE IT AGAIN?

All through the cooking process (a good few hours), I though “never again”. The chestnut purée was an unappealing grey sludge with little flavour. However, once the sugar and the tonka went in, the mixture transformed into the beautiful creamy confection I was hoping for and the whole house smelled of  marzipan. Today I finally had some on a croissant – and the result was spectacular. This is a keeper! And S will be getting a jar next time I am in Brussels.

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