About a month ago I came across a recipe on a blog called Illegally Delicious Plum Preserves Infused with Tonka Bean… cool, but what was a Tonka bean? I had never heard of it… turns out it is the seed of a tree (Dipteryx odorata) fromVenezuela. The seed looks like a large, dark brown shriveled almond that is used as a spice in some high end restaurants, also as an ingredient in some perfumes and also is utilized in one way or another in some Central/South American cultures.I am not interested in the other uses, but as a new spice to use in my cooking- I want to try it! One small problem… the FDA has banned it since 1954! It seems that the seeds contain Coumarin, and if it is taken in a large quantity at one sitting it could kill you. To possibly do harm to one self you would have to eat 30 tonka beans at one sitting which just isn’t going to happen! It’s kind of like eating 30 whole nutmeg… you just don’t do it! (I do have 30+ nutmeg in my kitchen though!) As a spice, you would only use may be half of a Tonka bean. Thank you FDA for protecting us, but this ban seems a little excessive!
After a quick internet search, I found the beans for sale on Amazon (of course) as well as eBay, etsy and a few other sites- and within a few days they were in my mailbox! It is hard to describe the aroma of the beans as I grated some up on my microplane… flowery, warm, a bit of vanilla note in there. I figured they’d be good in the spice muffins that I was making! The problem with that is I use so many other spices that it was hard for me to pick out the one flavor in the muffin, but they were good! I decided that I needed to make a dessert and only use Tonka Bean so I could really taste what I was getting… thus Tonka Bean Creme Brulee!
Tonka Bean Creme Brulee
- 1 quart (4 cups) heavy cream
- 8 egg yolks (room temperature)
- 3/4 cup white sugar
- One half of a Tonka Bean (or live on the wild side and use a whole one!) Use a microplane to grate.
Preheat oven to 325f, start some water boiling in a kettle for the water bath and make sure your eggs are at room temperature so your creme brulee texture is smooth!
Heat the cream, sugar and Tonka Bean in a saucepan over medium heat until it starts to boil. Turn off heat a and set aside.
Separate egg yolks into mixing bowl and slowly whisk in the cream mixture to temper it. The grated Tonka Bean tends to sink, so make sure to pour all of cream mixture in!
Pour into ramekins. (My ramekins hold about 5 oz, so I poured mixture into 9 bowls)
Set ramekins into a water bath (I use a lasagne pan filled halfway with boiling water) and bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until lightly set.
Let cool on the counter to room temperature, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3 hours or more.
To serve, sprinkle 1 teaspoon of white sugar on top of each ramekin and using a kitchen torch, caramelize the sugar and serve. A plumbers propane torch works well for this too!
The Tonka Bean flavor is still very hard to describe, but I do get warm, flowery vanilla and a bit of cinnamon. I had my family taste testers try this and they are ready for me to make another batch!
My cache of nutmeg that I mentioned earlier is whole nutmeg that I had shipped from Jamaica!
Each nutmeg is covered in a hard shell that resembles a pecan. They are easily opened by a firm tap with the handle of a knife. On the outside of the shell is a paper thin coating that is actually Mace! Interesting!