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Monday 11 October 2010

Tonka Bean Ice-Cream

Something about the fact that tonka beans are banned by the USFDA makes this ice-cream seem dirty, sexy and illicit. Which makes me love it even more.

I have been re-appraising my feelings about Paris since this post. I was there again recently, the weather was perfect, and strolling round with Erasure playing on my iPod, I fell quite in love with the city. I may have been helped along by the amazing fig tart that I had at Jocteur, a place I found tucked away in a place I rarely venture, but will be revisiting, but even so. Consider my opinions momentarily changed!

(Stop laughing at my Erasure confession. They are highly underrated.)

One of the things I do really like to do whilst in Paris is to hit up (I have become an American) G. Detou for vanilla beans. In Cardiff, if I try really hard I can just about find a bottle of Madagascan vanilla extract, though it may cost half of my salary; at G. Detou, I can get little glass tubes of vanilla beans and choose if I want them to be from Madagascar or Tahiti. What can I say? I like to have a choice.

Anyway, just recently, I noticed that in addition to selling vanilla, the shop also stocks 'fèves tonka', and that I had no idea what they were.

Now, reader, if we were ever to go speed dating (which is unlikely in the extreme, but go with me on this), and we each had to reveal what our weaknesses were, my confession would be that I am unable to walk away from 'new' foods, especially herbs and spices. Sometimes this works to my advantage and I end up with something I like (say it with me now: 'harissa'); other times, I am left, months later, with a bag of unused rubbish (one word: 'matcha' - it doesn't work in cupcakes, and are we really all about to start practicing tea ceremony at home? Exactly).

There is no getting away from it: they resemble dead beetles.

The tonka beans may fall into the first category, though there is the potential for them to end up in the second as well. It depends if I am able to get over my current distaste for crème brulée or not, since I think tonka is definitely a flavour to be used in creamy desserts.

In case you too are like me, and have no idea what a tonka bean is, our good friend Mr. Wiki will talk you through it. All I would add is that while I agree with the likening of their aroma to vanilla and almond, I can't detect any cinnamon flavour at all. In fact, the fragrance reminds me of the preserved cherry blossom leaves used to wrap sakura mochi more than anything else.

I made this ice-cream to serve with some melting chocolate fondants, for which you will get the recipe shortly, but in all honesty, you could serve it alone. I mean that in both contexts. Some things are too good to share.

Tonka Bean Ice-Cream

You will need:

5 egg yolks
600ml single cream
125g caster sugar
1 tonka bean, grated

  1. Heat the cream and grated tonka bean together over a medium heat. Stir every now and again, and do not let the cream boil. When it's nice and steamy, turn the heat off and clamp a lid on. Allow to infuse for 5-10 minutes.
  2. In a medium sized bowl, beat the egg yolks with the sugar. You don't need to incorporate air, just make sure that the two are well mixed.
  3. Pour the hot cream onto the yolks, stirring constantly to prevent any scrambling. You could strain the cream first, but I like the tonka bean flecks.
  4. Rinse and dry the pan used to heat the cream, then pour the custard back into it and heat gently, stirring constantly, until thick and creamy. Aim for the texture of thick cream, and never allow it to boil.
  5. Remove from the heat, pour into a bowl and cool. Then freeze according to your ice cream maker's instructions.


  1. Yay! A new post...! Missed you Mr. P!!!! How was Italy???

  2. how thoroughly exotic and a little bit naughty... lovely pics again... glad you're feeling better about Paris, it is a beautiful city, you just have to search for it quite hard x

  3. I've missed your posts, too!

    Tonka beans sound fabulous... I really missed out on a lot of great shopping opportunities the one time I was in Paris... Sigh.... :)

  4. Lovely looking ice cream & thanks for the tip on the Tonka Beans, they sound interesting & I might try to seek some out :)

  5. I think I'll pick some up when we go to Europe next summer and smuggle it back to the States. I've never heard of anyone getting busted for smuggling Tonka.

  6. I haven't even had my coffee yet but that ice cream look scrumptious.

    And Paris with Erasure as a background sounds fabulous! I am dying to go there next year.

  7. They do look like dead beetles. But they probably taste way better. Tonka... Sounds like slang for an illegal substance. 'Shootin up some Tonka... Ice cream'. Ha. Seriously though, I admire your uncontrollable curiosity of new ingredients. I think it's the best way of learning about food and exploring how flavours can work together or against each other. Next time can we do eggless ice cream, P? Pretty please?

  8. The first time I ever heard about Tonka Beans was while at a candle party. It was the newest scent they were selling. Honestly, it smelled fantastic so I would probably be tempted if I came across a bottle of these beans. The ice cream looks superb.

  9. Not only does this look amazing and beckons to me with its "not approved by the FDA" come hither stare, thanks to you and Wikipedia, I now have a new fact about anticoagulants that will impress everyone at clinical tomorrow. Win!

    Glad to have you back, Mr. P!

  10. Hey Mr P... just filmed 2 episodes of the new series of Market Kitchen as their guest blogger and this week it was all about South Wales and i'm sitting there thinking 'I know who should be on here...' You should give them a call!... just waiting for them to do one on Lincolnshire, which is doubtful! anyway, here's a link to my blog explaining more (hope you don't mind the self publicity!) http://belleaukitchen.blogspot.com/2010/10/market-kitchen-my-big-adventure.html

  11. Hey, I went to G'Detou for a nose and came out with tonka beans too!Like you I got a whole bunch of stuff, that I still haven't used. I used the tonka beans to make a pistachio marble cake, but I haven't yet been wowed by the flavour.

    p.s. it is cool that they're banned by the FDA!

  12. I've never seen this stuff for sale... it can kill you apparently??

  13. as to the comment"it can kill you" comment..so can nutmeg, almond kernals ,( am pretty sure if sucked on a vanilla bean for a while you wouldnt feel great either). and many other common kitchen ingrediants are considered poisonous, canola oil when heated is considered one of the most actively poisonanous fats in the world.. I think you have to eat a kilo of tonka beans to have any affect. Really wish everyone would relax about Tonka Beans they are great!

    1. Indeed. Liver failure is way overrated anyhow. :)

      Seriously, though, tonka beans are delicious, but it's inferior to vanilla in every way. The one advantage is that it's MUCH cheaper. Which is a quality in its own right.

  14. Interesting recipe but totally unworkable - it's such a shame that people feel the need to copy other recipes and put them up as their own without actually working them ???

    1. Say what? Unworkable? I just made some ice cream and gave the method. Didn't copy anyone.

      I think you are a troll. How embarrassing.


That's what he said.

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