Did you know that can you toss seven tonka beans into a river to make your wish come true? You can, but it's so much more fun to bake with them. Tonka beans are the seeds of Dipteryx odorata, a tree native to northern South America. The inch-long, black, wrinkly seed has a hard shell, but when grated on a Microplane, it smells sweetly like vanilla, for which it's sometimes used as a substitute, and almonds. (Tonkas also lend that sweet smell to perfume and pipe tobacco.) Though popular in other countries, in the United States tonka beans cannot be used in food, because they contain coumarin, an anticoagulant that can be toxic in large doses. If you have health challenges, please use caution; for most people, however, tonka beans used a pinch at a time present no danger, and enhance the flavor of baked goods with a slightly exotic flavor. Some cooks suggest substituting mahlab, or a mix of vanilla and almond extracts, if you find yourself tonka-free.
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Where to buy online:
Amazon.com ($4.95/1 oz)
How to use tonka beans:
Tonka bean spiced apple raspberry cake
Tonka bean and rice milk sherbet milkshakes
Chestnut and tonka bean brownies
Chocolate wontons and tonka bean ice cream
Meyer lemon mousse cake
Tonka pots de creme
Salted ginger molasses cookies
Peanut and tonka ice cream
Tonka bean spice snap cookies
Aimee of Under the High Chair sent me my first-ever tonka beans a few weeks ago, so I wanted to make one of the recipes from her blog. The original recipe makes four dozen cookies, but I used my ice cream scoop to form the cookies and made two dozen large ones.
3/4 cup butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup molasses
2 tsp white vinegar
3-3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp freshly grated ginger (or 3 tsp ground)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp grated tonka bean (approximately half of one bean)
1/4 tsp ground cloves
Pinch of kosher salt
Preheat oven to 325°F.
In a large mixing bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar. Stir in eggs, molasses and vinegar. Sift together the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, tonka bean, cloves and salt. Mix well, and, using a small ice cream scoop, make 24 balls, 12 on each cookie sheet, placed two inches apart. Sprinkle each cookie with a pinch of sugar. Bake 15-18 minutes, until tops have cracked and edges have started to brown.
Let cookies cool on the cookie sheets for 10 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack. When the cookies are thoroughly cooled, pack them in an airtight container. Can be frozen.
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