Apple and Tonka Bean Crisp

Tonka bean crisp

04 Oct Apple and Tonka Bean Crisp

No peaking. Just answer the question. What are tonka beans? Are they:

a) a line of kids’ toys
b) an ancient Polynesian percussion instrument
c) urban slang for “I don’t care”

I’m just messing with you. Tonka beans are actually the seeds from a South America pea plant. They look a bit like a large, elongated raisin but are hard as a nutmeg. While they smell like sweet almond extract, their taste is elusive — floral with a hint of vanilla, cinnamon and something I just can’t pin down no matter how often I sample them. And believe me, I’ve been doing my primary research.

Oh yes, and they’re also banned in the US. “Why?!” you ask in total disbelief. Because they contain the toxin coumarin. Then again so do strawberries and cinnamon. Now, I’m not about to challenge the wisdom of the FDA, but they approve sleeping pills that list suicidal tendencies as a potential side effect but ban a bean you’d have to gobble by the fistful to feel the ill effects. So, I’m not exactly shaking in my kitchen clogs over this one. Besides, what’s a little coumarin between friends?

Anyway, here in Canada, tonka beans are perfectly legal. They aren’t officially sanctioned, but you can buy them without having to arrange a pick up in a dark alley. Julie Van Rosendaal sent me some last year (long before I vandalized her windows) and I’ve been meaning to try them. But when they arrived, I tucked them safely in a jar, stuffed them in a corner of my still pantry-less kitchen and forgot about them —  until Cheryl made her scones.

So, with apples on the counter and a chill in the air, I decided to ditch the cinnamon and nutmeg and try a Tonka bean crisp. The house smelled wonderful and the results had me scuttling back to the kitchen for more. And more. And just a bit more.

Banned beans and potentially toxic treats. I’m living on the edge here. Watch out! Next time you see me I’ll be running through the park in my bare feet waving scissors. And I don’t mean the kiddie kind.

 

 

Apple and Tonka Bean Crisp
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Serves: 6 to 8
 
Eat At Your Own Risk Apple Tonka Bean Crisp Makes 8ish servings. Maybe 6. Or 4 depending on your appetite. 8 apples, peeled, cored and cut into pieces (the type of apple is your choice, click here for ideas) 3 medium tonka beans, grated with a microplane or nutmeg grater (divided) 1 cup all-purpose flour 1 cup brown sugar 1 cup quick cook oats ¾ cup butter, cold, cubed Preheat oven to 350°F. Peel, core and chop the apples. Place in a greased, oven proof dish. Sprinkle half the grated tonka beans over the apples. Toss to coat evenly. Combine the flour, oats, and remaining grated tonka beans. Mix to blend. Cut in butter until it resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle oat topping on apples. Bake for 35 - 45 minutes. Eat warm or cold, with or without whipped cream, ice cream or creme fraiche.
Ingredients
  • 8 apples, peeled, cored and cut into pieces (the type of apple is your choice, click here for ideas)
  • 3 medium tonka beans, grated with a microplane or nutmeg grater (divided)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup quick cook oats
  • ¾ cup butter, cold, cubed
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Peel, core and chop the apples. Place in a greased, oven proof dish. Sprinkle half the grated tonka beans over the apples. Toss to coat evenly.
  3. Combine the flour, oats, and remaining grated tonka beans. Mix to blend. Cut in butter until it resembles coarse crumbs.
  4. Sprinkle oat topping on apples. Bake for 35 - 45 minutes.
  5. Eat warm or cold, with or without whipped cream, ice cream or creme fraiche.

18 Comments
  • Cheryl Arkison
    Posted at 09:36h, 04 October Reply

    Apple crisp! Great idea to add them there. I was doing it with peaches, but not apples. Yum!

    Oh Tonka Beans, I put them on everything!

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 10:22h, 04 October Reply

      You have me hooked. I’m going to be using them in LOTS of things. Hadn’t thought of peaches but it would be a perfect match.

      Oh, I can see me gaining weight from this experiment!

  • Andrea the Kitchen Witch
    Posted at 10:08h, 04 October Reply

    Never heard of a tonka bean!! It sounds delightful! if/when I find these illegal babies I’m totally going to make this, it looks divine!

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 10:23h, 04 October Reply

      I was totally intrigued by them. So aromatic and beguiling. If you ever make a trip to Canada, pick some up.

      I’m also going to be experimenting with diary-based desserts as the flavours seem a natural fit with milk, cream and eggs.

  • Amy Proulx
    Posted at 12:17h, 04 October Reply

    I had chocolate with tonka beans when working in Trinidad. It was magical! And I am still alive to speak about it. You are absolutely right, there are lots of food plants containing coumarin that we haven’t banned. I could go on and on about other things that are banned for rather arbitrary reasons…

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 12:32h, 04 October Reply

      Magical is a good way to describe the taste. It’s very familiar yet not…

      We can complain about arbitrary banning offline and over coffee sometime. In the meantime, everything in moderation — which when it comes to tonka beans is easier said than done.

  • Lora
    Posted at 16:07h, 04 October Reply

    Tonka Bean is one of my favorite things in the WORLD! When I open my own pastry shop I am going to have to find a way to mimic it by combining different flavors. Perhaps we should ban together to take on the FDA and get this unfounded accusation of their danger overturned.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 00:33h, 05 October Reply

      I’m lucky that the beans are available legally here. It’s strange what the FDA bans and allows. I suspect the Mexican vanilla fiasco played a role in this — but I’m not sure how long the beans have off limits for the FDA.

      If you ever come north of the border, you can always stock up :-)

      When are you opening your pastry shop? Be sure to post a link when you do! Good luck with this business venture.

      • Lora
        Posted at 04:35h, 05 October Reply

        I am living in France right now which is where I originally found out about tonka. I work in a patisserie and they actually make a tonka bean rice pudding that is delicious. And I found that you can actually BUY tonka in the US you just aren’t supposed to put it in food. Apparently it’s used for voodoo rituals and in perfumes. (which I totally want by the way, a perfume, not the voodoo.) I get back to the states next April and am hoping to work and save up for maybe two years until I open my own place, but we’ll see, I may not want to wait!

        • Charmian Christie
          Posted at 08:52h, 05 October Reply

          Tonka bean rice pudding? Sounds amazing.

          Love that tonka beans are available for voodoo (and perfume) but not pudding. Thanks for the tip.

          All the best with your patisserie ventures!

  • Anna
    Posted at 18:55h, 04 October Reply

    I’d like to try this sometime. I am not sure how to get this tonka bean in our area. It’s time I do a little research. I am sure to find one. This looks great, and I love apple crisps!

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 00:35h, 05 October Reply

      I was really surprised at how the beans worked with the apples. I thought the crisp would be bland, but it’s one of the best I’ve ever made. I am now itching to try all sorts of variations.

      Wish the internet had the ability to transmit tastes, not just text and images. Oh well, give Google time and we could be surprised.

  • Amanda S.
    Posted at 15:30h, 05 October Reply

    I’ve never heard of tonka beans, but now you have me curious. I’m going to have to hunt some down!

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 09:44h, 12 October Reply

      I only heard about them last year. They’re very aromatic. Good luck with your spice hunt.

  • (what runs) Lori
    Posted at 23:42h, 11 October Reply

    Wow. This sounds wonderful and looks even better! I’m going to have to try it out!

    :)

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 09:45h, 12 October Reply

      Thanks. The apple crisp was so good my sister asked for it for Thanksgiving. Easier than pie and just as good — if not better!

  • Maija Haavisto
    Posted at 19:14h, 28 April Reply

    I am planning to bake my favorite muffins, apple pie muffins, tomorrow, and as I just got my hands on some tonka beans today (finally!) I googled to see if anyone has ever used them in apple pie. Well, not surprisingly many people have! The first recipe I read used quite a bit less of them, though, just 3/4 of one, and I think it made more than this. I think I’ll go slow.

    I was amazed by how much they smell through the supposedly air-tightly sealed plastic bag!

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 00:11h, 30 April Reply

      Don’t tonka beans have an intoxicating aroma. I adore them and must use them again soon! Thanks for the reminder.

      Good luck with your muffins. I think you’ll love the results.

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