My love affair with tonka bean began after an epic trip to Paris a few years ago. Being led from one amazing restaurant to the next by a chef, we tasted countless memorable dishes, but the tonka bean panna cotta that we shared introduced us to a "new" taste entirely--and an undiscovered spice. The tonka bean tastes like vanilla, almond, nutmeg, and bourbon all in one--it is EVERYTHING you could WISH for in a spice! Needless to say, I found some to take home with me.
The taste is quite delicate and can easily be overpowered. It works very well with creams, custards, and shortbreads--vehicles that provide texture but allow added flavors to shine. The tonka bean shortbread, alone, is fantastic, but I decided to dress it up with sweet ricotta and blackberries. The shortbread is dry, rich, and dense; the homemade ricotta is moist, light, and lemony, and the blackberry adds a burst of texture and hint of Summer--the combination is a balanced bite of perfection.
Here's the recipe:
To create the classic melt-in-your-mouth texture of shortbread, set out your butter ahead of time in a large bowl and allow it to come to room temperature. Meanwhile, combine the flour, cornstarch, and tonka bean in a separate bowl. Once the butter is soft enough to easily whip using a whisk, add the salt and whip it to a smooth consistency. Then, mix in the sugar until smooth. And finally, slowly mix in the sifted flour combination a little at a time until it forms a smooth dough.
Butter a 9 x 13 in. baking pan and use your hands to knead the dough a little before transferring it to the pan. Distribute the dough evenly across the pan and use a toothpick to poke holes across the dough.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F and bake for 30 minutes. When ready, the shortbread will appear lightly browned on the top and edges. Once removed from the oven, allow it to cool for a couple minutes and then cut it into squares or wedges. (It's best to cut the cookies before they have cooled completely.) Allow the cut cookies to cool while you assemble the sweet cream and blackberries.
For the sweet ricotta, combine the ricotta and powdered sugar and mix until smooth. Then, using a piping bag, pipe the sweet ricotta on top of the shortbread; top with a blackberry; grate a pinch of tonka bean over the top; and serve.
Share and enjoy!