They both seem to be illegal. Many question why the one or the other (and if you agree with Alice B. Toklas – both! ) is outlawed in the first place. The fine folks at the FDA should be able to explain… Anyhow, about this rice pudding and these Tonka Beans. What are they? Everyone I excitedly spoke to on the subject had the same question.
Well I trawled the internet for everyone’s benefit, and came up with the following stats: The beans are from a South American tree, and contain the chemical compound coumarin. This is responsible for their fantastic sweet caramelly-vanilla-almond essence smell. (It’s also responsible for that sweet ‘freshly mown lawn’ smell. Hmm. If you eat about a cup of them, your liver is going have a very hard time, and you can apparently die! If you eat that much nutmeg, the same will probably happen. Thats if you can actually bring yourself to eat so much of the aphrodisiacal spice, before becoming, erm…distracted. Moving on. They work well everywhere you’d probably use vanilla, and I especially appreciate them for the extra almondy-caramel depth they lend to creamy desserts. The Atlantic has an excellent article about them, and an interview with Grant Achatz, who got hit up by the FDA (or, Spice Police) for using them.
The method for the rice pudding is one I learnt from Pete Goffe-Wood, who does a masterful rendition involving mandarin and cardamom, and has customers swooning in droves.
Whats good about this rice pudding is that you get credit for doing very little, and it works without fail. Start on the hob, and dissolve 1/2 cup castor sugar with a knob of butter – cooking this until a light butterscotchy caramel develops – any further and the caramel will overshadow the scent and caramel taste of the Tonka beans. Now, pour in a cup of pudding (arborio/carnaroli) rice. It will soon look like the biggest disaster you’ve ever created in a pot. But it’s cool. This is going to work out. Add a cup of cream and 5 (yes) cups of milk. Grate in 1/4 – 1/2 Tonka bean and stir a little until you can at least wedge the caramel rice clump off the spoon. Add lemon zest or a pinch of cinnamon according to what rocks your boat. Then, put the entire saucepan in a low oven (about 150C).
Have/prepare dinner, drink wine and so forth for 2 1/2 hours, whilst the rice slowly soaks up the milky goodness and forms this lava-like skin over the top of the pudding which is TO DIE FOR. When fully set, remove from oven carefully and portion out equally, with an extra spoon for the chef. A pudding for days when vanilla just won’t cut it.