Smells like breakfast
Kirk Westwood, chef de cuisine of JAAN, shakes up the family favourite French toast with the intense woody and vanilla scents of the misunderstood tonka bean.
Native to Central America, tonka beans are seeds from the Fabaceae family that have an intense almond, nutty, vanilla and coffee-like fragrance. "Everybody's got a different idea [of what it reminds them of]," says chef de cuisine Kirk Westwood. Its complex smell comes from a chemical called coumarin, which is commonly used in perfumes as well. Coumarin may cause liver damage or paralyse the heart in large doses, which is why the tonka seed is a controlled food additive under U.S. food regulations.
However, the black wrinkled legumes have long been used in French cuisine although sparingly, as coumarin tastes bitter. To counteract this, Westwood uses the grated beans' vanilla properties to make an ice cream that is paired with the natural sweetness of the Sollies black figs from France and his rendition of Sunday morning pain perdu (French toast).
The dark purple-skinned Sollies black figs are considered royalty in the ficus carica genus of flowering plants—it is the only species that holds AOC (Appellation d'Origine Controle) status in France, a label given to produce that is representative of a particular region or terroir. Westwood shows the fruit off in three different ways in the Balsamic Roasted Black Figs with Tonka Bean Ice Cream: as jam, glazed and fresh.
His choice of using poilane bread, a dense sourdough, prevents the French toast from disintegrating when it is completely soaked with an egg and milk mix. A sous vide machine makes the permeating process quicker by removing the carbon dioxide in the bread so that the mix seeps into its place, but you can do the same at home by putting a weight on the poilane submerged in the mix and letting it sit for a few hours.
BALSAMIC ROASTED BLACK FIGS WITH TONKA BEAN ICE CREAM
- 3pcs tonka beans, grated (available at Hediard)
- 2gm fleur de sel
- SOOgm whole milk
- lOOgm sugar
- lOOgm egg yolk
- 200gm sugar
- 100ml port wine
- 1kg black figs, roughly chopped (figs can be replaced with blackberries or pear)
- 40gm egg yolk
- 40gm sugar
- 200gm double cream
- Vi vanilla pod
- 2pcs poilane bread, cut into 1cm x 6cm x 3.5cm each nob of clarified butter
- 12-year-old Italian balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp mascarpone
- 1 black fig
- 2 hanako flower tips
1. In a pan, combine tonka beans, fleur de sel and whole milk then bring to a boil.
2. In another pan, whisk together sugar and egg yolks until it gains a creamy consistency then pour in the milk mixture and heat it up to 84°C. Keep stirring to avoid overheating the mixture. Remove from heat when the mixture turns creamy.
3. Cool it over ice and freeze the mixture in an ice cream machine to make the tonka bean ice cream. Alternatively, leave the mixture in the freezer and take it out to whisk every 10 minutes to make ice cream.
4. Caramelise sugar in a thick-bottom pan at a constant temperature of 190°C. Avoid stirring to ensure caramel is smooth. When it starts to bubble, add in port wine and continue heating.
5. When it comes to a boil, add in black figs and let it simmer for 55 minutes until the mixture is reduced to a jam.
6. To make the pain perdu (French toast), whisk together egg yolks and sugar, then add in cream, and vanilla seeds and pod.
7. Sous vide poilane bread in the vanilla mixture for 3 hours then pan sear with clarified butter until both sides turn golden brown. Cut each into two.
8. To serve, spread fig jam on the plate and place two strips of pain perdu on top. Cut a fresh fig into half, glaze one side with aged balsamic vinegar in a pan for 3 minutes and slice the other thinly. Pipe small drops of mascarpone and more fig jam on the sides then place a quenelle of tonka ice cream, two thin slices of fresh fig and the glazed fig wedges. Sprinkle over Hanako flower buds.