Tonka Bean Semifreddo Recipe

Hello everyone, hope you are all enjoying the blooming spring. We’re heading into the time of the year where it is becoming rather indecent not to have a pint of ice cream hidden in the depths of the freezer for those moments when sun comes out in all its glory and all you want to do is sit outside and indulge into a frozen cream, custard or yogurt. Last year was our first summer in Switzerland and by the time June came around we were quite literally cooking, which meant banana ice cream topped with granola for breakfast and all sorts of frozen concoctions throughout the day. ana_May_02

Having a job that keeps me thinking about food almost every day, I am always on the lookout for interesting ingredients to work with. Now, for those who do not know, I happen to live in the beautiful Swiss countryside where more exotic ingredients aren’t always easy to come by, so when the lovely lady selling spices in our market procured some tonka beans, I jumped and bought them all.

Tonka bean is a curious little thing. It has a particular taste somewhere between almond and vanilla that comes even more alive once a little vanilla is added to it. There are even very delicate tobacco notes that are barely felt, but it makes for a more interesting spice altogether.


Tonka beans work not only in sweet things where they can be baked in or just grated on top of desserts to finish them off. They are great with shellfish, though I feel a note should be made here. When it comes to vanilla undertones and shellfish the world is divided into two groups: one says they should never be seen together and the other thinks it’s like biting into a piece of heaven (when done well, of course). I belong to the latter, having tried scallops with vanilla hollandaise some four years ago and still dreaming about it to date, so I would surely recommend giving this flavur marriage a try.

If you have never worked with tonka beans on the other hand, dessert is a good place to start and a semifreddo is a wonderful way to showcase its flavor (and keep in your freezer for when the sun is out). The art of making a semifreddo is rather basic. You need to beat the eggs over a double boiler till they become light and fluffy (cooking them at the same time) and after tossing with some cream freeze completely, though it will start melting almost immediately after leaving the freezer so do take it out the last minute. I like to add a bit of crunch to my semifreddo in the form of meringues and berries for freshness, but it will taste great on its on too.

SHOPPING LIST: 2 egg yolks 1 egg 4 tbsp sugar 2 tonka beans, grated 1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped out 1 cup/ 250 ml Meringues (optional) 2 egg whites, room temperature pinch of salt 1/2 cup/115 g caster sugar berries to serve edible pansies, to serve (optional)

PREPARE To make the semifreddo, line a large tin (or 6 small ones) with cling film. Set aside. Place a heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water with eggs, sugar, grated tonka beans and scraped vanilla seeds beating for 5-6 minutes, till thick, pale and double in volume. Take off the heat and continue to beat for a minute or two, till the bowl cools down. To speed things up, you can place the bowl over ice. In a chilled bowl beat cream till soft peaks. Fold the whipped cream into eggs. Pour into tin and freeze for at least 3-4 hours.

To make the meringues, preheat the oven to 110C/ 250F. Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt till stiff peaks. Gradually add the sugar beating very well after each addition. Then continue to beat till the meringue looks thick and glossy, but do not overbeat. Pipe out mini meringues on a lined sheet and bake for 1 hour. Then switch off the oven and let them cool completely.

To serve, take out the semifreddo, top with berries, meringues, pansies and serve immediately.


Enjoy the sun and frozen treats, I will be back with another recipe on 15th June! -Gintare

(Photography, Recipe, Text: Gintare Marcel)