Cherries poached in a tonka bean syrup.


Tonka Beans

Tonka Bean can be used instead of vanilla pod. Its flavour is warm and complex adding a darker note than vanilla.

 I was first introduce to Tonka beans by Orlando Murrin who gave a talk and demonstration at Stirring Stuff as part of the Henley Literary Festival . Promoting his fabulous book  about living his dream in rural France.

 ‘A Table in the Tarn: Living, Eating and Cooking in Rural France’,  Orlando Murrin and  Johnathan Buckley (photographer).    March 1st 2009 by Stewart, Tabori & Chang (first published April 7th 2008)

 Our role for these events was to buy and prepare ingredients for the author demonstrators and then to assist them during their demonstrations.  We duly received author recipes a couple of weeks before the event  –  Orlando’s list of ingredients for his demonstration of ‘Forgotten Cookies’, sent us into something of a tail spin – what on earth is a Tonka bean and where in the UK can they be found?  Preliminary research suggested that these beans might even be poisonous and a banned substance – a bit risqué for our small cookery rural cookery school! 

Further investigation suggested that these interesting beans are valued for their complex and  dark vanilla aroma. They were in popular demand up until the mid 1940,s used predominantly for flavouring liquors, confectionary and chocolate. Their activate flavour constituent is Coumarin which is found in several plants, including tonka beans, lavender, liquorice, strawberries, apricots, cherries, cinnamon, and sweet clover. The flavour is described as something between vanilla and hay.  Coumarins were banned as a food additive in the USA in 1954 over  concerns that they might caused liver problems. However the amount used is minute and Tonka Beans are available  in the UK as a specialist ingredient. I buy mine from

I love their complex warm flavour and can attest to their enhancement of  confectionary and sweet dishes particularly those containing  chocolate. Perhaps it is because coumarins are already present in cherries that tonka bean brings such a depth of flavour to this simple recipe.

 The Henley Literary festival has expanded its repertoire and now incorporates the Henley on Food Festival , dedicated to Food and Cookery writers.

Cherries poached in a Tonka Bean syrup

Serves 6-10

800g fresh red or black cherries

100ml caster sugar

100ml water

1/4 of a Tonka bean grated or half a vanilla pod


Pit the cherries and remove the stalks.


Remove the stalks and pit the cherries

Put the sugar, water and tonka bean or vanilla pod into a wide based pan that will fit the cherries  evenly without layering (see picture below).

Over a moderate heat melt the sugar and the bring the syrup to the boil. Add in the cherries and pop a lid over the pan. simmer gently for five minutes and then remove the pan form the heat and allow the cherries to cool on the syrup.


Make the sugar syrup in a wide based high sided sauté pan large enough to hold the cherries with layering.


Once cooled you can refrigerate the cherries for up to 24hours before serving but do serve them at room temperature.

Serve with

They go extremely well with fresh caramel cream. Click the link to caramel semi fredo and follow the recipe for the caramel cream only.Caramel Semifreddo

Alternative idea: Caramel Cherry Pavlova


Poached Cherry Pavlova

Or you could make a sumptuous  Caramel Cherry Pavlova; simply pile the whipped caramel cream on top of a freshly baked 4-6  egg Pavlova.

Drain the cherries from the cooking syrup reserving the syrup and set aside a third of the cherries  to make  coulis.  Pile the rest of the drained cherries on top of the cream.

Put the reserved 1/3 of the cherries into a blender with a few tablespoons of the cooking syrup and blitz  to a coulis consistency. Pour the coulis over the cherries and cream. Decorate with fresh cherries and grated dark chocolate.



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