Ina First Fridays: ÎleFlottante (Floating Island)
Welcome to another Ina First Friday. Desserts are the subject this month and I've chosen an old family favorite. My mother made it for us when we were children and I have her original recipe. The only change I've made over the years is I now bake the meringues, à la Ina, much simpler than poaching them in milk as my mother did. Besides, I love shaping the meringues into peaks which, when baked, are touched with a little color.
Americans don't make this dessert much, unhappily. It was originally a French nursery dessert called île flottante: a single "island" of meringue floating in a "sea" of crème anglaise. Oeufs à la neige is another name used, indicating many small eggs floating rather than one large one. I have enjoyed this dish often when in France (where it is more commonly found on a dessert menu than in the U.S.); they usually serve a large square island floating in the crème anglaise. It makes sense for a restaurant to make portions in a large pan rather than individual "islands". The rare times I have found it on a menu in this country, they try to improve it with the addition of fruit; it doesn't work. Why mess with perfection? This dessert is better the way it was served in the nursery: plain and simple. If you're in a rush, skip the caramel. It's still ambrosial.
From Ina Garten, 2004, Barefoot in Paris. EPISODE:Rehearsal Dinner
Ingredients for the meringues:
2/3 cups sugar, divided
1 cup water, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract, divided
8 extra-large egg whites, at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Ingredients for the Creme Anglaise:
4 extra-large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 3/4 cups scalded milk
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or 1 teaspoon vanilla)
1 1/2 teaspoons Cognac (I don't add this)
Ingredients for the caramel sauce:
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup water, divided
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Make the Creme Anglaise:
Beat the egg yolks and 1/3 cup sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium-high speed for 3 minutes, or until very thick. Reduce to low speed, and add the cornstarch. With the mixer still on low, very, very slowly pour the hot milk into the eggs. Pour the custard mixture into a saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until thickened. The custard will coat the spoon like heavy cream. Don't cook it above 180 degrees F or the eggs will scramble! Pour the sauce through a fine strainer, add the vanilla bean paste and Cognac, if using and then chill. Yield: 2 cups
Make the meringues:
Set the oven to 250 degrees F. Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper.
For the meringues, beat the egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment on medium speed until frothy. Turn the mixer on high speed and add the remaining 1 cup of sugar. Beat until the egg whites are very stiff and glossy. Whisk in the remaining teaspoon of vanilla. With dessert spoons place 12 mounds of meringue on the parchment paper and bake for 20 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.
Make the Caramel sauce:
Mix 1 and 1/2 cups sugar with 1/2 cup water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir with a wooden spoon and boil over medium heat until it turns a caramel color. Remove from heat and add another 1/2 cup of water and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla. It will bubble up, so be careful. Return to the heat and cook until it reaches 230° on a candy thermometer. Set aside until ready to use.
For serving, pour creme anglaise on the bottom of individual plates. Place a meringue on top of each serving, drizzle with caramel sauce.