French Fridays with Dorie.
“Floating Island” is the English name for the French dessert “ île flottante” or “ œufs à la neige” . It uses a French custard dessert sauce called “crème anglaise” which when you translate it means “English creme”. Oh those crazy French. In my family Floating Islands was a storied dessert. One which we were told my grandmother would prepare for my mother and her sister when they were little girls by using the traditional preparation of poaching spoonfuls of meringue in a sweetened milk before floating them on a base of custard sauce.
My mom never, ever made it for us .
When I was of the age my mother was enjoying her Floating Islands we were heavily into the 1970’s health food scene and such sugary sweet desserts were not something we would enjoy.
“How would you like a piece of fruit for dessert or one of these carob chip cookies that taste like sawdust?”
Eventually we would relax the rigid house no-sugar rules but my mother still never rushed to make us Floating Island but it has remaind on my to-do list through the years having seen it made umpteen times on cooking shows. When it showed up on our French Fridays with Dorie radar I knew I was not going to let this one pass even if I have to post it on a Saturday. I wasn’t really looking forward to the messy milk poaching so when I read the recipe and saw Dorie’s method for cooking the meringue was to do so in one piece in a pan and cut later I was quite relived. Atta girl Dorie!
Because creme anglaise is essentially an uncooked ice cream custard I decided to serve it up in traditional ice cream dishes with a drizzle of caramel sauce topping. I suppose in a pinch you could do what I’ve seen Ina do and just use melted vanilla ice cream but I find that this makes for a way too sweet sauce and if there is one thing this dessert doesn’t need it is extra sweetness. In fact, I’ve toned down the sugar content from Dorie’s version and still found it too sweet.
The final preparation is very easy making it a winner for entertaining and a nice one to find a nice way to make it your own. (See recipe below for ideas.) I added a splash of bourbon the the creme anglaise (because nothing says Trevor like bourbon) and topped with a drizzle of caramel sauce. I would think a nice fruit liquor or run would work nicely as well. A last minute addition to these were some sliced nectarines to swim in the dish but they were gone much too fast for me to grab a photo. Quelle domage.
Floating Island (“île flottante”)
Once you get the basics of this dessert down I would encourage you to adapt it and make it your own. Creme Anglaise is essentially unfrozen ice cream custard, something I got down to a science thanks to my devotion to David Lebovitz. For this dessert, however, I would suggest using a tad less sugar than seems right for an ice cream. For me a splash of bourbon is all I need to make any recipe “my own”. A highly recommended addition that ties in nicely with the caramel sauce if you top with that…even if it is not all that French.
Shown here with meringues topped with caramel sauce, floating island can be served drizzled in chocolate and crunch candy or served with a scoop of chocolate ice cream and cookies. Recipe for a quick microwave caramel sauce can be found here .
This is what you will need:
- 6 large egg yolks
- 1/2 cup sugar (or slightly less if you are me)
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- pinch salt
- 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
- 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter (optional)
- 2 Tbsp. bourbon, rum or another liqueur (optional.)
- 6 large egg whites at room temperature
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
This is how you make it:
- Heat the milk in a small sauce pan on the stove top but don't let it boil. Whisk the egg yolks in a 2-quart bowl, adding the sugar steadily as you whisk and continue beating 2 to 3 minutes until the mixture is pale yellow and thick.
- Slowly, dribble in the hot milk--stirring, not beating, because you do not want the sauce to foam. Go slowly so as not to cook the eggs with the heat from the hot milk.
- After the milk has been added to the egg mixture completely return the mixture to the saucepan using a rubber scraper to get all of it.
- Set the saucepan over moderately low heat, stirring rather slowly with the wooden spoon, and reaching all over the bottom and sides of the pan. The sauce will heat up not simmer and will thicken as it heats. The sauce is done when it coats the wooden spoon with a light creamy layer thick enough to hold when you draw your finger across it.
- Remove from the heat at this point and stir in the vanilla, the butter if you are using it, and the bourbon. Let come down to room temperature and then cover and chill. When ready to use give it a good stir. Serve slightly chilled or at room temperature.
- Center a rack in the oven and heat to 250 degrees. Prepare a 9 inch springform pan by buttering it and dusting with granulated sugar and tapping out the excess. Wrap the bottom of the pan snuggly with several sheets of aluminum foil coming half way up the side and set aside until ready for it.
- Whip the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Add a pinch of salt and continue beating at medium speed until the start to thicken. Add sugar gradually. Whites will get glossy and start to hold firm peaks. Add vanilla and continue beating until fully incorporated.
- Scrape the meringue into the prepared pan and smooth over with spatula.
- Put springform pan into roasting pan and add hot water to reach half way up the side of the pan. Put in the oven and bake for 40 minutes. Top should be firm to the touch. Don't worry if the meringue is ever so slightly browned as I think that adds nice interest to the finished dish.
- Remove from the oven and carefully remove meringue pan from roasting pan being careful to let all water drain out. Remove foil so water can drain. Carefully wrap new foil around pan and let cool to room temperature and then chill at least one hour or overnight.
- When ready, carefully remove meringue from pan to a cutting board and cut into wedges or squares.
- Pour creme anglaise into shallow bowls or plates and top with a slice or meringue. Drizzle caramel sauce, chocolate sauce, praline crumbles, etc. or just add a scoop of chocolate ice cream. Sliced plumbs or nectarines would be inspired as well.
You can make both the meringue and the creme anglaise a day in advance.