Soft and sweet, creamy and mild- with a little toasty crunch.
Îles flottante (floating islands) is a dessert that combines marshmallowy meringues in a pool of vanilla bean crème anglaise topped with a drizzle of caramel and sprinkle of almond pralines.
Crème anglaise is a good thing to have in your repertoire as it can be used for so many things. For example, this pourable custard can be nice on a plate with flourless chocolate cake, with fruit, or with crêpes and berries. The only problem is that it takes attention and plenty of stirring so it remains smooth. Scrambled eggs in a sweet cream isn't such an appetizing concept.
As a little addendum, I was thinking that I would try to cook a different color every month. January will officially be white month (it seems appropriate). It's somewhat of a challenge to myself, but it also gives me a direction to go.
And I'm sorry, I can't promise there will ever be a "blue" month.
serves 6 or 7
1 1/2 c (375 ml) whole milk
1/2 c (125 ml) half and half (or light cream)
1 vanilla bean, sliced lengthwise and seeds scraped
5 large eggs
1 3/4 plus 1/3 c sugar (240 g), divided
1/2 c (45 g) sliced almonds
To make crème anglaise:
Whisk together the milk, half and half, salt, seeds and vanilla pod in a medium saucepan.
Separate the eggs with the 5 yolks in a medium bowl and 4 whites in another medium bowl (reserve the last white for another use). Whisk 1/3 c (70 g) of sugar into the yolks about a minute or until the two are well combined. Set the yolk mixture next to the stove and set the whites aside.
Have a large bowl of ice water at the ready to use as an ice bath for the finished custard.
Heat the milk mixture over medium-low heat until small bubbles appear along the sides of the pan and the mixture visibly steams a bit. Pour about 1/3 of the milk mixture slowly into the yolk mixture, whisking all the while to temper the yolks and keep them from scrambling. Pour the milk and yolk mixture back into the pan with the remaining milk and whisk to combine. Using a rubber spatula, stir the crème anglaise fairly constantly, scraping the sides and bottom of the pan. When the custard has thickened enough so that it coats the back of a spoon (I like it about the thickness of heavy whipping cream), remove the pan from the heat and pour through a fine mesh strainer into a medium bowl and stir in 1/2 t (a small splash) of vanilla extract. Place the small bowl in the larger bowl of ice water so it stops the cooking process. Stir occasionally until cool, cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
To make the caramel sauce:
Place 3/4 c (160 g) sugar in a small saucepan with 1/4 c (60 ml) water. Tilt the pan so that all the sugar is dampened. Heat the pan over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved, but to not stir the mixture. Let the sugar mixture continue cooking until it begins to caramelize. Once you see the caramelization begin, tilt and swirl the pan to distribute the color evenly throughout the mixture. Continue cooking, swirling and tilting occasionally until the caramel is a dark amber color. Remove the pan from the heat and add 1/4 c (60 ml) water and 1/2 t (a small splash) of vanilla extract. The caramel will solidify somewhat and sputter a bit. When it stops bubbling place the pan back on the heat and stir so that the caramel melts. When the caramel reaches about 230 degrees F/110 C (thread stage), remove the pan from the heat and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F/175 C.
To make the almond pralines:
Working quickly, combine 2-3 T (30-45 ml) of warm caramel sauce with the sliced almonds. Spread the mixture onto a parchment paper lined pan and bake in the preheated oven 8-10 minutes until toasted and golden. Set aside to cool completely, then break up the pralines into pieces.
Reduce the oven temperature to 250 degrees F/120 C.
To make soft meringues:
With an electric hand blender, beat the 4 egg whites along with a pinch of salt until very frothy. Continue beating while adding 1/2 c (110 g) sugar in a slow and continuous stream. When the egg whites reach the soft peak stage, add 1/2 t (a small splash) vanilla extract and continue beating until the whites are stiff and glossy at the firm peak stage. Using two spoons, scoop at least 18 mounds (a bit larger than a golf ball) of meringue onto a large parchment paper lined sheet pan. Bake 20 minutes and remove the pan from the oven. Cool completely.
Spoon 1/4-1/3 c (60-80 ml) crème anglaise onto a small plate or shallow bowl. With dampened fingers, remove 3 finished meringues from the sheet pan and place them on top of the pool of crème anglaise. Using a spoon, drizzle the islands with caramel and finish by sprinkling with almond pralines.
(If the caramel is too stiff to drizzle when it comes time to use it, heat and stir over low with a small splash of water. It should be fairly easy to use within a couple minutes.)