Thursday, February 18, 2016

Îles Flottantes / Floating Islands

Îles flottantes or Floating Islands is the intriguing name of this traditional French dessert.  Fluffy  poached meringue floating in chilled crème anglaise, garnished with shards of caramel. A summer dessert was my thought when I drooled over it first! Not that you need to wait for a particular season or reason to relish anything good! The soaring mercury levels just make ‘cool and sweet’ a much more welcoming thought.

Whether or not a particular recipe makes to my list of favorites is immaterial, a new technique is compelling enough to give it a try. Meringue is magical of course and I had never poached whipped egg whites.  So I did not waste any time making some orange crème anglaise, left in the fridge to thicken and chill really well . Washed and dried the bowl and beaters to whip the whites the next day.  I can be quite annoyingly obsessive here! 

Whenever I leave homemade custard to chill, I just can’t resist eating it by the spoonful.  But I do keep reminding myself that  it is a component of the dessert and I must stay away from it.  Just as well, this orange scented custard stayed in the fridge in my baking kitchen or it would not have made it!

It was amazing to see spoonfuls of whipped meringue puffing up like crazy within seconds when poached! You must watch this if you haven’ t yet. They tuned out spooky light and soft. The caramel is optional but added a very nice textural contrast, so do not skip it. It felt a bit weird to eat the poached meringue, but I might develop a taste for it!

This recipe is from Dorie Greenspan, from her book Baking – From My Home To Yours. Have taken Dorie’s very clear recipe ad verbatim from here

So this is how we go about it.    

For the Crème Anglaise:

Whole milk : 480 ml / 2 cups 
Egg yolks - 108 grams / 6 large (careful when you separate, keep the whites for the meringue)
Sugar - 100 grams / 1/2 cup
Pure vanilla extract 
1½ teaspoons

For the Islands:

Milk -  480 ml / 2 cups 
Egg whites - 120 grams / 4 large,  at room temperature
Cream of tartar - 1/2 teaspoon
Sugar - 50 grams / 1/4 cup

For the Caramel (optional)

Sugar - 100 grams / ½ cup sugar
Water - 80 ml / 1/3 cup 

To make the crème anglaise: Traditionally the milk used to poach the whites is used for making the custard, but if you love your custard chilled, make it at least 8 hours ahead.  For a detailed recipe with tips, please refer this post if making homemade custard for the first time.

Bring the milk to a boil.

Meanwhile, put the yolk and sugar in a heavy saucepan and whisk vigorously until thick and pale, 2 to 3 minutes. Still whisking, drizzle in a little of the hot milk — this will temper, or warm, the yolks so they won't curdle. Whisking all the while, slowly pour in the remaining milk. Put the saucepan over medium-low heat and, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, cook until the custard thickens, lightens in color and coats the spoon (this can take 10 minutes or so) — if you run your finger down the spoon, the track should remain. For this recipe, the crème anglaise should be cooked until it reaches 180˚F on an instant-read thermometer.

Immediately remove the pan from the heat, strain the custard into a bowl and stir in the vanilla extract. Press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the custard to create an airtight seal and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, or for up to 3 days. (The crème anglaise will improve with at least on overnight rest.)

To make the islands: Please read this post on separating and whipping whites if you have never whipped whites before.  Watch the above video about separating eggs. 

Spread a clean kitchen towel on the counter near the stove and have a large slotted spoon at hand. [The towel will help the floating islands drain after poaching.] Put the milk in a wide saucepan and bring it to a simmer over low heat.

Meanwhile, put the egg whites in the clean bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or use a large bowl and a hand mixer. Beat the whites on medium speed just until foamy. Add the cream of tartar. When the eggs turn opaque, increase the mixer speed to medium-high and add the sugar about 1 tablespoon at a time. Whip until the meringue is firm but satiny and still glossy.

You have two options in shaping the islands: you can just scoop up some meringue — specifically, an amount about twice the size of an egg — in which case you'll have the equivalent of a rocky volcanic island, or you can smooth the meringue to get a manicured island. For the smooth look, use a large oval spoon to scoop up the meringue, then use another large oval spoon to very gingerly transfer the meringue from spoon to spoon a couple of times to form a smooth oval. 

Do not worry about the shape of the ‘islands’ they are meant to look homey. So you have every excuse to forget that ‘neat’ bit! 

Either way, one by one, lower the islands into the simmering milk, adding only as many islands as you can fit into the pan without crowding. Poach the meringues for 1 minute, gently turn them over and poach 1 minute more, then lift the islands out of the milk and onto the towel. Repeat until you've poached 12 islands. Put the puffs (which will have inflated when poached and will deflate when cooled) on a wax paper-lined baking sheet and chill them for at least 1 hour, or for up to 3 hours.

To make the optional caramel: Decide whether you want to serve the meringues in one large bowl or six individual bowls, and have the bowl(s) at hand.

This needs to be made at the last minute literally before you pass on the bowl. Please do read this post if making caramel for the first time. 

Right before serving, stir the sugar and water together in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat, bring the sugar to a boil and cook without stirring, swirling the pan occasionally, until the caramel turns a pale gold color, 6 to 8 minutes or so. Pull the pan from the heat and let the caramel cool just until it is thick enough to form threads when it is dropped from the tines of a fork. (If the caramel hardens, rewarm it slowly over low heat.)

Either pour the crème anglaise into a large serving bowl and top with the meringue islands, or make six individual servings. If using the caramel, working quickly, dip the tines of a fork into the caramel and wave the fork over the floating islands to create threads that will quickly harden.

Serving: Once the dessert has been assembled, it should be served immediately.

Storing: You can make both the crème anglaise and the meringue puffs in advance and keep them chilled, but the assembled dessert won't keep.

I also read about baking the meringue for this desert and I am certainly going to be trying that as well! (I can see the French purists glare at me) Expect an update here on what I liked better – the baked meringue or the poached one!

Should you try this? If you love crème anglaise and everything eggy, absolutely!              
if making caramel for the first time

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