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

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Easiest Rough Puff Pastry! For Beginners

The onset of winters and the nip in the late evening air invariably reminds me of puff pastry. When I wash my hands after dinner, the icy cold water tells me it is a good time to try a new recipe for it! I have made this recipe by Alice Medrich a few times and loved it.  This time I wanted to try an easier recipe and to my delight came across this really simple one which the Daring Bakers had baked last year. Winter, ruefully, was almost gone by the time I finally got around to making it. Michel Roux will be shocked and disapprove as I made it in temperatures which he says is sauna for puff pastry! Well,  just until we install that AC in the kitchen! Was happy nonetheless with the outcome considering how easy it is! Surely am going to be making this recipe quite often, winter or not. 

Classic puff pastry of course is quite an involved and lengthy process, rough puff is much easier. Particularly in this recipe, the small quantity makes it easier to roll and fold and generally makes it easier to handle the pastry. If the quantity is large, the dough needs to be rolled into longer dimensions, slightly tricky to handle, more chances of tearing the dough. Here the cold butter is simply cut into the flour - as you would for a pie crust. And then the dough is given a few turns after chilling in between. And the results are not bad at all! So if you have never made puff pastry, here is the perfect recipe to start with!  

The post is going to be lengthy again (yawn!) but details do make a great deal of difference. So please so read very carefully and follow the recipe to the T. Practice of course goes a long way in perfecting these techniques and these are just my baby steps into making puff pastry. Here is sharing what I have gathered so far. 

The post is lengthy, but the method is simple as you will realize! Be sure to plan well ahead.

Please note
  • Weigh all ingredients including water. 
  • Use the tools recommended. 
  • Do not attempt a whole wheat pastry, all purpose flour is best to start with.
  • The ideal temperature for making puff pastry is supposed to be 18-20C. Higher temperatures and your butter will go soft sooner, making it difficult to handle the pastry. If you have an AC in the  kitchen (I envy you) have fun,
  • Make this in a very cool kitchen - preferably late evening. You do not want your gas stove or oven on as it will make the kitchen warmer. 
Time needed

2 hours plus overnight chilling. 
Hands on time 10-15 minutes.

What you will need
  • A 12 inch ruler (with the inch markings clearly visible!)
  • A metal dough scraper
  • A long rolling pin
  • Cake lifter (in the image below) or anything large and flat with a fairly sharp edge.
  • A large fork
  • A silicon brush for brushing excess flour on the pastry.
  • Cling film
  • Space in your refrigerator


  • Unsalted butter, very cold, cut into 1/2 inch cubes - 140 grams (Remove  25 grams of this, keep in a separate cup)
  • The butter must be very, very cold and firm, but not frozen solid. 
  • All purpose flour / maida - 126 grams
  • Salt - 1/4 teaspoon
  • Ice cold water - 50 grams (less than 1/4 cup, please weigh)
Extra 1/2 cup flour in a bowl for dusting (we won’t use it all of course)

Do ahead:
  • Sift the flour and the salt, chill airtight in the fridge.
  • Cut the butter (the size of the cubes is important), weigh and then chill it. Do not chill and then weigh just before making the pastry, the butter will go soft. 
  • Weigh water and keep it in the freezer. You want it very, very cold. Keep two tablespoons cold water in another glass in case you need more water.
  • Take a printout of the recipe, you won't be able to navigate screens with messy hands. 

Finally doing it! 

Remember - at any point while making the pastry, if your butter goes very soft, you can refrigerate it till the butter firms up again.

Make sure your counter is clean and dry. Do not keep any other liquids on the counter. 

  • Take the chilled flour on your counter and dump the 25 grams of cold butter on it. (Let the rest of the butter & cold water remain in the fridge)
  • Using the dough scraper, cut the butter into the flour, so that the mixture resembles bread crumbs. (alternatively, you can do this in a bowl with a pastry cutter)
  • Then dump the rest of the butter on top of the flour.
  • Toss them into the flour, coating them with the flour. Now using the metal bench scraper, cut the butter into the flour so that the butter is cut into smaller pieces, the size of a large peas approximately. If in doubt, err on the side of the pieces being larger than smaller.
  • Keep lifting any dry flour around with the bench scraper and toss it on the butter. (read note at the end)
  • Make a well in the center of the flour mixture.

  • Get that 50 grams of water from the fridge, pour it into the well.
  • Using the fork or the scraper mix till the all the flour is moistened. Do not worry if it still looks kind of dry, it will come together. Adding excess water can make the pastry tough. Carefully, sprinkle a teaspoon or less of the extra cold water if needed if the dough is extremely dry. The amount of water may vary depending on humidity. As long as your pastry comes out crisp and light, the quantity of water should not be a concern.
  • Very gently, knead or squeeze the dough a couple of times, just enough to bring it together to make a rough block.Do not over work the flour
  • It will be looking very rough at this point, with the butter pieces clearly visible. 
  • (The original recipes mentions you can start rolling the dough at this point, but I found the butter goes soft, so I have chilled the dough periodically)
  • Flatten and wrap the square in cling film and refrigerate 20 minutes. Do not refrigerate too long or the pastry will be too firm to roll. 
  • Every time before you get the dough back from the fridge for rolling, scrape the counter and rolling pin clean, lightly flour the counter. 
  • Place the ruler on the counter, roll the pastry with very gentle pressure -  10 inches long and 5 inches wide. Lift it using the cake lifter, turn gently now and then, so that it does not stick to the counter. Brush excess flour using the silicon brush.
  • Fold it into thirds like a letter as shown in the image. Place on the cake lifter, wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for 20 minutes again. This is the first turn. 
  • With the the short side facing you, roll the pastry into a 10'' x 5'' rectangle again. Brush excess flour. Fold into a letter, wrap and refrigerate again for 20 minutes. This will be the second turn.

  • Repeat till you do 6 turns, refrigerating in between for 20 minutes. Each time you roll, the pastry will look less rough. If it is warm, a bit of butter may ooze out as you roll, that should not be totally disastrous. 
  • After the 6th turn, roll the pastry into a 10'' square, wrap tightly in cling film and refrigerate overnight. 

Using the pastry

The pastry will be firm after refrigerating overnight. Cut as much as you need, take the needed portion, wrap in cling film and leave on the counter for 10-15 minutes or longer (if the weather is very cold) The dough must be soft enough to roll with just gentle pressure. If you roll with more pressure, the layers you have created with care will get glued together and your pastry will not be flaky and light. 

Once the dough is soft, roll with very gentle pressure on a lightly floured area into 3-4 mm thick sheets. Cut into desired shapes and again refrigerate 30 minutes (or freeze for sometime till firm). The butter will firm up again and give you a more flaky pastry.

Bake at 180 C for 25-30 minutes or till the pastry is golden and crisp. Serve warm. This is important. You can fill the rolled pastry, refrigerate and bake.

The baked pastry can be refrigerated for 2 of days airtight or frozen wrapped airtight for a month or so. Reheat in the microwave before serving. Always serve warm as the butter will solidify as it cools, that will actually taste terrible.

The unbaked pastry can be double wrapped in cling film and frozen for a month. Thaw still wrapped, overnight in the refrigerator before using. 

Please note : I have tried this pastry 3 times. Once I cut only 25 grams butter into the flour, the rest I have just tossed into the flour and brought it together (without cutting it in, the rest of the method remains the same) this works well too, but the pastry may be slightly more difficult to roll. This gave me lighter and flakier pastry (the first image at the beginning of the post). Try the cutting in (all the butter) method first and then experiment with the other method. I will stick to cutting in only 25 grams and mix in the rest. 

Try topping your baked pastry with some oven roasted tomatoes, onion and basil. Recipe here

Or try this delicious dessert - Orange whipped curd sandwiched between layers of flaky pastry. Recipe here

You will discover more recipes as you go, but this one makes the perfect first puff pastry recipe to try! Do not give up if your pastry doesn't turn out as expected the first time. You will get better with practice. Certainly a very useful and super versatile basic recipe to have in your repertoire. 

I will keep updating this post as I make it again and again. Please do leave your comments for me, would love to hear from you!

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