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Author Notes: Ile Flottante is one of my favourite French desserts, the first French dessert I discovered in Paris.
Meaning the floating island, it is a foaming meringue floating in a crème anglaise (custard) and sprinkled with caramel and pralines.
I decided to master this recipe when my son Francesco told me he had it for lunch at his school canteen, loved it and supposed that if they can make it at his school canteen, I should be able to make it at home.
I did not want to disappoint him and I couldn’t declare a defeat against the school canteen (even if Saint Paul de Vence school canteen has a fantastic reputation, we are in France !), so I decided to give it a try.
I have done custard before but I was concerned about the French Meringues, very messy to make as they are poached in milk. The caramel was also intimidating, many times I made it and just when it was about ready, it either burned or re-crystallized into sugar.
So I did some research and looked for shortcuts. I found out that the French Meringues can be cooked in the microwave, no mess, no problem.
For the caramel, on the other hand, I armed myself with plenty of patience and I followed each cooking instruction diligently, down to the last detail. —Your Guardian Chef
For the Crème Anglaise (custard):
- 500 milliliters milk
- 5 eggs yolks ( use 2 whites for the meringues, the remaining 3 can be stored in the freezer)
- 1 vanilla pod
- 63 grams sugar
For the Meringue
- 2 egg whites (at room temperature)
- 115 grams icing sugar
- 1 pinch salt
- 100 grams sugar for the caramel
- pralines for topping
- Crème Anglaise: Cut the vanilla pod in half and with a knife scrape out all the seeds. Warm up the milk and infuse the vanilla seeds and the pod in the milk for at least 30 minutes. Strain the milk to remove the vanilla pod and any other large pieces.
- In a bowl whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until it turns into a lighter colour and it starts bubbling
- The crème anglaise has to cook at low heat, otherwise it curdles. Best is to cook it au bain-marie: not on direct heat but inside a pan full of water. Here I use a copper pan specifically designed for a bain-marie. You can use any small pan inside a larger pan, but make sure the small pan does not touch the bottom of the large pan otherwise the heat will be too strong. Be patient, pour the warm milk into the egg mix, keep the water simmering and stir the custard with a wooden spoon until it thickens. It can take up to 15 minutes.
- Make sure the water in the pan does not boil vigorously, but just simmers away. If the heat is too high and the custard curdles, remove the pan from the heat and either strain the custard or mix it with a blender. Once the custard has thickened, let it cool down completely which you can do by immerging the pan into cold water. You can also cook the custard the day before and let it cool in the fridge overnight.
- Meringue: Making the meringues is not difficult as long as you follow these key rules strictly: - The egg whites should be at room temperature - There should be no trace of egg yolk - Bowl and whisk should be completely clean - Add a pinch of salt to the egg white Using an electric mixer, whisk the egg whites at high speed until they become stiff.
- Add half of the icing sugar and continue to whisk. Once the mix becomes firm combine the remaining icing sugar.
- Butter 4 small but deep ceramic (or microwave resistant) cups and pour the egg white mix in 4 equal amounts. Make sure there is enough room to the top of the cups as the meringue will rise while cooking. Cook the meringues in the microwave at medium power (800 watts) for 2 min 30 sec
- Caramel: For the caramel you need to follow these key rules strictly: Never stir, touch or move the pan while the syrup is cooking otherwise it will crystallize, transforming back into sugar Use a small but heavy and even pan. The heat should distribute evenly as you cannot stir the syrup Keep the heat to medium, as a vigorous boiling can also crystallize the syrup Be patient and be vigilant, caramel can burn in seconds
- In a pan pour the sugar and the water and bring to boil at medium heat. With a thermometer keep measuring the temperature of the syrup, the caramel will be ready when it reaches 125 C. Don’t get distracted as the caramel, once it is formed, can burn within seconds. Once the temperature is reached, immediately remove the caramel from the heat. Move the pan gently and not too far. Remember, too much shaking can re-crystallize the caramel. Let it rest a few seconds until the bubbling stops, but not too long otherwise it will solidify. Oil 4 small bowls with a light vegetable oil or butter and whirl the caramel on the bowl with a spoon making swirls shapes. The caramel will solidify very quickly.
- Assembly of each serving: In a soup bowl pour ¼ of the crème anglaise. Position one of the meringues over the crème anglaise in the center of the plate to make the island.
- Sprinkle with the praline and top the meringues with one of the caramel curls. Serve and enjoy !
- This recipe was entered in the contest for Your Best No-Bake Desserts