Floating Island Friday
They tried to make them on the Great British Bake-Off recently, no reason you shouldn’t give it your best shot and make them as a treat this weekend.
Iles flottantes ‘façon Maman Blanc’
Recipe and memories of this dish from Michelin-starred Raymond Blanc
This is a dessert from my childhood. I have vivid memories of never-ending lunches with adults talking about politics and other serious subjects, while we sat and longed for îles flottantes to be served. It was worth the wait. This is probably the most celebrated dessert in France; you will find it in homes, small brasseries and Michelin-starred restaurants alike.
Preparation: 40 mins plus cooling
Cooking: 20 mins
Special equipment: electric mixer (optional)
Planning ahead: the meringues and custard can be made up to a day in advance
For the vanilla milk
organic whole milk 1.3 litres
vanilla extract 1 tsp
For the meringues
egg whites 6, organic/free-range, medium
lemon juice 12 drops
caster sugar 100g
For the crème anglaise
vanilla milk (saved from poaching the meringues) 1 litre
caster sugar 85g
egg yolks 10, organic/free-range, medium
For the caramel
caster sugar 175g
For the vanilla milk, pour the milk into a roasting tray or large frying pan, add the vanilla syrup and heat gently to a bare simmer to infuse.
To make the meringues, meanwhile, using an electric mixer on medium speed or a balloon whisk, whisk the egg whites with the lemon juice1 to soft peaks, then slowly add the sugar, whisking constantly. Continue to whisk until the meringue holds firm peaks.
To poach the meringues, using a large spoon dipped in hot water, scoop large dollops of meringue and place in the vanilla milk. (Alternatively you can shape smooth quenelles of meringue between two spoons dipped in hot water.) Poach the meringues in the shimmering milk2 for 5 minutes on each side. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a tray lined with non-stick baking paper to drain. Strain and reserve the poaching milk to make the custard.
To make the crème anglaise, in a medium pan, bring the vanilla milk to a gentle simmer over a medium heat with 2 tsp of the sugar added3. Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk the egg yolks and remaining sugar together until well mixed. Pour the hot milk onto the eggs, whisking constantly, and then pour back into the same saucepan4. Place over a medium-low heat and stir continuously with a wooden spoon until the custard begins to thicken and coats the back of your spoon5. Immediately strain into a large bowl set over ice to stop the cooking. Leave the custard to cool, stirring occasionally.
To assemble, pour the custard into individual wide serving bowls and arrange the poached meringues on top. Leave in the fridge while you make the caramel.
To make the caramel, put the water into a small saucepan, add the sugar and leave for a few minutes to allow the water to be absorbed, then dissolve over a low heat6. Increase the heat to medium and cook the sugar syrup to a rich caramel7. Immediately remove from the heat and dip the base of the pan in cold water for 8-10 seconds to arrest the cooking.
To serve, trickle the caramel decoratively over the meringues and serve at once.
Variations: flavour the custard with grated lemon zest, or grated orange zest and a splash of Grand Marnier, or melted chocolate.
1) Whisking egg whites increases their volume by trapping tiny air bubbles inside the protein network. However, if you over-whisk the egg whites, they will become thick and grainy, lose volume and separate into a dry froth and a runny liquid.
2) When poaching meringues ensure your vanilla milk is at a shimmer, ie, just under a simmer. If the liquid is too hot, the meringues will soufflé dramatically and then deflate just as fast. Poach them gently and they will hold their shape and keep their fluffy texture.
3) I always add a little sugar, 10g or so per litre, to the milk before heating; this prevents the milk proteins from sticking and burning on the bottom of the pan.
4) When you are making a custard, always pour the hot milk/cream mixture onto the cold beaten eggs before returning to the pan to cook through. If you reverse this process you are in danger of scrambling the eggs before the sauce has had a chance to thicken.
5) If your custard starts to scramble a little at the bottom of the pan as you cook it, immediately pour into a food processor (be careful not to over-fill) and blend until smooth again. Pour into a bowl over crushed ice to cool quickly.
6) To prevent sugar crystallising when you make caramel, first put a little water in the bottom of the pan, add the sugar on top and let this absorb the water.
7) Because the caramel is made in a dark pan, it can look darker than it actually is. Take a spoonful or pour a little on to a white plate. If you undercook your caramel it will be pale, too sweet and lacking in character. You need to cook it almost to a smoking point, then it will be dark brown, with a wonderful, characteristic bitter-sweet caramel flavour