Isles Flottant, or Floating Islands
The Trials of Poaching Meringue
Floating Islands are a wonderful mix of texture: light meringue, rich crème anglaise and crunchy spun sugar. A simple and elegant dessert, they can be tricky to make but well worth the effort!
In the interest of full-disclosure I'll tell you, my first attempt at Floating Islands went a little sideways. I had decided to patch together two different recipes from memory to see if I could pull this off "free-hand"... In the end, I did okay but not perfect.
An old friend's voice kept ringing in my head: "Perfect is the enemy of good." Wise words. An unrepentant Type-A personality, I try and remind myself of this often.
More importantly, my Floating Islands tasted amazing so who really cares about perfect anyway?
These are the ingredients I used (with notes about where I think I may have gone wrong).
4 eggs, separated (the whites are for the meringue, the yolks are for the Crème Anglaise)
70 g of superfine sugar (this is for the meringue, and I think I should have used 100g)
2 cups of whole milk
2 cups of heavy whipping cream
1 tbsp. Vanilla extract
1 cup of superfine sugar (for the spun sugar topping)
Crème Anglaise and Poached Meringues
Pour the vanilla and equal parts milk and heavy whipping cream in a low, wide saucepan. Heat until just under simmering. It should be hot but not boiling.
The vanilla made a beautiful star pattern as I poured in the cream! How cool is that!?
In a mixer, whip the egg whites, gradually adding superfine sugar until stiff. I added 70g, as I said, but I think I should have added more (100g?).
Once whipped, the meringue should be stiff enough to turn upside-down without coming out of the bowl. As you can see, mine was, but I think it should have been even stiffer still.
Use two large spoons to form the meringue into four to six quinelles. To get a clean, smooth shape, it helps to dip your spoons frequently into a glass or bowl of water.
Drop your quinelles into the hot milk to poach them.
Method #1: Poaching with steam
The first method I tried recommended I cover my saucepan and steam the meringue for NINE minutes to fully cook them.
"Do not take the lid off for NINE minutes!!!"
I was so good and I waited the full nine minutes. I could see them through the glass lid puffing up and looking so beautiful! I waited and waited.... They looked so perfect!
At least briefly.... Then I lifted the lid and.... Flop.
They absolutely deflated. And so did I. Such sad little meringues.
But the dog liked them. Damn. When at first you don't succeed...
Luckily, I still had more meringue to play with so I made four more quinelles and went for method #2.
Method #2: poaching both sides uncovered
I slid them gently from my spoon into the hot milk, just like the first time, but left them uncovered. I let them poach for two minutes then, very carefully, turned them and poached the other side for two minutes.
My second try came out way better than the first, but the first method would probably work fine, too (if I had added more sugar to the meringue). I think that must be where I went wrong... not making my meringue stiff enough in the beginning.
Even Batch #2 came out a little smaller than I would have liked but, again, "Perfect is the enemy of good."
So, whatever they look like, love them! Then use a slotted spoon to transfer your meringues onto a wire rack to cool.
To finish the Crème Anglaise, whip the egg yolks in a mixer and gradually add the remainder of the poaching liquid. Blend fully, then pour the mix through a sieve back into the warm saucepan over low/medium heat.
Stir gently until the Crème Anglaise just coats the back of a spoon.
Remove from heat and set aside, covered.
Prepare by setting out a really big piece of parchment paper. You can also wrap a rolling pin in parchment paper, too, for forming the sugar. Actually, you can use just about anything, as long as you don't mind cleaning it later.
Pour 1 cup of superfine sugar in a saucepan set on medium/high heat until the sugar melts, turns a golden caramel and bubbles slightly. It should be thick but still "liquid".
Meet my little friend.
Use a fork or whisk to sling sugar strands all over the place. The more free-wheeling you sling it, the thinner strands you'll have. Strands, bits and blobs of sugar…
I think I may be too Type-A to make spun sugar well. When you do it right, it's a mess. I did it only kind-of right, and it was still a mess. My goal was fragile, fine sugar nests which call for a wilder, crazier whipping motion. I don't wants ants in my kitchen, so I kept mine within the bounds of my parchment and came out with random strands and bits.
I think it's a judgment call about how long you want to spend cleaning your kitchen afterward.
Pour an even layer of Crème Anglaise onto a shallow serving dish and gently float the Islands on top. Decorate with spun sugar bits (or nests, if you've been brave!).
Creamy and light with a slight crunch. Yum!