Monday, March 9, 2009

Floating Island

In early January I hankered after a light and white sweet, and this was it. Delicious, with lots of texture - melting smooth crème anglaise, marshmallowy meringue, bitter burnt sugar sauce and crunchy sweet praline. Also known as Isle Flottante, in French, and probably Isla Flotante in Spanish. It tastes great in any language.

Although this recipe has a lot of steps, it's not difficult at all. Most of it can (and should be) made ahead, even a day or two. I spent a couple of hours puttering in the kitchen in the early afternoon, then did the meringues at the last minute.

Step One: Burnt Sugar Sauce

3/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup water
another 1/4 cup water mixed with 1 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tablespoons heavy cream

Heat the sugar and 1/4 cup water in small, heavy sauce pan, stirring once or twice until the sugar dissolves. Cook over medium heat, not stirring, but swirling every few minutes, until the syrup turns a light caramel. Remove from heat and add the water mixed with vanilla. Be careful as the mixture tends to pop and bubble. Return to heat and stir and cook until caramel reached 230 degrees F (thread stage). Remove 1/4 cup of caramel for the praline (recipe follows). Set the remainder aside to cool slightly, then add the cream and stir until combined. This can be made ahead and then reheated slightly when you are ready to assemble the dessert.

Step Two: Praline

3/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup of the caramel sauce

Combine almonds and sauce. Bake on a parchment lined baking sheet for 10 minutes at 350 degrees, or until almonds are toasted. Let cool, then break into small pieces. (I like mine quite fine and smashed them with a rolling pin.)

Step Three: Crème Anglaise

1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream (whipping cream)
dash salt
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
2 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract

Heat the milk and cream in a small saucepan until just hot. (Steam should rise from the milk, but it shouldn't boil.) Whisk together the egg yolks and sugar with the salt. Add a small amount of the hot milk to the eggs, then whisk the yolk mixture back into the saucepan with the rest of the milk. Cook, stirring constantly until the sauce thickens slightly - about 175 degrees. The mixture should not boil. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Strain mixture into a glass or metal bowl. Press a piece of plastic wrap or waxed paper onto the top of the sauce to prevent a skin forming. Chill. (Will keep up to 3 days.)

Step Four: Meringues

Preheat oven to 275 degrees F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Beat 2 egg whites with a dash of salt and 1/8 tsp cream of tartar until foamy. Then increase the speed and add 1/2 cup of white sugar. Beat until the egg whites are very stiff and glossy. Beat in 1 tsp vanilla. Spoon the meringue onto the baking sheet, forming 6 mounds. Bake for 20 minutes (they will be soft).

To assemble the Floating Islands, pour a puddle of Crème Anglaise onto a dessert plate, place a Meringue on top, drizzle a little Burnt Sugar Sauce over top and sprinkle with a bit of Praline.


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