Aside

îles flottantes – Guest post


I would like to say a big thank you to Tony Brett who supplied this guest blog to me at the start of the month. It’s been a manic month but this might give some of you an inspiration for an Easter dessert.
Over to Tony:

This is a classic French dessert and one of my favourites.   This recipe comes from a cookbook that my cousin owns and I’m describing it here including the changes I made.

For poaching the meringues:
1.25 litres of full fat milk
2 vanilla pods, split lengthways
For the meringues:8 medium egg whites
275g caster sugar

For the vanilla custard:8 medium egg yolks
75g caster sugar
milk from the meringue poaching For the caramel:
50ml water
150g caster sugar

I started by putting the milk in a large 30cm skillet and scraping in the seeds from the vanilla pods and well as chucking in the split pods themselves.  I heated this to a gentle simmer and left it simmering while I prepared the meringues.

For the meringues I separated the eggs, saving the yolks for the custard, and whisking the whites with the sugar until stiff (this took a good ten minutes using an electric mixer).  Firm peaks on the egg whites are the traditional sign that you’re done.  The next bit was the messy bit for me.  You need to take large-ish chunks of the meringue with a large metal spoon and gently float them in the hot milk and vanilla infusion.  Beware not to make them too big or put too many in the pan at once as they grow when poached and can go everywhere!  The meringues need poaching for five minutes and then turning over carefully and having another five minutes of poaching.  Once the meringues are done they are a bit like marshmallows but rather wetter.  I found it useful to put them on greaseproof paper on a baking tray in a warm 50C oven to dry them out a bit, and then take them out and let them cool. You are not looking for baked meringues though!   I had to do two batches of meringue poaching as there was so much of it!

The next job is to strain the infused milk into a saucepan ready to make the custard.  You may need to add some extra milk if you have lost much in the poaching – like I did!  For the custard the first step is to whisk the egg yolks with the caster sugar in a large bowl and then gradually whisk in the milk.  This all then goes back in a saucepan and needs gentle cooking for about 5 minutes over a moderate heat until it starts to thicken.  You need to stir it continually while this happens so it doesn’t go lumpy, and check for thickness by lifting the spoon.  Once it’s one strain it into a large bowl and keep stirring for a couple of minutes so that the custard doesn’t scramble.  If it does then a blender is your friend!  You can then cool then chill the custard in the ‘fridge.
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Next it’s time for the caramel.  This is easier but needs careful watching and stopping.  You’ll need a washing up bowl of cold water at the ready – do this first!  Put the water for the caramel in a small heavy-based saucepan and spread the sugar over it evenly.  Let the water soak into the sugar then heat the pan moderately and without stirring the caramel until all the sugar has dissolved and you have a syrupy liquid.  Now simmer this until it becomes a golden brown caramel.  Keep watching because IMMEDIATELY that happens you need to take the pan off the heat and put the bottom of the saucepan in the cold water to stop the caramelisation going further otherwise it will burn.

You can serve this dessert either in individual dishes or in one big one.  Either way, put the custard in the dish(es) first and then float the poached meringues on top.  Then you need to pour a small amount of caramel onto each meringue and then leave them to cool or even chill if you prefer.  You need to add the caramel topping while it is still quite hot otherwise it won’t pour.

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