A few months ago when I visited my parents (who apparently are not to cheap too pay for cable), I watched Ina Garten make an Île Flottante. The dessert looked so elegant and different than anything I'd ever made, I was instantly intrigued. Fluffy meringues that are ever-so slightly baked floating on top of a rich and boozy sauce? Yes please!
This dessert was definitely interesting. I know that's not the most appetizing word to describe a dessert, but it seems the most accurate to me. The crème anglaise was fantastic: I spiked it with a touch of Pisco (a Peruvian brandy) which complemented the vanilla extract very nicely. The caramel was tasty as well, albeit somewhat tricky to work with. The meringues were a different story. They baked up beautifully, but me being the idiot that I am, decided to refrigerate them until I was ready to assemble this dessert. Yes, I know Ina would want to rip out her hair (or maybe mine) if she knew I committed this cardinal sin against meringues, but I really had no choice. I simply did not have enough time to make the entire dessert, plate it up prettily, and take pictures before the sun went down.
Île Flottante (adapted from Ina Garten)
For caramel (about 1 cup):
*1 1/2 cups sugar
*1 cup water
*1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
For meringues (the recipe says this will make 12 meringues, but I got more than twice this amount):
*8 extra-large egg whites, at room temperature
*1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
*1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
*1 cup sugar
For crème anglaise (2 cups):
*4 extra-large egg yolks
*1/2 cup sugar
*1 teaspoon cornstarch
*1 3/4 cups scalded milk
*1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
*1 1/2 teaspoons Cognac or brandy
1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper or a baking sheet.
2. For the caramel , heat 1 1/2 cups of the sugar and 1/2 cup water in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan until the sugar dissolves. Cook over medium heat until the syrup turns a warm caramel color. Don't stir, just swirl it in the pan. Off the heat, add 1/2 cup water and 1/2 teaspoon of the vanilla; be careful, the syrup will bubble violently. Stir and cook over high heat until the caramel reaches 230 degrees F (thread stage) on a candy thermometer. Set aside.
3. For the meringues , beat the egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment on medium speed until frothy. Turn the mixer on high speed and sugar. Beat until the egg whites are very stiff and glossy. Whisk in the vanilla. With dessert spoons place 12 mounds of meringue on the parchment paper and bake for 20 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.
4. For the crème anglaise , beat the egg yolks and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium-high speed for 3 minutes, or until very thick. Reduce to low speed, and add the cornstarch. With the mixer still on low, slowly pour the hot milk into the eggs. Pour the custard mixture into a saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until thickened. The custard will coat the spoon like heavy cream. Don't cook it above 180 degrees F or the eggs will scramble! Pour the sauce through a fine strainer, add the vanilla extract, Cognac or brandy, and chill.
For serving, pour creme anglaise on the bottom of individual plates. Place a meringue on top of each serving, drizzle with caramel sauce, and serve.
To make a day or two ahead, leave the caramel at room temperature and refrigerate the creme anglaise. Reheat the caramel and bake the meringues before guests arrive and assemble the desserts just before serving.