Sunday, July 11, 2010

Île Flottante (Floating Islands)

I'm too cheap to pay for cable, but I always say that if the people at Comcast made me a deal where I just pay for one channel, they would have me sold. Of course, that one channel would be FoodNetwork and the one show I'd be sure to watch is Barefoot Contessa.

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.

Despite the chewy and cold meringues, I enjoyed this dessert. I'm also pretty confident that had I not chilled the little meringues to death, it would have been the luscious dessert Ina intended it to be. Maybe the next time I have enough time (and sunlight), I will make this dessert again. In the meantime, anyone out there work for Comcast? Make me a deal, and I'll make this dessert for you (sans the chewy meringues, of course).

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.

This dessert is also my attempt to make up for missing last month's Daring Bakers challenge. I know it is not the Chocolate Pavlova challenge hosted by Dawn, but it does consist of a few of the same components: baked meringues and creme anglaise. Click here to see the actual Daring Bakers creations for June.


  1. I love Ina Garten-she makes the kind of food I want to eat, and her kitchen is so pretty. I really like watching her cook in there...
    These Floating Islands look wonderful too, Ms. Meanie, and a very special seeming dessert it is. I would be so happy if someone made this for me. Ooh, and I would eat your cold meringues any day!

  2. I don't have cable either...or a television for that matter. But thankfully my gym gets the food network so I watch it while I'm on the about counter-intuitive.

    I think Ina would be proud of you irregardless of your refrigerator mistake...this looks delicious!

  3. The crème anglaise looks absolutely lovely as does the rest of the dessert. I know how you feel about having to bake before the sun goes down. I've had to refrigerate my share of foods for that same reason. I think the dessert still looks great.

  4. Oh, I agree about Ina! I remember this episode... where she just whipped up the desserts for a friend's wedding shower. I love all of her books, too - they are well written and the photography is always great.

    Your version looks beautiful - and even if it didn't turn out perfect, at least you can try it again - I know this dessert is in my list of ones to try!

  5. 90% of my tv viewing is of the food network, so i'm right with ya there! this is a truly elegant dessert, but i'd love to have it in the most crude of situations as well! lovely. :)

  6. p.s. I linked to you in my chocolate muffin post-hope that's okay...?

  7. I don't work for Comcast but I sure would like some of the dessert! Here in addition to Travel& Living, we get the AFC channel - Asian Food Network - a handful of interesting foodie shows to watch - on cable of course!

  8. This is my very favorite dessert! They don't serve it in many restaurants in the U.S., but they do in France. I ordered it every time I saw it on a menu.
    My mother used to make it when we were kids and I made it for my kids as well. It's such great comfort food.
    I saw Ina make it once too and she changed the way I make my meringues. I now do them in the oven. So much easier than poaching the way my mother did it. They keep such a lovely shape.

  9. I just subscribed to cable and after 2 yrs-break, I finally got to watch FoodNetwork again. But I thought FoodNetwork was better 2 yrs ago than now....

    What an awesome dessert but you made too little! NOthing left for me? :p ...

    Good luck for your move too! I thought you just moved?

  10. great recipe, I love the idea of boozy creme anglaise :)

  11. Food blogging angst: running out of daylight before being able to take photos. I feel your pain.

    What a lovely looking dessert. So very pretty!

  12. I've never had this dessert. It looks super yummy!

  13. I love Ina and this dessert is great! She's my kind of cook for sure!

  14. What a fun idea. It looks so elegant. I'm too cheap to pay for cable too.

  15. Whaaat?! That's insane and looks Awesome! Meanie, you've done it again! Great stuff :)

  16. Wow that looks gorgeous. Ina is a goddess. I've always enjoyed her shows, though a bit jealous of her kitchen and garden!

  17. I know we both love Ina. In my opinion, she's the best thing that ever happened to The Food Network. About your refrigerated meringues, I bet she'd flash that pleasant, welcoming smile and say "That's not a problem, we'll just whip up another batch."

    I'm using one of her recipes for my birthday cake next week. Yay!

    Your floating islands are gorgeous, Hun!

  18. I never heard about crème anglaise before, but this definitely looks like something I have to make soon. And I'm sure The One will love the meringues, so maybe this dessert will pass as a main course for the two of us on a Sunday :)
    Thanks for the inspiration, as always!

  19. I love Ina Garten too, I have never tried a recipe from her that I didn't like..your floating island looks so tempting, makes me want to make it too :)

  20. Hello,

    We haven't see you in a couple of weeks and I just wanted to check in and make sure you're okay? Your postings' are missed. =)

  21. Hi Ms. Meanie,

    I wanted to thank you so much for your birthday message and stopping by. I know you must be very busy with your move.
    It means so much to me to be able to connect with lovely and kind people, like you, through this blogosphere, and while doing something that brings me a lot of joy, like cooking.

    I'm inspired everyday by the dedication it takes to cook, create, blog and share.

    And I'm grateful to be a part of it. If only for all the Ms. Meanie's out there.

    Happy Moving. Your readers will be waiting...patiently. =)