Oh those classic French dishes (or Italian or Spanish). I love them and every so often one wants nothing more than a classic. While on the topic of European food, it’s a bit of pet peeve of mine when I hear something like “France (or Spain or whatever) is over, everyone is looking to blah blah, Nordic or Eastern European…or…who knows.” Before you know it we hear “Oh! France is back go check it out!” It’s really a ridiculous concept. Spain or Italy or France never went anywhere. These places have always made amazing food to one degree or another and have always produced great chefs and iconic dishes. It’s silly to trumpet the food of the Nordic countries (great as well and producing some fantastic movements now) at the expense of the rest. It’s the what’s-hot-now mentality where people put blinders on without any regard to everything else as if the exacting chefs of Denmark (10 years ago it was all Spain Spain Spain…) came out of nowhere and invented fine dining.
Ok, quick rant over and on to the delicious French dessert that is Île Flottante. It’s as awesome now as it was 100 years ago. It contains most of my favorite dessert components; custard, meringue, vanilla and a bit of crunchy caramel to top it all off. The recipe is from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My home to Yours with almost no modifications. Afterall, why mess -well why mess too much- with a tried and true classic?
I prepared the creme Anglaise for the dish a few days ahead of time. This is the only modernist change I used for this recipe. The loose vanilla flavored custard is usually cooked on the stove top gently so as not to curdle the egg yolks. For all these types of preparations, from ice cream base to creme Anglaise, I use my immersion circulator. This is easier, more precise, fail-proof and so convenient. I bag the well-blended mixture in FoodSaver bag and drop it in the precisely controlled water tub (around 83 C) for 20 minutes. After a quick chill in some ice water the custard is ready to be stored in the fridge for hours or days until I need it.
One cool thing about dishes like this one is that you do not end up with a ton of spare egg whites or egg yolks. The custard uses the yolks and the meringue islands use up the whites. Nice and efficient. The meringue is whipped firm with the addition of sugar and cream of tartar. To finish it, I brought milk to a gentle simmer and used two large spoons to drop ovals of meringue into it. These poach very gently on both sides, allowed to dry on parchment paper and stored in the fridge for a few hours. Contrary to the creme Anglaise, these do not hold in the fridge for days, maybe 12 hours at the most. after that they loose the pillowy texture and start to seep.
To serve it, I whisked the custard to smooth it out and poured a good dose into a bowl. An “island” (or Île) of the poached meringue sits on top as if floating. A simple garnish of deep dark caramel that hardens on contact adds some sharp flavors and crunch. I also sprinkled in a few toasted almonds on some of the servings. That worked very well too.