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.
This dish has a lot going for it even if the “cream” was not as successful as I would’ve liked. The flavors are spot on perfect and the textures work really well. It is a dish that I’d like to revisit and refine some more. I served this after a dinner of seafood paella to a couple of friends visiting from Florida. I wanted it to be a simple comforting summer dessert with familiar flavors and some refinement.
The blue print here is a buttery cookie base, a Sablè Breton to be more specific, topped with poached peaches and served with airy crème anglaise (custard sauce) and garnished with pistachios. I prepared the sauce using the modern sous vide method from Modernist Cuisine at Home instead of the traditional stove top method. It’s simpler and requires little attention while at the same time pretty much eliminates the room for error that could result in a curdled sauce. To prepare it, a mixture of yolks, cream, milk, sugar and vanilla goes in a Ziploc bag. This is then cooked in 82 ºC water for 45 minutes. I chilled the mixture and whisked it for a few seconds and it is done. In addition to the vanilla I added bourbon to the sauce after chilling. Bourbon and peaches go great together so that made perfect sense. I purposefully did not cook the bourbon to evaporate the alcohol because I wanted to keep all the flavor in as well as a bit of kick.
I wanted the sauce to have some substance and texture on the plate so that it can take on some form instead of just drizzling it on. I added gelatin to the cooled sauce and poured it into an iSi cannister that I charged with N2O. The gelatin is there to give it the needed structure and using the iSi is to aerate and lighten the sauce on the plate. Ultimately I do not think I used enough gelatin in there (that seems to always be the case with me) and the sauce had some structure but not enough to maintain a cleanly defined form on the plate for more than a minute or so. What I really need to do is research a bit more how much of a certain gelling agent is needed to give me a set foam. I have all the resources I need to find this information, I was just lazy here.
For the cookie portion, I used a recipe from Gordon Ramsay’s Gordon Ramsay: Three Star Chef book for Sablè Breton. This is a slightly sweet buttery pastry that is used to make tarts and cookie sandwiches. Due to the high butter ratio in the dough the cookies tend to spread if not baked in a ring mold. I wanted them to be nice and round. so I rolled the dough into a thick log and sliced it. Then I gently squashed the dough circles to flatten them between the bases of two small (about 3 in. diameter) tart pans. I baked the cookies in the tart pans and then used a cookie cutter to trim them into neat 2 inch circles while they are warm out of the oven.
The peaches are the easiest part. I quickly blanched them, peeled them and cut them into wedges. These got poached gently in a sugar syrup flavored with vanilla. To plate I dispensed some of the well-chilled custard into a bowl and topped the Sablè Breton with a spoon of it. I added more custard to the plate and topped the dessert with poached peaches and toasted crumbled pistachios. The flavors and textures were fantastic.