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Floating Islands

This impressive French dessert, also known as Snow Eggs, consists of delicate meringue clouds that rest in a sea of crème anglaise (French for “English cream”), a light pouring custard used as a dessert cream or sauce.  Be sure to also try Carolie’s Poached Meringue on Golden Gooseberry Custard.

Crème anglaise
500 ml fullcream milk
6 to 8 large egg yolks
125 ml white sugar
1 vanilla bean

Meringues
6 to 8 large egg whites, at room temperature
65 g white sugar
pinch of salt

Caramel
150 g white sugar
45 ml water

  1. To make the crème anglaise, combine the milk and sugar in a medium saucepan.
  2. Split the ½ vanilla bean lengthwise then scrape out the seeds and put them, and the pod, into the milk.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. (Use six if you want a standard custard sauce, eight if you prefer it extra-rich.)
  4. Make an ice bath by nesting a medium size metal bowl in a large bowl filled with ice and a little cold water. Set a mesh strainer over the top.
  5. Heat the milk until steaming. Whisk some of the warmed milk mixture into the egg yolks, then scrape the warmed yolks back into the saucepan.
  6. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom, sides, and corners of the pan, until the custard is thick enough to coat the spatula. Don’t let the mixture boil.
  7. Immediately strain the custard through the mesh strainer into the chilled bowl.
  8. Remove out the vanilla pod, wipe off any bits of egg on it, and return it to the warm custard. Stir the crème anglaise to help cool it down. Once cool, refrigerate.
  9. To make the meringues, line a baking sheet lined with a clean tea towel or paper towels.
  10. In a large, wide saucepan or casserole, fill it about halfway with water and heat it until it comes to a lively simmer.
  11. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment at medium speed, or by hand with a whisk, whip the egg whites with the salt until they are foamy.
  12. Increase the speed of the mixer (or your whipping, with the whisk) until the egg whites begin to start holding their shape.
  13. Whip in the 1/3 cup sugar, one tablespoon at a time, until the whites hold their shape when you lift the whip. Do not overwhip or the meringues will be dry.
  14. Using two large soup spoons, scoop up a generous amount of the meringue onto one spoon – it should be heaped up so high that it threatens to fall off – then take the second spoon to scrape it off, dropping the oval of meringue into the simmering water.
  15. Don’t crowd too many into the pot; they should be allowed to float freely. Doing six at a time is usually a good number.
  16. Plan on getting sixteen meringues from the egg whites, total. But don’t worry if you don’t; two makes a good portion for some people, others want three.
  17. Poach the meringues for 3 to 4 minutes, then flip each one with a slotted spoon, and poach for another 3 to 4 minutes.
  18. Remove the meringues with a slotted spoon and put them on the lined baking sheet. Poach the remaining meringues.
  19. When all the meringues have been poached, pour the crème anglaise into a large, wide, chilled bowl.
  20. Nest the meringues close together on the top, floating them in the crème anglaise.
  21. To make the caramel, heat the sugar and water in a skillet, swirling it as little as possible, if necessary, so it cooks evenly, until it turns a medium amber color.
  22. Turn off the heat and use a spoon to drizzle the caramel over the meringues.

6 servings

Do-ahead notes: You can make the crème anglaise up to three days in advance and refrigerate it. The meringues can be made the same day of serving and refrigerated as well. The caramel is best made and drizzled at the last minute although can be done 1 to 4 hours ahead. The longer you let it sit on the dessert in the refrigerator, the more it will soften and become sticky. A few hours usually is fine, though. No part of this dessert can be frozen.

SnowEggs