A long time ago when I was a French Chef in Chicago it was nothing out of the ordinary to produce classic French dishes on a daily basis. I've always been a Francophile so it was right down my alley and my job allowed me to practice, practice, practice..... Souffles, Confit de Canard, Canard a l' Orange, Salad Nicoise, Cheeses, Moules, Escargots, etc.... but after a while you begin to experiment, to try different flavors and mix it up and on many occasion I would introduce a Mexican dish which no one associated with our beloved Mexico due to my employer's limited knowledge of our cuisine, yet on a dinner for a Mexican dignitary where I served a mix of French and Mexican Classical Dishes, it was the Mexican ones that stole the evening. Bravo!
The other day my husband commented I had not made Ile Flottante for a long time and this took me back to those days. This is a very classic dessert yet not very popular anymore.... yet if you have the interest and time it would reward you with some amazing textures and flavors to enjoy..... Not a very hard dish, several steps to do yet nothing super technical, pretty basic preparations but yield a very lovely presentation that is sure to impress. Here goes:
FOR THE ILE FLOTTANTE:
6 large egg yolks
2/3 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups very hot milk
a pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 Tbs butter (optional)
2 Tbs Rum or liquor of your choice
FOR THE MERINGUE:
1 Tbs butter, soft
1/4 cup powdered sugar (or cane sugar)
1 2/3 cups eggs whites (a dozen or so)
1 1/2 cups cane sugar
1/2 tsp Cream of Tartar
Pinch of salt
FOR CARAMEL SAUCE:
1 cup cane sugar
1/3 cup water
2 or 3 Tbs heavy cream
1 Tbs butter
TO MAKE THE CREME ANGLAISE:
Whisk the egg yolks in a 2 Qt saucepan, add the sugar a little at a time so the eggs don't turn grainy.
Continue beating for about 2-3 minutes or until the mix is pale yellow and thick. Stir in the hot milk, little at a time while stirring, do not beat because you don't want the sauce to develop bubbles.
Now set the pan over moderate low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, reaching all over the pan. The sauce will almost simmer but don't overheat and scramble the yolks, but be sure to cook the sauce enough so that it will thicken. You will notice the bubbles begin to subside, some steam will escape so watch for this point and notice if the sauce coats the back of a wooden spoon so you can draw a line through it and it remains.
Once the sauce reaches this point, beat in the vanilla and the optional rum and butter. This sauce can be served warm, room temp or cold. You can also make it in advance, refrigerate, cover and it will keep for several days.
FOR THE MERINGUE:
You can use a 4 Qt straight sided baking dish or individual ramekins, butter the inside and dust with the sugar, knock out the excess. Preheat the oven to 250F.
Start beating the egg whites at moderate speed, add the salt and cream of tartar, then gradually increase the speed until soft peaks form. Beat in the sugar by big spoonfuls and continue until stiff peaks are formed. Beat in the vanilla and put the meringue into the prepared pans.
Bake for 30-45 min at 250F set in the lower part of the oven and set the baking pans in a deep dish and fill with very hot water up to the middle of the baking dishes. Cover with aluminum foil and bake in the oven until the meringue has risen to about 3-4 inches.
You can test to see if it's done by using a skewer and it comes out clean. Set the baking dishes on a rack to cool. The meringue will sink to its original level as it cools.
If you make these ahead of time, place in airtight contained and refrigerate, they will keep several days or several weeks in the freezer.
FOR THE CARAMEL SAUCE:
Blend the sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and swirl the pan by the handle to insure the sugar has dissolved and the liquid is clear.
Cover the pan tightly and boil the syrup for several minutes over moderate-high heat, keep watching it, after a little while, a minute or so the bubbles will be thick and boiling. Uncover the pan and continue boiling, swirl the pan by the handle. Be careful because in a couple of seconds the syrup will begin to change color and can burn easily. As soon as a light caramel color is present remove from the heat, stir the butter and cream into the liquid. Put back on the heat and cook over low heat and stir with a fork to insure there are no hard pieces left and the sauce is smooth. Set the pan in a bowl with ice water to stop the cooking and cool.
Pour the Creme Anglaise on a dessert plate or serving platter. Run a knife along the sides of the meringues to allow them to be removed easily, you can push them out with a spatula and loosen them. You can unmold the large meringue onto a cookie sheet and cut into individual pieces, put some cream on the plate and set the meringue on the sauce.
When you are ready to serve, heat the caramel until you are able to dribble the caramel over the meringues in thick strands. Decorate as you wish and enjoy.