Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Tuesdays with Dorie—Floating Islands

Floating Islands (Île Flottante) or Snow Eggs (Oeufs à la neige)While watching the Grammy's Sunday night and working on this post, I was reminded of one of my favorite Simon and Garfunkel songs: "I Am a Rock".

I pretend to be an island most of the time, choosing to be very independent and private. Last week, while riding on a school bus for a field trip with my daughter's Grade 4 class, I was reminded how social children are. They relish the time they have to share their thoughts, ideas and experiences with each other every chance they get. The bus was noisy with their giddiness and excitement for life.
"While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about."
—Angela Schwindt

Maybe it's the fact that I spent the first four years of my life on a floating island in the South Pacific (Papua New Guinea) that I have a fascination for islands. And this culinary version of a floating island is the perfect dessert. It is now my favorite dessert and the one I would have at my "last meal". I can't believe it took me this long to taste it, but now that I've made it three times this past week, I won't have to live without it again!

Floating Islands (Île Flottante) or Snow Eggs (Oeufs à la neige)Floating Islands versus Snow Eggs
There is some discrepancy about what Floating Islands (Île Flottante) are versus Snow Eggs (Oeufs à la neige). In my research, I found Floating Islands to be one large island that is baked in the oven in a bain marie and typically contains toasted almonds. Snow Eggs are individual egg-sized meringue puffs that are poached in either simple syrup or milk. To confuse the issue even more there is another version of a French Floating Island that is a liqueur-sprinkled sponge cake spread with jam, and topped with nuts and whipped cream, surrounded by a pool of custard.

After making Dorie's version of Floating Islands, I decided to try making the Floating Islands and Snow Eggs from my vintage 1971 Grand Diplôme Cooking Course book.

Grand Diplôme Cooking Course cookbookBoth Floating Islands and Snow Eggs are made up of three components: crème anglaise, meringue and caramel. Each element on its own is delicious, so I knew together they would be amazing.

Crème Anglaise
Crème anglaise contains sugar, yolks, milk, and vanilla, but it can be flavored with all sorts of delicious things such as cardamom, rum, chocolate, ginger, chamomile, brandy, Grand Marnier, espresso, or even stout! Crème anglaise is a stirred custard as opposed to a baked custard. It must be stirred constantly so that it doesn’t curdle at the bottom of the pan or overcook. Because it’s stirred, it doesn’t thicken as much as a crème brulée or crème caramel which thickens in the oven.

It’s a rich, smooth sauce that can be served warm or cold. It is also common as a base for making ice creams.

Meringue is simply sweetened egg whites. You can use superfine sugar since it dissolves faster, but I just used regular sugar. The salt helps stabilize the meringue. After poaching half of the meringue puffs, I folded in some red food coloring to the remaining meringue mixture to make pink ones.

To shape the islands, I used my 1-tablespoon ice cream scoop. I also tried a larger ice cream scoop, but they puffed up too big. And I tried using two spoons to shape an oval, but found these were oddly-shaped and puffed up too big as well. Whatever method you use, you should know that they expand quite a bit when poached in the milk.

Caramel shouldn't be that hard to make. However, I made it three times this past week and only once did it work. The first time, I let it get past a perfect amber color to a point where it started to smoke and burn. The next batch hardened too quickly before I could get it on a floating island. Finally, the third one worked. (I also supplemented with store-bought caramel sauce from a plastic jar for some helpings of floating islands.)

Joe from Joe Pastry did a whole segment on making your own caramel with pictures, and here's a video showing how to make caramel.


Makes 6 servings

Ingredients for  Floating Islands
For the Crème Anglaise:
2 cups whole milk
6 large egg yolks
½ cup sugar
1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract

For the Islands:
2 cups milk
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
Pinch of salt
¼ cup sugar

For the Caramel (optional)
½ cup sugar
1/3 cup water

To make the crème anglaise: Bring the milk to a boil.

Meanwhile, put the yolk and sugar in a heavy saucepan and whisk vigorously until thick and pale, 2 to 3 minutes. Still whisking, drizzle in a little of the hot milk — this will temper, or warm, the yolks so they won't curdle. Whisking all the while, slowly pour in the remaining milk. Put the saucepan over medium-low heat and, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, cook until the custard thickens, lightens in color and coats the spoon (this can take 10 minutes or so) — if you run your finger down the spoon, the track should remain. For this recipe, the crème anglaise should be cooked until it reaches 180˚F on an instant-read thermometer.

Immediately remove the pan from the heat, strain the custard into a bowl and stir in the vanilla extract. Press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the custard to create an airtight seal and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, or for up to 3 days. (The crème anglaise will improve with at least on overnight rest.)

To make the islands: Spread a clean kitchen towel on the counter near the stove and have a large slotted spoon at hand. [The towel will help the floating islands drain after poaching.] Put the milk in a wide saucepan and bring it to a simmer over low heat.

Meanwhile, put the egg whites in the clean bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or use a large bowl and a hand mixer. Beat the whites on medium speed just until foamy, then beat in the salt. When the eggs turn opaque, increase the mixer speed to medium-high and add the sugar about 1 tablespoon at a time. Whip until the meringue is firm but satiny and still glossy.

You have two options in shaping the islands: you can just scoop up some meringue — specifically, an amount about twice the size of an egg — in which case you'll have the equivalent of a rocky volcanic island, or you can smooth the meringue to get a manicured island. For the smooth look, use a large oval spoon to scoop up the meringue, then use another large oval spoon to very gingerly transfer the meringue from spoon to spoon a couple of times to form a smooth oval.

Either way, one by one, lower the islands into the simmering milk, adding only as many islands as you can fit into the pan without crowding. Poach the meringues for 1 minute, gently turn them over and poach 1 minute more, then lift the islands out of the milk and onto the towel. Repeat until you've poached 12 islands. Put the puffs (which will have inflated when poached and will deflate when cooled) on a wax paper-lined baking sheet and chill them for at least 1 hour, or for up to 3 hours.

To make the optional caramel: Decide whether you want to serve the meringues in one large bowl or six individual bowls, and have the bowl(s) at hand.

Right before serving, stir the sugar and water together in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat, bring the sugar to a boil and cook without stirring, swirling the pan occasionally, until the caramel turns a pale gold color, 6 to 8 minutes or so. Pull the pan from the heat and let the caramel cool just until it is thick enough to form threads when it is dropped from the tines of a fork. (If the caramel hardens, rewarm it slowly over low heat.)

Either pour the crème anglaise into a large serving bowl and top with the meringue islands, or make six individual servings. If using the caramel, working quickly, dip the tines of a fork into the caramel and wave the fork over the floating islands to create threads that will quickly harden.

Serving: Once the dessert has been assembled, it should be served immediately.

Storing: You can make both the crème anglaise and the meringue puffs in advance and keep them chilled, but the assembled dessert won't keep.

You can also find the recipe for Floating Islands in the book Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan or here. To see how the rest of the TWD group fared with this week's recipe, click here and then click on each blogger!

You can find tips about this recipe here.

Ideas for variations to flavor the meringue: lemon, orange, lime or even espresso

Floating IslandsTasting Notes
Now that I've eaten three batches of Floating Islands and Snow Eggs, I'll have to put these recipes aside for awhile. It's just too hard for me to leave them alone since I'm the only one eating them at our house! I loved the caramel with this dessert and not the chocolate that I tried for one plate. I found the chocolate overpowered the delicate taste of the Snow Eggs. This is also a great dessert to make ahead and assemble just before serving. There is still one more recipe I'd like to try: Fernand Point's recipe in Ma Gastronomie for Île Flottante, which contains egg yolks in the meringue mixture. But I'll have to wait before making any more batches of this delicious dessert.
"May today there be peace within. May you trust that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith in yourself and others. May you use the gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you. May you be content with yourself just the way you are. Let this knowledge settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us."
— St. Theresa's Prayer
(sent to me by Kate from Aapplemint on a day when it was just what I needed to read)

Recipe for Next Week (February 17)
Devil's Food White-Out Cake on pages 247-249 (the cover recipe) chosen by Stephanie of Confessions of a City Eater.

A few other links to Floating Islands or Snow Eggs
• Béa from La Tartine Gourmande's Pistachio Floating Islands and Vanilla Caradamom Snow Eggs
• Helen from Tartelette's Strawberry and Vanilla Floating Islands
• Aran from Cannelle et Vanille's Chamomile and Vanilla Bean Floating Islands

My Tuesdays with Dorie Trivia
Since I got to pick this week's recipe, I thought I'd share with you a bit of my TWD trivia. It's been a wonderful year meeting other food bloggers who share their passion about baking (and cooking). Thanks for making this year a great one for me!

• I joined March 25, 2008 and made another of my favorite desserts that week: Caramel-Topped Flan

• I've made 46 desserts from Baking: From My Home to Yours and have loved most of them.

Apple Cheddar Scones
Arborio Rice Pudding
Berry Surprise Cake
Black-and-White Banana Loaf
Blueberry {Saskatoon/Raspberry} Sour Cream Ice Cream
Brown Sugar-Pecan Shortbread Cookies
Buttery Jam Cookies
Caramel-Peanut-Topped Brownie Cake
Caramel-Topped Flan
Carrot Cake
Cherry Rhubarb Cobbler
Chocolate Chunkers
Chocolate Malted Whopper Drops
Chocolate Pudding
Chocolate-Banded Ice Cream Torte in a Popsicle
Chocolate-Chocolate Cupcakes
Chunky Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Chocolate Chipsters
Crème Brûlée
Dimply Plum Cake
Double-Crusted Blueberry Pie
Florida Pie
Fluted Polenta and Ricotta Cake
French Chocolate Brownies
French Pear Tart
Fresh Ginger and Chocolate Gingerbread
Gooey Chocolate Cake
Grandma’s All-Occasion Sugar Cookies
Granola Grabbers
La Palette’s Strawberry Tart
Lenox Almond Biscotti
Linzer Sablés
Mixed Berry Cobbler
Peanut Butter Torte
Pecan Honey Sticky Buns
Peppermint Cream Puff Ring...Swan
Pumpkin Muffins
Quintuple Chocolate Brownies
Savory Corn and Pepper Muffins
Summer Fruit Galette
Thanksgiving Twofer Pie
The Most Extraordinary French Lemon Cream Tart
World Peace Cookies

An Award
Lemonade Award - When Life Give You Lemons, Make LemonadeI received an award called the Lemonade Award - When Life Give You Lemons, Make Lemonade from Gretchen of Canela and Comino. I feel very honoured!

The rules of the award are:
1. Put the logo on your blog/post.
2. Nominate 10 blogs which show great gratitude and/or attitude.
3. Link to your nominees within your post.
4. Let your nominees know that they have received the award by commenting on their blog.
5. Share the love and link to this post from the person who gave you this award.

My nominees are:

Big Black Dog
Dine and Dish
Eat Real
Elle's New England Kitchen
Engineer Baker
Randomosity and the Girl
Recipe Girl
The Tortefeasor
Zoë Bakes

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    Nancy/n.o.e said...

    Great post, Shari. I'm in awe of your research and industriousness to make three different versions. And how cool is it that you have a new favorite dessert and it was your own pick?! This one was a challenge for me, but it tasted great.

    snicketmom said...

    Thanks for choosing this intriguing recipe! I was not completely successful with it, but it was a lot of fun. I can't believe you made it three times. Thanks for all the additional info about the snow eggs as well, and I *love* your little hearts in the creme anglaise, absolutely beautiful!

    Anonymous said...

    Thanks for the very detailed explanation and recipe. I don't think I've ever seen a dessert quite like it and it looks delicious!

    Out of curiosity, what island did you spend 4 years on?

    Audrey said...

    Hi, Shari...thanks so much for choosing these! It was a great learning experience (I've never made creme anglaise or meringues before), and after seeing many recipes over the years I always wondered what this combination would taste like! I found this a little challenging but I definitely learned something about classic techniques - and had an unusual and elegant dessert at the same time!

    natalia said...

    Ciao Shari Thank you for choosing this wonderful recipe ! My husband fell in love with it so I guess I'll have the chance to try all the different versions you suggest ! Grazie !

    AmyRuth said...

    Thank you Shari for an amazing tutorial about this weeks recipe. I noticed the baking vs poaching difference in my reading as well. I haven't tried baking yet...as it is calorie counting time before the Spring Break Beach Trip at our house. Like you, I was the only one eating more than just a bite.....Theese are amazing. Yours are beautiful. I love the Island in your first photo. Very pretty photo and sort of a comforting theme in the story. Strong Work!

    Lady Baker said...

    THANK YOU THANK YOU--for choosing this dessert that has long intrigued me! I just loved it!

    And once again, I learn so much coming to your blog!
    Your islands are lovely!!

    LyB said...

    Thanks for getting us to try something new this week, Shari! Your photos are fabulous, as always. :)

    Katrina said...

    Well, darn it all, I didn't make the Floating Islands (sorry, just didn't) and seeing your pictures and hearing all about it, makes me want to try it someday--soon! Looks great, Shari! Great post.

    Anonymous said...

    Thanks for choosing this week's recipe. Really interesting choice! It's funny how this dessert can be viewed as either islands (tropical) or snow (arctic). My husband leaned toward the latter and said they looked like icebergs. Anyway, these were great!

    Pamela said...

    My apologies, Shari. I didn't make the floating islands. And of course, after seeing some great photos, I wish I had given them a shot. Everything you've done is beautiful!

    Jules Someone said...

    Holy smokes that looks amazing! I chickend out this week. But now I'm tempted to give it a try. Nice work!

    Anonymous said...

    Shari, lovely job. As always full of info! I am terribly sorry that I have not yet made these on your week, life is crazy right now. I hope to enjoy them soon, and even sooner after your great reviews of them. Thanks for a challenging choice!

    steph- whisk/spoon said...

    great post, and a fun pick for the week! we loved them! i found so many different explanations for snow eggs vs floating islands than i'm more confused than before i looked it up. :)

    Unknown said...

    Thanks for choosing this recipe! I probably wouldn't have made it on my own but I'm glad I gave it a shot. Yours looks wonderful!

    spike. said...

    Thanks for picking this one, so much fun to make!

    Anonymous said...

    HAHA! I was singing "I am a Rock" in between bouts of singing French songs all day while making this! That is too funny! Thanks for the great pic... I would have never made this otherwise, and it was great to learn!

    Anonymous said...

    I've been waiting and waiting to make this and I'm so glad you picked it. It was just incredible.

    dharmagirl said...

    lovely post, shari! i'm sorry i wasn't able to bake this weekend...but i promise to give these a try after reading your hearty recommendation:)

    Stephanie said...

    Great choice this week! Thanks for helping me step out of my dessert comfort zone :)

    vibi said...

    Thank you for choosing the recipe Shari!
    Although I never really enjoyed floating island from the start, I'm glad I made them for my family who on the other hand really likes 'em.
    Yours looks very pretty, very delicate and romantic... just like they should be!

    Anonymous said...

    Yours look so beautiful, and I loved reading your post. This was my first Dorie disaster, and I hope it's my last!

    Unknown said...

    This is just an incredible post - background, photos, and so on...thanks for the opportunity to try this!

    Cathy said...

    Thank you for the pick, Shari (and for your great help in the P&Q)! This was really fun. It was a challenge for me to make, but I loved how all of the components came together to form one really delicious dessert. It is completely different from what I usually make, and we REALLY enjoyed it. This is what TWD is all about! Your islands look gorgeous, of course!! I loved reading about your testing process.

    Katy said...

    Your post (and pictures!) are wonderful! I had to pass on cooking them at this time, but thank you for choosing this recipe. It will definitely be on my "to try" list, especially after reading your great commentary on them!

    And I now have "I am a Rock" stuck in my head, lol!! :-)

    wildthayn said...

    What a beautiful post!! I love how thorough you were and the song was fun too!

    Anonymous said...

    i feel so much smarter when i leave your site, do you ever get sick of me saying that?? haha. thanks for the great pick this week, we absolutely loved it. it was one of the most fun TWD recipes i've made so far, and my life is forever made better by that creme anglaise!

    chocolatechic said...

    You did such a great job.

    Ingrid_3Bs said...

    Yum, I've loved visiting everyone's blog drooling over this week's TWD. Great choice...thank you! :-)

    Anonymous said...

    I loved this recipe because I have never poached meringue before. I have never even heard of poached meringue - and it is great! Your extensive comparative research is excellent, and I bet it was a lot of fun to fully dive into this project. I infused my crème anglaise with basil and it was really nice.

    Anonymous said...

    Great post and a wonderful pick. Unfortunately, my range is still out of commission, so I'm going to have to delay making these beauties!

    Anonymous said...

    Thank you for picking this recipe. It was delicious. I love your blog and your pictures are always gorgeous.

    Thanks for the award too.

    Manggy said...

    I can't believe you're the only one eating it at home! Send me the extras! ;) And thanks for clearing up the differences in versions!

    pam said...

    This was a great post! A fun recipe, a reminder of how much I love Simon and Garfunkle and a lovely prayer.

    NKP said...

    I love that song too.
    Your photos are beautiful! I love that you did a comparison study of the desserts.

    Anonymous said...

    The pink island is so pretty! I'm sorry I wasn't able to make this week's recipe; I think it was a great pick for the group.

    Engineer Baker said...

    I'm sorry you didn't get the feeling that I liked this recipe - I really did, it's just not an everyday one. And the boyfriend seriously inhaled them, so that's another point for them as well. They were sooo much fun to make - thanks for picking an interesting recipe (remember, I did that too!) And thanks for the award, that's just too sweet!

    TeaLady said...

    This was an interesting pick. I had never made anything like it. Mine didn't come out real well, but it was kind of fun trying something REALLY different. Thanks.

    And yours were quite lovely. I especially like the last one - almost a trifle.

    Anonymous said...

    your floating islands look beautiful. i didn't participate this week, but i'm now wishing i did!

    TourGuideJenn said...

    This pick seems to have inspired all kinds of music (now stuck in my head) this week.

    I had to pass on this, but will get back to it at a later time. Great post with lots of interesting information!

    Ivette said...

    Great pick Shari! I loved how this tasted.. it did test my patience but it was all well worth it! Btw.. your pictures look great!

    Peabody said...

    What a great post. Way to show all the different ways and sauces.

    farah said...

    Wow, what a great blog and well done on your floating islands, they look fantastic. Reading your blog, i'm really sorry i didn't participate this week. I'll be with you next week though :)

    Anonymous said...

    Shari, this so terrific! I couldn't be happier that you liked your pick. I love the way your floating islands look -- I especially like the sweet little pink islet -- and I love, love, love the research and writing in your post. Really a treat.

    Jennifer said...

    Wow, you did a lot of research. I had never even heard of "floating islands" much less "snow eggs," before I started this recipe. Thanks for the information!

    I'm sort of embarrassed to admit that I ate the last four after work yesterday (before dinner!). The next time I make them, I'll have to make sure we have company so I don't overindulge.

    Annette said...

    Wow, you really went all out by making it three times! Very interesting research. Yours looks delicious. I had fun making these, but I didn't care for the islands. I wonder if I would like them better flavored. Thanks for a fun choice. Great post!

    Michelle said...

    How sweet of you to give me an award...I'm thrilled!

    I love...love...love the banana shaped dish in the first photo! What a wonderful shape!

    Your floating island look so creative and fun!

    Kaitlin said...

    Thank you for this selection. I was happy to try Dorie's version of this dessert (even though I was biased and it didn't quite live up to my favourite version of this recipe).

    Also, this in-depth analysis was great. Great job, Shari!

    Anonymous said...

    Shari - Thank you for "forcing" me to make meringue. I needed to conquer that fear. How great that your pick became one of your favorite desserts!

    Joie de vivre said...

    I've been intimidated to try these, but they look so fancy!

    Liliana said...

    Shari, thanks for choosing this recipe and for the sharing the research. I have to admire you for making it three times and it looks amazingly delicious.

    Do you believe that I also have the 1971 Grand Diplôme Cooking Course cookbooks? I started buying one book a month when I graduated from high school.

    Liz said...

    You deserve a PhD in Floating Islandology! This post was fascinating to read, and your pictures are beautiful. I had to sit out this week, but I will definitely make them soon--you have inspired me!

    Cathy said...

    Shari, and thank you so much for sharing the Lemonade Award! I LOVE your blog, and am so flattered!

    Maria said...

    Love the islands!! You have baked your way through that book! Nice job!

    Anonymous said...

    Okay, I give in! I am totally captivated by this post. I will make them this weekend. Thanks for the inspiration!!

    Zoe Francois said...

    Your presentation is lovely! I was just thinking of making this and now I must! Thanks for the inspiration!

    Anonymous said...

    I've vowed to some day tackle floating islands... They sound so simple and sweet! Thanks for reminding me about this dish.

    Lori said...

    Wow- you are one ambitious chick! Very impressive. But all your posts are pretty impressive. I have been wanting to try this dessert for some time. I will have to find an excuse to make it soon! You have so inpired me.

    Helene said...

    Thanks for the link Shari. I had no idea you guys had picked that...how funny!!
    Love either or Snow eggs or Islands but the latter is such a time savior when making a lot!!
    Beautiful job!

    Jacque said...

    Mmm, every version looks fantastic! You definitely get an A+ for TWD hosting.

    Great pick!

    Jenny said...

    My those are beautiful.

    This recipe has been on my "to try" list for awhile and I am determined I will make them finally this year - just not this week when I have so many other things in stages here. :-)

    PS Shari, you might know this - where can I get creme fraiche in Ottawa?

    Anonymous said...

    what a challenge and a story about snow eggs....and you surprised me by saying you've lived in papua guinea :)

    Jessica said...

    Great post, Shari and what a selection! I enjoyed the challenge and found the results quite satisfying.

    Jaime said...

    i'm sorry i couldn't make the recipe - but i'm impressed it's now your favorite dessert! that's saying a lot!!

    kimberly salem said...

    finally getting around to commenting on this!! i had a lot of fun with this pick, it was delicious and beautiful! yours look wonderful and i'm glad you loved your pick :)

    EH said...

    This is a great looking recipe, running out now to get ingredients and will make for Mothers Day!