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Monday, January 9, 2012

Floating Island

Regardless of when you celebrate New Year's Eve [Gregorian calendar, Julian calendar, or both], it's a good time to enjoy a gourmet dinner and drink champagne. We don't like to stay up until midnight or drive when there are too many tipsy people in the roads, so we "celebrate" with New York and stay home.

This year, I made The Ultimate Beef Wellington per the Tyler Florence recipe at Food Network. It was easier than I expected and worked out perfectly, although my photos didn't. 

Then for a challenge, I decided to make Floating Island, also known as Ile Flottante or œufs à la neige, which means eggs in show. These "eggs in snow" are delicious and delicate meringues floating in crème anglaise, a light custard sauce. 

I was inspired by a pre-New Year's Eve dinner at Cuistot in Palm Desert, where they serve Floating Island in gigantic martini glasses. If you don't have those, a soup tureen is more than acceptable.

East of Paris, these eggs in snow are called Snenokle (in Serbian), or Schnee Nockerl (in German) or Zuppa Nic (which literally means "Nothing Soup" in Polish because the little meringues seem disappear into nothing as you eat them). My grandmother used to make it for us as a special treat.

While Floating Island looks impressive and tastes divine, it is easy to make because you can make each part separately, even a day apart, and then assemble an hour or so before serving.  The three parts are:  the crème anglaise, the meringues, and the carmel topping. 

Also, depending on the recipe you read, the meringues can be either baked or poached and the crème anglaise can be made from the poaching liquid or completely separately. Frankly, this is such a good dessert, that you may want to try out different variations until you find the one you like best. In the meantime, here is my version of the recipe.


5 eggs at room temperature
10 Tablespoons sugar
Pinch of Creme of Tartar
I quart of milk (no less then 2% fat content)

Separate the egg whites from the yolks. Reserve the yolks for the crème anglaise. Beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar. Then slowly add the sugar while beating at high speed until the egg whites are glossy and stiff.

Heat the milk until scalding. Add teaspoonfuls of the beaten egg whites to the hot milk. [I used a small ice cream scoop to try and make my meringues the same size.]  The meringues will float in the milk and puff up.  After a minute or two, flip the meringues over so they can cook on the other side. The whole cooking process takes less than four or five minutes.  

Remove the meringues with a slotted spoon or spider skimmer and set aside. Reserve the hot milk for the crème anglaise.

Crème anglaise

5 egg yolks
5 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla or cognac 
Zest of one lemon
1 quart milk (or the milk used to poach the meringues, which will now be a bit less than a quart)
1 teaspoon corn starch (optional)

Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until they are light in color and thick. Add the vanilla and lemon zest. Carefully add some of the hot milk to the egg yolk mixture to temper them. Then add the egg mixture to the rest of the milk. Stir constantly and cook over medium heat until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. If it is not as thick as you like, beat in the cornstarch.  

Drain the sauce through a sieve and cool. Once the cause is cool, add the meringues.
Caramel Topping

Toasted almond slivers or slices
1-1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water

Heat the sugar and water in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan until the sugar dissolves.  Keep cooking until the sugar becomes golden and reaches 230 degrees F.

Next, sprinkle the meringues with the toasted almonds. The using a spoon, drizzle the caramel on top of the meringues.

Cool and enjoy

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