Dessert Week · Season 2

Floating Islands (of Doom)

Working my way through this project, I was ready to throw in the towel (if I could find a towel…there seems to be a snag in the laundry system around here…), but in the end, the results were pretty good and the skinny boy gave it a 9/10.

My patience and general mental space has not been great.  Stress is high.  Besides the fact that school is wrapping up, I’ve been SICK.  My daughter had a bad cough, which she helpfully shared with me while I was starting to have allergy issues from all the grasses and trees blooming, and a sinus infection was brewing.  Those all together created a perfect asthma storm.  A couple days ago, I went to the doctor’s office and got an albuterol treatment, steroids, and antibiotics.  I’m still in pretty rough shape and have grounded myself to sticking around the house as much as possible for the next few days.  I really want to get out and walk and play GPS games, but I just don’t have the lung capacity for it.  So yeah, life has been kinda sucky.  But baking something for the kiddos makes me happy, so I thought I’d do a little of that.

There are three parts to this dessert, and I had to break it up over the day due to running hither and thither.  Taking the middle kid to school, the youngest to the orthodontist, going to the store (again…every day…), then home, then karate, then dinner.  I think the contestants in the show were given 2 hours–it took me at least 9.  The recipe I used was found here on the BBC food site.

First, the Creme Anglaise.  It’s kind of a thin vanilla pudding, if you want to get an Americanized view of it.  Simmer milk and the vanilla pod (the cost of vanilla is currently SKYROCKETING due to high demand from big food–Hershey, for example, who is working to replace all the artificial ingredients in their candies with real ones–and a devastating storm that damaged many of the vanilla trees in Madagascar where most of the world’s vanilla comes from, so I may have to use artificial vanilla in some of these recipes until that levels out again, which could take a couple years!).

Put the milk and vanilla pod, split and all the lovely innards scraped into the pan–then I threw the whole pod in anyway–into a pan to simmer.  Then separate 8 eggs into yolks and whites.

Put the yolks into the mixer and add 190 g sugar.  When the milk and vanilla has simmered the proper amount of time, DRIBBLE it into the mixer with the yolks and sugar.  If you dump it in too fast, you could cook the eggs and make scrambled eggs.  Not the right consistency.  This will take a few minutes, so be patient.  Also, keep the mixer at medium speed–too fast and you’ll get froth.  When it’s all mixed in, put it back on the stove on medium-low and allow it to thicken.  It says 4-5 minutes, but I had it on the stove for about 11 minutes on low heat to prevent scalding.  Put it in a bowl, cover it, and put it in the fridge.

Then, the poaching liquid:  500 ml milk and 500 ml water, and 1 Tbsp sugar.  Whisk it together to combine and set it on med-low in a large shallow pan.  I used a 12″ pan that’s about 2″ deep.

While the poaching liquid is warming up, take your 8 egg whites and whip them in the mixer.  When stiff (but not dry) peaks form, start adding the sugar (190 g) a spoonful at a time.  It will incorporate into the egg white and form stiff, glossy peaks.

Oh, it’s so pretty!!

Using a couple tablespoons, form egg-sized balls (or slightly larger) and drop them into the poaching liquid.  Allow them to simmer (NOT BOIL) for 5 minutes, then turn them to cook through.  I would not recommend covering the pan–it can over-boil and cause a huge mess on your stove as well as cause your meringue to puff up and then collapse.  Not a pretty look. Ask me how I know….  🙁

Remove the cooked meringues from the poaching liquid and put on a wire screen to cool.  Pro-tip–get some really narrow screening for this–the cookie racks I’ve got acted more like a bread slicer on these delicate clouds.  After they cooled a bit, I moved them to a platter…yes, a chipped and cracked platter.  I need to get a new one.

To serve, pour a ladle of the Creme Anglaise onto a plate, creating a sea of vanilla goodness.  Add 3 poofy meringue “islands” into the sea (mine are a bit more “free form” than the professional ones), then drizzle with caramel, or make homemade spun sugar for an added sweet crunch.  That would have added another 2 hours to this project, so I opted out of that and opened a jar of caramel syrup that I got at the store for 50% off.

It was delicious and I learned a lot, but I’m probably not going to make this again anytime soon.

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