When it comes to Christmas celebrations in France, a lot of traditions revolve around food, and you can learn them on a French cooking vacation with The International Kitchen. A lot of those French food traditions revolve around dessert. After all, Provence has their 13 desserts for Christmas Eve! In terms of classic French desserts come the holidays, it’s often the Buche de Noel (or Christmas Yule Log) that’s talked about the most. But if you’re looking for another dessert to try this holiday season, here’s another favorite among many: the rich and sweet Ile Flottante (or Floating Island) dessert, which you can try during your French cooking vacation or at home.
While this fluffy meringue with crème anglaise and caramel sauce is popular throughout France, this particular recipe comes from an American food and travel writer, Diane, who acts as a personal concierge during our Elegant Burgundy cooking vacation. While this particular recipe calls for the meringues to be poached in milk, others are oven baked. Either way, you’re in for a decadent treat (and we won’t fault you for wanting to drink what’s left right out of the bowl!)
Ile Flottante Recipe
Prep time: 40 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Cook method: Baking
Ingredients for the Crème Anglaise (Vanilla Sauce)
- 2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise (alternatively, use 1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract)
- 2 cups whole milk
- 6 large egg yolks
- 1/2 cup sugar
Ingredients for the Meringues
- 4 large egg whites
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1/2 cup sugar
- Pinch of salt
Ingredients for the Caramel Sauce
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- Almonds, thinly sliced for garnish
1. Start by making the vanilla sauce. To do this, scrape all the seeds from the vanilla bean pods and put the seeds into a small saucepan. Cut the bean pods in half and put these in the pan as well. Add the 2 cups of milk to the pan, and then bring everything to a simmer over medium-high heat.
2. Remove the pan from the heat, and cover the pan. Allow it to sit like this for about 10 minutes.
3. In a separate saucepan, whisk together the yolks and sugar for about two minutes. After it thickens, slowly whisk in the milk/vanilla bean mixture.
4. Continue to stir this mixture over medium-low heat for around 10 minutes, allowing the sauce to thicken. But do not allow it to boil! To test that it’s the right consistency, put a spoon into the crème; if the sauce doesn’t drip off, it’s perfect! Remove the bean pods from the mixture.
5. Strain the sauce over a bowl; you may use a spoon to help strain it all. Then cover the bowl with saran wrap so that a skin doesn’t form over the cream. Allow it to cool in the fridge for at least 3 hours (but it can stay refrigerated for up to 48 hours).
6. Now it’s time to prepare the meringues; these can be prepared the morning you plan on using them or the night of – but they’ll only last a day! In a large bowl, beat together the egg whites using an electric mixer until they start to foam. Then add salt, and beat until the whites come to a soft peak. Slowly add sugar to the mixture, continuing to beat until the egg whites become stiff and have a glossy sheen.
7. Add the whole milk into 12-inch skillet (but not cast iron), and bring the milk to a simmer over medium heat. This milk will be used to poach the meringues.
8. Diane recommends using two large metal spoons with one in each hand for this step. Scoop a meringue — around twice the size of a large egg — with one spoon. And then very carefully transfer the meringue between the spoon a few times until it’s shaped in an oval. (This can take some practice!)
9. Place each meringue oval into the simmering milk. You should be able to poach about 3 to 4 meringues in the skillet at once. Allow it to poach for about one minute, then turn it over with a spoon and allow it to poach for another minute or two. They should puff up a bit during the poaching process.
10. To remove from the pan use a large-slotted spoon; place each meringue over a drain screen that’s been place over a pan or baking sheet. If you have neither, you could use two smooth kitchen cloths (but no terry). At this point, the meringues may deflate.
11. Continue this process until there’s 12 meringues. Place all of these meringues on baking sheets that have been covered in parchment paper or waxed paper. Refrigerate the meringues for three hours.
12. When you’re almost ready to serve, make the caramel sauce. To do this, use a small, heavy saucepan and stir the sugar with 1/4 cup water over medium heat until the sugar dissolves.
13. Bring this to a boil by turning up the heat. All the sugar crystal should dissolve so it becomes smooth and silky. Continue to boil for 5 more minutes, or until the sauce turns a pale golden color. Swirl the pan frequently and scrape the sides so it doesn’t burn.
14. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the sauce to cool until it thickens. To test this, it should drip in a thin ribbon from the edge of a fork. The whole process should be less than 10 minutes.
15. While the sauce can sit til it’s time for dessert, if it becomes too thick, you can just put it back on the stove over low heat and warm it just slightly. But don’t allow it to get too hot.
16. When ready to serve, use six plates, and spoon the vanilla sauce in first. Then float two meringues on top of the vanilla sauce.
17. Finish the dessert by dipping the tip of the fork into the caramel sauce and wave it over the meringues so it drips in threads. This way it adds just a bit of caramel. Garnish with slices of almonds and serve!
This classic French recipe may take a bit of practice, and there’s no better place to do that then in France itself! Diane will be your personal concierge during her small-group led trips to Elegant Burgundy, where guests stay in an elegant chateau, cook with the chateau’s chefs and owner, and explore the region known for its wine.
Check out our blog for more Christmas recipes, such as for Red Berry and Frangipani Tart.
By Liz Hall
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