When I was in Paris a few months ago dining at the revered Aux Lyonnais bistro, I was thrilled to see Ile Flottante on the dessert menu (and actually, I particularly remember my husband and I sharing three desserts between the two of us at that lovely place, and if it says anything, I don’t remember what the other two were). Long ago I saw an episode of Barefoot Contessa where Ina made the floating island dessert, and FINALLY I was going to taste authentic French Ile Flottante!!! This dessert is very light and is basically a meringue cloud floating in creme anglaise, a lovely vanilla custard sauce. If you live in a muggy humid place like I do, you will probably need to cook these a little bit longer to dry them out and keep them from getting gummy, and it will turn out more like a pavlova ile flottante. Whether the meringue clouds be wetter or drier, I’m not complaining either way. The meringues just melt in your mouth, and then you have the crispy shards of praline almond for crunch…mmm. Here’s how to make these:
3/4 cup + 1 cup sugar
1/4 cup +1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp + 1 tsp vanilla extract
5 oz sliced almonds
4 extra large egg whites (you use the yolks for the creme anglaise below)
1/16th tsp salt
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
creme anglaise (recipe below)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
In a saucepan, combine 3/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water over medium heat. Cook until it takes on a caramel color, about 20 minutes (be sure to check on it frequently). Remove the caramel from the heat, stand back, and add 1/2 cup water and 1/2 tsp vanilla. Cook the caramel to 230 degrees F on a thermometer, then take the caramel off the heat. Quickly stir in the almonds and spread it all out onto the sheet pan:
Bake for 15 minutes, until the almonds are brown and toasty and it has spread out:
Let the praline almonds cool, then break it into shards.
Lower the oven temperature to 250 degrees F. Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper.
To make the meringues, beat the egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, for about a minute until frothy:
Bump the speed up to high and slowly pour in 1 cup of sugar. Beat to stiff glossy peaks:
Whisk in the remaining teaspoon of vanilla. With dessert spoons place small mounds of meringue on the parchment paper and if desired (this is untraditional, but I like to do it), flick little peaks up:
Bake for 20 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.
To serve the dish, pour the creme anglaise on the bottom of individual plates. Place a meringue on top, sprinkle with praline almond shards, and serve.
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp cornstarch
1 cup scalded milk (heated to 180 degrees F on an instant read thermometer)
1 tsp amaretto liqueur
seeds of 1 vanilla bean (buy them online, much cheaper than the grocery!)
Beat together the egg yolks and sugar for about 3 minutes on medium high until the mixture gets thick and turns a pale yellow color. Reduce the speed to low, and stir in the cornstarch.
With the mixer on medium low, slowly pour the scalded milk into the egg mixture. Pour the custard into a saucepan and cook over medium low heat, stirring constantly with a spatula (and don’t forget to reach into the corners). Cook until the creme anglaise reaches about 170 degrees F and thickens slightly (keep in mind this isn’t a very thick sauce). Don’t cook it above 180 degrees F or the eggs will scramble!
Pour the sauce through a fine meshed strainer, and add the amaretto and vanilla seeds. Chill the creme anglaise until ready to serve.
Recipe adapted from Ina Garten