Tuesday, February 10, 2009

{TWD} Floating Desert Islands

I've just got to say right at the outset : this has got to be the oddest dessert I've ever made. In the intro to the recipe, Dorie says that this classic French dish is the one dessert that "remains a mainstay in the make-at-home repertoire, in some part because it is so easy and in some part because it's a naturally showy dessert."

Well.

Not only does it look odd (really, don't you think a lump of meringue in a puddle of creamy stuff appears a bit unusual? or am I just being provincial?) but this two page recipe isn't what I'd term "easy." Easy is stirring together an ingredient or two and popping it in the oven. This recipe, on the other hand, has a meringue element and a custard element, and if you're being traditional, a caramel element. Each of these contain a few potential pitfalls for a home baker like me. But assuming you are French or can otherwise effortlessly breeze through these components without mishap, there's always the mountain of bowls and pans this recipe produces...

So the whole time I was cooking this, I thought of people in their kitchens in France, blithely manicuring and poaching meringues and coating spoon backs with perfectly tempered custard.


n.o.e.'s notes:

I made half recipe for my husband and me - it stretched for two desserts for two of us, mostly because I had tasted so much of it during preparation that I didn't need a very big serving. After reading the Floating Islands P&Q, I decided to follow steph (whisk/spoon)'s lead by making and poaching the meringues first and then use the leftover poaching milk to make the creme anglaise.

whipping:

Some people can whip up a meringue like it's a walk in the park, but not me. For me whipping egg whites is a Big Deal, especially when the meringue is going to be formed into an island that then must poach in simmering milk.

To successfully whip egg whites, the mixing bowl and implements must be spotlessly clean. The day I made this recipe I was more scrupulous about cleanliness than I've been since I brought my firstborn home from the hospital, and even then I realized that a little dirt was probably good for her. But not with egg whites. Even a speck of wayward grease or foreign matter is liable to lead to certain meringue demise.

The next hurdle is to beat the whites long enough that they are fluffy and full of air, but not so long that they become dry, which is a sign of over-mixing and spells bad news for meringues. I was so worried about this that I may have under-beat my whites just a bit.

shaping:

Forming the islands is where the rubber hits the road. According to Dorie, there are two options: the rough volcanic island and the manicured oval island. I'll leave it to you to guess the classification of my islands.

When I think of "manicured" real estate I think of precisely-maintained lawns or shrubs. I think of golf courses. Turns out I'm not so much the manicured type. Here's my front yard:


And the ornamental shrub by my front door:

...and this is what it looked like after a trim.
With this track record, I wasn't about to try for manicured meringue islands. No matter what I used to scoop the meringue, that implement became the meringue's best buddy, and the two had to be forcibly separated. There was absolutely no way that the meringue was going to go back and forth between two spoons. I ended up using an old-school oval ice cream scoop (not a disher) and pried the meringue out and into the hot milk.

poaching:

I poached my islands for about 2-3 minutes per side.

At this stage, dessert did not look promising - the bottom of the milk kept trying to scorch and the top kept skinning over. I was busy skimming milk skin and peeling it off of the meringues. Meanwhile the poaching liquid was fast disappearing (even though I added extra). After straining the poaching milk, I had just under half of what I needed for making the creme anglaise.

Dorie says to lay out a clean towel next to the stove, but then never reveals the purpose of the towel. I figured I'd park my poached islands there after they cooked. What's better than a nice clean towel after a dip in a warm milk bath?

creme anglaise

I wonder if the French ever have to make their creme anglaise twice because the first time it scrambled? Hmm? Well, I did. Dorie says the eggs may take 10 minutes to cook. I was pulling up a stool to the counter to get comfy while I stirred, when my custard reached the proper consistency - after about 2 minutes, or even less. I was so surprised that I just stood and looked for a second, and in that time the eggs scrambled ever so slightly. It absolutely would not strain through the fine mesh strainer.

Luckily I was making a half batch, so I only wasted 3 egg yolks on the first attempt. (And the custard still tastes great, but just has a crazy texture.)

creme anglaise, take 2:


I had used up all of my large-graded eggs, so I turned to the eggs from the farm box. These are ungraded and tend to be smaller than large eggs from the store. I think this worked in my favor, to slow the thickening process, as the proportion of egg to milk was smaller. It still went pretty quickly - maybe 6 minutes, and I got it into the strainer not a minute too soon. In fact, the custard in the bottom of the pan was just starting to scramble. My creme stayed pretty much in liquid form even after it cooled.

topping:

There was absolutely no way I was going to tackle the (thankfully) optional homemade caramel for this recipe. Meringue and custard were enough for one afternoon, without having to deal with molten sugar also. So it was bare desert islands for us.

I drizzled one serving of the islands with some cranberry syrup that I made by simmering some cranberry liquid that I'd reserved from another recipe. I knew that we would prefer the flavor of the unadorned vanilla version, but couldn't resist making one in Valentine colors.

the verdict:

I had sampled the various components as I cooked them. The meringue was good - light and not too sweet. The custard was also good - rich but not decadently so. But this was not enough to write home about. I could only hope that when tasted together the meringue and the custard would combine for a total experience beyond the sum of the individual parts. And they did. This is a delicate yet delicious dessert.

My husband loved it, giving it a rating of 9 out of 10. I liked it too, and will freely admit to licking the empty creme anglaise bowl before sticking it in the dishwasher. I told my husband that I wouldn't be making it again, unless he were to specifically request the island dessert. Just too odd. And time consuming.

I have no doubt that many of my fellow bakers found this one to be easy, and produced precisely manicured islands swimming in a perfect anglaise sea, topped with gossamer caramel strands. You can find out by visiting the TWD blogroll and clicking on each baker's blog. You can find the recipe on page 401-402 of Dorie's book Baking From My Home to Yours, or on Shari's post.

51 comments:

Secret Server said...

Oh, your final treat looks beautiful. I love the cranberry sauce; so pretty for valentine's day. To be honest though, I was relieved to learn I wasn't the only one that struggled with this recipe. I had meringue problems too and my creme anglaise curdled and didn't even have the energy to try again. I blended it and served it as is. I'm glad your husband liked them so much.

Andrea said...

Your islands look perfect! Much better than my jagged lumps. This recipe was quite an adventure in the kitchen. I'm so glad that your husband really enjoyed these :)

Audrey said...

You said your islands were rustic, but I think they look beautiful! And I had exactly the same experience with the creme anglaise the first time (and to be honest, the second!) I agree that the sum of the two parts was better than the individual parts...and after seeing many recipes I've always wondered what this would taste like!

natalia said...

Ciao Nancy !! Guess what : for my husband they were the best dessert ever !! So I'll be making it again and in the end I'll even be able to manicure !

Cathy said...

Nancy, my head is tired from nodding so vigorously in agreement with everything you said in your post. Except for your analysis of your own islands -- I think they look great! Those are definitely manicured in my book. The entire time I was making this I just kept thinking "cultural differences -- they're what make the world interesting." I totally agree that the assembled dessert was really wonderful. And I also agree that it is highly unlikely that I will make it again. If we have a spoon dessert hankering, I'll probably go with the creme brulee -- even with the blowtorching I thought that was way easier than this one!

Lady Baker said...

LOL, reading your post today reminded me about the scalding milk experience I had too--but I didn't mention it in my post..I must have blocked that part out?! I kept having to skim off the scalded milk 'skin' that kept forming!
And the 2-spoon method sure did not work for me...but I think yours look fab! And it tastes the same, 'manicured' or not--and heck, I don't think the French were watching, so I am all for the rustic look. :)

myfamousrecipe said...

Great post! I love the photos of your "manicured" lawn.

I also made a half batch. If you have any leftovers for tonight, I highly recommend trying the caramel topping. For me, it was the best part (much easier than coddling, shaping, and poaching those feisty meringue islands) and it took less than ten minutes.

Prudy said...

It is awfully pretty, but I must agree with all of your assessments. It's pretty fussy for something just pretty. Sigh. And I don't even want to think about the dishes I washed!

Jules Someone said...

Your final product looks delicious. I skipped this week mostly because of the fuss factor. Well, that and I'm going to bake something else. Good for you for trying it!

AmyRuth said...

You are a pretty funny girl. LOL Loved reading about your persistent stages of the recipe. No one could every accuse you of being a slacker. You fought a good fight. I would imagine the next time you make the Lake Anglaise you will come through swimmingly.
Thanks for the giggles. I'm glad your hubs liked the fruit of your efforts. It really is such a beautifully light combination of elements. Oh and BTW, I like your word picture in the beginning of the French lolling away while making this dessert, while we toil with a mountain of pans. LOL
AmyRuth

Teanna said...

I seriously love your Aussie on that page! It makes me so happy! Also, your meringues look absolutely perfect! I think the ice cream scoop trick worked!

Peggy said...

It might not have been your favorite, but it really looks delicious. I heard others struggled as well so maybe it helps to know you weren't alone. I guess I am glad I didn't have time to make it this week! But you get an A+ for effort because it is beautiful.

Lillian said...

Your islands look much better than mine, so take heart!

Jess said...

I think your islands look great - but I'm with you; I don't think this will be a repeat dessert around here. On the other hand, the creme anglaise could be a great ice cream base next summer...

leanne said...

Oh I definately licked the spoon after making the anglaise. The anglaise which took me three times to get it right. My dogs loved the first two wrong edition though. Your meringues look great. I can make them but never make them look good. Heavens knows I have tried

dharmagirl said...

well, i think your islands look fab,

and as for your lawn and shrub, i had a good laugh at the analogy. but water restrictions and drought will do that to a lovely yard:)

i skipped this week due to illness and a sneaking suspicion that the islands would be tres complicated...
thanks for confirming those suspicions:)

Megan said...

Oh, seeing the broken creme anglaise made me cringe. I felt so bad for you. Kudos for making it a second time - and for discovering the joys of the creme.

spike. said...

wow, that sounds like quite an ordeal. Glad your husband liked the final product

chocolatechic said...

Your islands are gorgeous.

pinkstripes said...

I thought the meringues were a bit tricky. I had difficulty flipping them over.
The cranberry syrup sounds delicious.

Natashya said...

Well, you gave it a great effort and came up with a dessert that pleased hubby at least! Tell him it was his Valentine's gift and make yourself some one bowl brownies!
The islands look great and the cranberry coulis was a great idea.
Now, are you going to do a throwdown? Maybe do Ina' Iles Flotantes? :)

Melissa said...

You have about as green of a thumb as I do. I admire the people with bright green grass and lovely thriving flowers in their yard. Unfortunately, that will never be me.

I skipped this week because I too thought this looked hard and time consuming. But yours really did come out looking well, and I'm glad you and your hubby liked it!

Lisa magicsprinkles said...

I love your whole post and think that the deserted dessert(ed) islands look splendid. Lots of work, but if the DH gave it a 9, worth it.

Sweet Charity said...

I can't imagine this recipe being a part of a make-at-home repetoire... custard, and meringue, and caramel?? Geez, it's like a floating 3-headed monster. Also, I thought it was oeufs a la neige that have poached meringues, while floating island was a large baked one...
In any case, your's look lovely!

Madam Chow said...

I almost peed myself when I was reading about your lawn and ornamental plant. Your lawn kind of looks like mine. :)

As for your creme anglais, one time I had it curdle on me and I had no more eggs. So I through the whole thing in a tall, thin container, and used my immersion blender to break everything up, and then strained the mixture. It worked!

TeaLady said...

Oh! Nancy, you are too funny!! I haven't made mine yet but am glad I waited until after I read your post. Will see how mine turn out later this evening. Come by and see me tomorrow or so. Mine will probably make you feel a whole lot better about yours.....

Tammy said...

I am pleased your hsuband liked this - I didnt really get it either

Marthe said...

Wow, that sounds like a lot of work! I still have to make these, but now you got me scared!!

MacDuff said...

Oh, so pretty. You never cease to amaze me. And anything manicured always makes me a little nervous. It's like, "Don't you need to be doing...something else?"

Fit Chick said...

I love your detailed discription of making the Floating Islands and was glad I decided to pass. Your islands look very good and I am glad your DH liked them.

Gabe's Girl said...

You always have such great reviews. Your meringues looked perfect. My hubby would not touch them even if I doused them with chocolate! So, kudos to yours.

Sherry Trifle - Lovely Cats said...

Most enjoyable write-up. Good job on the dessert but I agree that the recipe seems a bit odd.

Carol Peterman said...

Nice job with the various elements of this week's recipe. I think your islands look lovely.

Jill said...

Your islands turned out lovely! Love the pictures of your yard and shrub. I just didn't have the time to tackle this one.

Jacque said...

I was a little taken aback myself when Dorie seemed to describe this as a common French dessert. It looked so complicated.

Your islands look pretty good from where I'm sitting :) Nice job sticking with it.

Katrina said...

Great work. It did seem like a lot of work, which was another reason I decided not to do this one. If I'm going to work that hard for something, it needs to be chocolatey and ooey and gooey and such! ;) Glad you liked it.

Di said...

Your dessert looks terrific, especially with the cranberry syrup to brighten it up. Caramel doesn't scare me anymore, but the thought of poaching meringues does, a little. I'm making myself a note to use a double boiler for the custard, even though the recipe doesn't say to. I usually do when making ice cream base, and it helps avoid a lot of the curdling.

n.o.e said...

Natashya, I'm not likely to do a floating islands throwdown, but Kait of Kait's Plate did a comparison of the two recipes - her post is great:
http://kaitsplate.blogspot.com/2009/02/tuesdays-with-dorie-floating-islands.html

Nancy

Annette said...

Your islands look much better than mine and I even attempted the manicured over island! Didn't work. This was an interesting recipe. I'm glad I tried it, but like you, I don't plan on making it again. Great post!

Flourchild said...

Lovely. Im glad your husband liked it.

bakingwiththeboys said...

Well, I tried the two spoons and my meringues suffered for it. I think yours look great. This was definitely a one shot deal for me.

Shari@Whisk: a food blog said...

Wow, after all that trouble and all those dishes, I'm so glad you enjoyed it. I've noticed that the French recipes tend to use a lot of dishes! Love the pictures of your front yard and ornamental shrub! Your islands look very manicured, IMO!

Kaitlin said...

You're so right about this being mislabelled as "easy." It's far from it.

Also, I too was too worried and ended up under-beating the eggs.

Liz said...

Okay, I have to tell you. I'm sitting in the courthouse, waiting for my jury duty service to be over (please please please) and this sentence made me laugh out loud:

"What's better than a nice clean towel after a dip in a warm milk bath?"

My fellow prospective jurors surely think I'm crazy. Thanks for a good chuckle. Glad it all worked out in the end, even if it was too much work!

Pamela said...

Great job, Nancy. I laughed out loud when you wrote about the kitchen towel. I see you put it to good use! The end result was very pretty with the cranberry syrup.

James said...

I read the recipe and figured that the local denizens wouldn't care for it. I showed the picture and they agreed ... skipped this week. Cleaning up the kitchen still.

Yours looks great!

Di said...

Hey, Nancy. I was going to email you a response to the comment you left me, but I can't find your email anywhere. If you're okay with giving it to me, you can email me at diskitchennotebook@gmail.com.

What's for Supper? said...

Your dessert looks great. Thanks for all the suggestions that you left me. I am encouraged to try mine again!

Carla said...

The concept really never appealed to me when it was picked. That and I wasn't going through all those steps while at school. Yours does look great though!

Judy said...

You certainly had an adventure making this! I love the version with the cranberry sauce on top -- beautiful!

LyB said...

Not my fave recipe either but I am glad I tried it. Love the cranberry syrup drizzle, very colorful. :)