The good thing about the stone fruit season is that the season in India is more or less in line with the season around the world. And that means you are never short of ideas for what to do with the fruit in the basket. And amongst all those ideas, I have a soft spot for French desserts. They can be elegant, they can be rustic, they can be simple, they can be flamboyant and sometimes, all at the same time. And I'm always taken in by how pretty they sound. Makes me wish I had paid more attention in class when we were taught the language in school!
Like this dessert I made with the last cherries of the season. In English, it would translate as 'floating islands', which won't elicit much of a response. But, say 'ile flottante' and it's time to pull out the little black dress for the occasion, even if you have no idea what it means.
'Île flottante' is a dessert that consists of poached meringues that are served floating on a crème anglaise, French for a vanilla custard. There are numerous recipes on the Web and I turned to the most economical one that was Mary Berry's.
The meringues use the egg whites and the custard uses the egg yolks and Mary's recipe uses them in equal number. Which is just perfect because I find nothing more frustrating than when I have leftover yolks or whites at the end of a recipe, which then means I have to go look for another recipe just to use them up!
The recipe is also resourceful in the sense that it uses milk to poach the meringues and once that's done, you use the same milk to make the crème anglaise. Perfect score in home economics, I say!
Preparing the dessert was not difficult but I'll admit it was a bit too fiddly for my liking, specially the bit about poaching the meringues. Although the meringues transformed themselves into soft, fluffy clouds as promised, I just had to keep second guessing myself, never really knowing if I was getting it right. In contrast, making the custard is quite simple and remember it is better served chilled.
This is a very rich dessert that makes quite an impression when it first appears. There is that white, soft, fluffy, delicate meringue served on a bed of pale yellow crème anglaise, whose simplicity of appearance belies its extravagance in flavour.
That would also mean that if you are looking for something simple and light, you will find this dessert a tad overwhelming. And that would also hold true, if you are a person who likes the taste of eggs to be hidden in your dessert, because it plays a starring role in both the elements.
What I would have preferred is a little less sugar in both the elements. This dessert is usually served with a caramel sauce but that would have just piled on the sugar I think. And that's why, thank goodness for the cherries. The freshness and the slight, natural tartness of the cherries cut through all the sugar and the richness of the dessert. So, the cherries were a brilliant idea, courtesy David Tanis for the NYT.
Have you made or eaten ile flottante?? Do tell me what you think of it. Hope you're having a good week!!
Île Flottante With Fresh Cherries
Recipe source : Mary Berry for BBC; David Tanis for NYT
For the Crème Anglaise
- 100 mls milk
- 100 mls double cream
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (I used fresh vanilla but the seeds speckled the meringue. If you are okay with that look, you can use fresh vanilla)
- 2 egg yolks
- 30 gms caster sugar
- 2 eggs whites
- 50 gms caster sugar
For the Cherries
- 1 cup pitted cherries
- 1 tablespoon cherry liqueur
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- For the cherries: Put cherries and sugar in a wide saucepan over medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 5-10 minutes, until cherries are soft. Remove cherries and reduce syrup over high heat until somewhat thickened, about 5 minutes. Pour syrup back over cherries. Stir in cherry liqueur.
- Keep the cherries aside as you go on to prepare the other components.
- For the meringues, in a large grease-free bowl use an electric hand whisk to whisk the egg whites together on fast speed, until stiff peaks form when the whisk is removed. Add one tablespoon of the sugar to the egg whites and continue to whisk until the mixture comes back to stiff peaks. Keep adding sugar one tablespoon at a time until 50gms has been used, and the meringue is thick and glossy.
- To prepare the poaching liquid (and what will become the crème anglaise), heat the milk and cream in a large lidded pan or deep-sided frying pan. Stir in the vanilla extract and bring to a simmer over a low heat.
- Using two large tablespoons or serving spoons dipped in cold water, shape quenelles (I managed to shape 4 quenelles) from the meringue mixture and place in the poaching liquid, over a very low heat for about 5 minutes, flipping the quenelles halfway through. Cover the pan with a lid while poaching. Make sure the poaching liquid doesn’t boil or the meringues will puff up then collapse.
- When the quenelles are really puffed up, firm and cooked, transfer them to a wire rack to drain. They look more delicate than they actually are.
- For the crème anglaise, pass the poaching milk through a sieve into a large jug.
- In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks and caster sugar together until pale and fluffy. Pour over the warm poaching milk, whisking continuously. Pour the mixture into a clean heavy-based pan and cook over a very low heat for 3-4 minutes stirring continuously until smooth and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and set aside.
- To serve: Chill the crème anglaise. Pour a little of the chilled crème anglaise into each serving bowl and float a quenelle of meringue on top. Decorate the quenelle with some of the cherries and drizzle some of the syrup on it.