Even the names are enchanting: œufs à la neige (eggs in snow) and ȋle flottante (floating island). Picture pristinely shaped ovals nested in snowy cream, or billowy meringues adrift in a sea of custard. Pure fantasy.
Although the French names suggest culinary ownership many countries claim their own unique versions. For the most part they are all about tender clouds of sweetened egg whites briefly poached and combined in some fashion with custard of eggs, milk and sugar.
For years I was captivated by the name and wanted to give Eggs in Snow a try, but only paused, blinked, and moved on. It seemed daunting; a lot of work for something that appeared simplistic and inconsequentially light.
But I was wrong. This is a complex dessert with both great style and whimsy; a sweet with such wide appeal that it would play equally well to adults and children as well as the healthy and the infirm.
Perhaps I have had a major culinary shift. These days I am in awe of all the well-constructed basics that incorporate eggs: i.e., meringues and custards. In this case, I was pleased to combine two of my favorite things and carry it a step further.
I was fascinated by the process of poaching meringues in simmering liquid. I watched as the beaten egg whites swelled into moist, firm puffs of air; the most perfect ‘marshmallow fluff’ imaginable.
Of course, anything that includes custard has long been a friend of mine. In this case, crème Anglaise thriftily transforms the residual yolks into a thin, regal custard—the sea upon which the islands of meringue rest.
Ah, those lovely Floating Islands. I spooned the custard sauce into individual glasses and perched a couple of the meringue clouds atop. For contrast, I sprinkled on a few crunchy candied almonds. You would not think one of these elegant beauties would be enough—so light and ethereal, yet I was amazed and completely satisfied.
As with some île flottantes, perhaps the addition a cookie or bit of cake is in order. It’s your call. Whatever you call it, it is not a dessert easily forgotten.
Eggs in Snow and Floating Islands
4 egg whites
¼ tsp cream of tartar
½ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups milk, water or a combination of both
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
Crème Anglaise Custard
2 cups milk
4 egg yolks
½ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
Garnish: ½ cup candied almonds, raspberries or other fresh fruit
Prepare the Poaching Liquid
In a wide pot over medium high, heat milk and sugar to dissolve the sugar. Keep warm while preparing the meringue.
For the Meringue
1. With electric mixer, beat the egg whites until foamy and add the cream of tartar. Continue beating the whites until a firm foam forms. Add the salt and then very slowly add in the sugar, beating until whites are glossy and thick with soft peaks. Add the vanilla and beat until stiff peaks begin to form.
To Poach the Meringues
1. Using 2 serving spoons shape the meringues into attractive ovals and gently lower the spoonfuls into the simmering milk.
2. Poach the meringues about 2 minutes per side; turn when set and cook on the other side. Remove with slotted spoon and set on toweling to drain; and repeat.
For the Crème Anglaise
1. Strain the poaching liquid and add enough milk to equal 2 cups. Heat the milk in a small pot until it is hot but not boiling.
2. In a medium mixing bowl, with a hand held mixer, beat the egg yolks until frothy and slowly whisk in the sugar; continue beating until it is thick and light in color. Slowly stir in about 2/3 cup of the hot milk to temper.
3. Lightly whisk the custard back into the pot of warm milk. Over low heat stir constantly until it is hot and coats the back of a spoon and when a line drawn through it does not run. It should reach about 170 degrees: a few bubbles may appear along edges but it does not boil. Add the vanilla and strain into a clean bowl to cool. If refrigerating, cover the surface with plastic wrap to avoid skin forming on surface.
To Assemble: Spoon the custard into a low serving bowl, individual wide bowls or serving glasses; float the poached meringues on top and sprinkle with candied nuts or fresh fruit. Serves 4.