Dessert Not Easily Forgotten

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.Ala Neige in glass

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.

a la neige poaching

 

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.

 

 

 

a la neige custard

 

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.

a la neige dosAs 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

Ingredients

Meringue
4 egg whites
¼ tsp cream of tartar
Pinch salt
½ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Poaching Liquid
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

Directions
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.

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Buttercream and Camouflage Cake

Last night I spent some time testing and perfecting a butter cream recipe for an upcoming project.  While I was knee-deep in Swiss meringue and butter, one of my housemates came into the kitchen to bake a cake.   As I labored amongst simmering water and whirling mixer, she adeptly cleaned up her spoon and bowl, popped the cake in the oven, and was out in a flash.

CakeTurns out she was making a pink camouflage cake that she would ultimately top off with a quick frosting of Cool Whip and instant vanilla pudding mix.  If pink doesn’t suit you, this trendy cake mix offered by Duff Goldman features another option:  a hunter’s variation in shades of tan, brown and green, with a suggested bright orange frosting.

I briefly helped out by dabbing colorful splashes of cherry flavored fuchsia, hot pink, cotton candy, and creamy white batter into two cake pans—to create that splotchy look.   By the time I was done messing around with mocha buttercream she had whipped up her frosting. I gave it a quick taste. Even in my head-spinning, sugar-overloaded condition, I had to admit, it wasn’t bad:   creamy and light.

But, call me a purist; I still prefer the real deal.  With all this effort—I’d better prefer buttercream.

buttercreams

Buttercream is a light, fluffy frosting of sugar, whipped egg whites or yolks and butter which often incorporates meringue as its base.  In American bakeries, buttercream often consists of powdered sugar whipped until light with a fat such as margarine, heart-arresting shortening, or even lard.

Buttercream made with meringue has a creamy, silky texture.  In the Swiss-style meringue used here, egg whites and sugar are heated and then beaten to a fluffy state until cool; then the butter is beaten in a little at a time to form the bonded buttercream mixture.  Since it is easy to work with and stands up to considerable abuse, its endless adaptations make it an elegant addition to many cakes and cookies.

Buttercream

Ingredients

  •  2 large egg whites
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 ½ cups unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon portions; room temperature
  • ½ tsp. vanilla or other appropriate flavoring (see below)

Directions

  1.   Place egg whites and sugar in metal bowl of a standing mixer and whisk together.
  2. In a pot that fits the mixing bowl, bring water to a simmer over moderate heat.  Place the mixing bowl with egg whites over the pot and lightly whisk until the sugar is dissolved and mixture is hot, 130-140 degree, about two  minutes.
  3. Lock bowl in mixer and beat with wire whisk attachment on medium-high, until no longer hot and fluffy, glossy peaks have formed,  about five minutes.
  4. Beat in butter one tablespoon at a time, using paddle attachment, adding more when it has been incorporated.  If it breaks, continue beating, it will become smooth and creamy.
  5. Add the vanilla or other flavorings and beat to incorporate.  Yield:  about 2 cups.

Variations

Chocolate:  replace vanilla with 6 oz. Bittersweet chocolate, melted with 3 Tbsp. liquid such as milk or hot coffee; allow it to cool before using.

Rum or syrup:   replace vanilla with 2 Tbsp. rum, brandy, or favorite fruit syrup, whisk in a little at a time until incorporated.