Carol Blymere's recent rendition of Thomas Keller's Iles Flottante reminded me that I'd been wanting to try Dorie Greenspan's version of this dessert.
I'd never made creme anglaise before, and I'd never poached anything, so I had fun trying this recipe. My creme anglaise turned out rather yellower and grainer (even after straining) than Dorie's beautifully smooth and white sauce, but it tasted great and added color to the dish, so I didn't mind. I had been afraid the islands would dissolve into a pan full of bubbles when I poached them, like the gnocchi I once tried to make, but they came out just fine. The dish as a whole was, well, really eggy. Without the caramel, it was nice, but not amazing. I decided to add the optional caramel.
I don't like hard caramel, but I topped the first servings with Dorie's caramel, just to give it a chance. And I still didn't like hard caramel, so I topped the next servings with generous portions of my honey caramel, and I loved it. The deep caramel flavor and the honey were just what the dish needed to give it some flavor, without sacrificing any of my fillings in eating it. Next time, I'd like to try a nice tart strawberry sauce in place of the caramel. (Or maybe with the caramel, although that seems weird. Maybe with a dark chocolate sauce instead of the caramel?)
Also, I had an unusual problem with my pictures this time. Normally, I take ten or twenty shots and spend half an hour deciding which is least ugly. This time, I couldn't decide which one I loved most--several of them actual looked edible. Many thanks to my husband for suggesting that I try a different lighting source.
2 C whole milk
6 large egg yolks
.5 C sugar
1.5 tsp vanilla
Bring the milk to a boil. Combine yolks and sugar in a heavy saucepan and whisk vigorously until thick and pale, 2-3 min. Temper yolks with a small amount of hot milk. Slowly add the rest of the milk while continuing to whisk. Put saucepan on medium-low heat and cook, stirring constantly, until custard thickens, lightens in color, and coats the spoon (up to around 10 min.)--if you run your finger down the spoon, the track should remain. The anglaise should be cooked until it reaches 180 F.
Immediately remove from heat, strain into a bowl, and add the vanilla. Cover with plastic wrap pressed against the surface. Chill thoroughly (best if at least overnight, up to three days).
2 C milk
4 large egg whites, aged, at room temperature
pinch of salt
.25 C sugar
Spread a clean kitchen towel on the counter near the stove and have a large slotted spoon at hand. Put the milk in a wide saucepan and bring to a simmer at low heat.
Beat whites on medium speed until foamy. Beat in salt. When eggs are opaque, increase speed to medium-high and add sugar 1 TB at a time. Whip until meringue is firm but satiny and still glossy.
Scoop up islands (about twice amount of egg) and lower into simmering milk, adding only as many as fit in the pan without crowding. (For smoother islands, transfer meringue between two large spoons a few times.) Poach for 1 minute. Gently turn over and poach 1 minute on the other side. Remove from milk and place on towel.
After cooking all islands, remove from towel and place on wax-paper lined sheet. Refrigerate 1-3 hours.
.5 C sugar
.33 C water
Combine sugar and water in small, heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat, bring to a boil, and cook without stirring (swirling pan occasionally) until caramel turns a pale gold color (6-8 min.). Remove from heat and allow to cool just until thick enough to form threads when dropped from a fork. If it is too hard, rewarm slowly over low heat.
Pour creme anglaise onto plates. Place an island in the center and drizzle with caramel. Serve immediately.