Eaten any clouds lately? That’s what it’s like to dive into floating islands, the gently cooked meringues surrounded by vanilla custard sauce.
Claudio Pirollo learned how to make them the classic French way, as a cook’s apprentice in Belgium at age 16. But at his Et Voila! in Washington, the chef has re-engineered the recipe to make it more restaurant-kitchen efficient, and in doing so, he’s done the world a favor. Instead of poaching the islands in milk, he steams them briefly in the oven. Piped into ring molds, they become modern structures that he finishes a la brûlée.
Make them for a dinner party, up to 2 days in advance. Your guests will be impressed, and you’ll be floating on air.
Floating Islands (Iles Flottantes)
Makes 8 servings
1. Combine 8 large egg whites and 1 extra-large egg white (1 ∑ cups total/300 grams, all at room temperature) in the warmed bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a balloon-whisk attachment. Beat on medium-high speed; once they are frothy, gradually add a generous 1½ cups (330 grams) sugar, a tablespoon or two at a time, and a pinch of kosher salt. Beat for 3 minutes after the last of the sugar has been added; the resulting meringue should be firm and smooth. Transfer to a piping bag (with no tip).
2. Arrange eight 3-inch-wide, 2½-inch-tall ring molds on a perforated pan suspended over a pan filled with a few inches of just-boiled water; a vegetable grilling basket works, too. Fill the molds with the meringue. Use an offset spatula to level the tops. Or you can pipe 8 free-form islands directly onto the perforated pan/basket. Bake in a 205-degree oven for 3 minutes, then turn off the oven.
Let the islands sit for 3 minutes, then transfer them, in their molds, to a small baking sheet. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, and up to 2 days.
3. Combine 4 cups of whole milk, a generous 1 cup of heavy cream, 2 split vanilla beans and 9 large egg yolks (a generous ½ cup) in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat; cook for 10 minutes, stirring constantly, or until the mixture thickens to form a crème Anglaise that can coat the back of a spoon. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a container; discard the vanilla beans. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled.
4. Just before serving, sprinkle the tops of each island with a teaspoon or so of turbinado sugar. Use a kitchen torch to brûlée the sugar just until it has melted and browned. Place an island on each plate; pour the chilled crème Anglaise around it. Serve right away.