Sweet Surrender

October 25, 2010 at 1:10 am 4 comments

Confession time.   When it comes to dessert with dinner, I am a pushover.  A sucker.  The one chefs and restaurant managers pray for when selling that most profitable portion of the evening’s epicurean entertainment.  The waiter chimes, “Did you save room—?”  And my yes rings out long before he finishes the sentence.   No shame from this dame.

Now some folks want coffee after their meal.   Others want a digestif like brandy, grappa or limoncello.  Even I like a good cheese plate now and then.   And I’m sure there are still places on Earth where a man with enough money, influence or wanton disregard for others can light up a cigar.  But for my money, a fine meal is simply not complete without something sweet.

Some of my front runners include:  crème brûlée; a good chocolate soufflé (not too sweet) filled with molten hot chocolate magma; bread pudding; and tiramisu, and Italian cake-like creation dipped in coffee and layered with a whipped mixture of egg yolks and mascarpone.  Yum!

My mother, Peg Bracken, loved sweets, too—at home or away.  Never a big eater, toward the end of her life she was relatively inactive and had a tiny appetite.  So dinner out would witness one of more rounds of drinks, a half-hearted foray into the main course, and much attention paid to dessert.

One of her favorites, and mine, was floating island, a delicacy made of meringue floating on crème anglaise (a vanilla custard)   Recipes vary around the world.  Yet here is the one Mom used with great success.   A note of caution, though:  preparing it demands some skill, which is why the dish never wound up in the I Hate to Cook Book.  But believe me, brothers and sisters, this dessert is to die for.

Floating Island

For the custard:

Beat slightly 3-4 egg yolks.  (Store whites in the fridge to make the meringue later.)

Add ¼ cup sugar and 1/8 teaspoon of salt.

Slowly stir in 2 cups of scalded milk.

Place the custard over a very low flame (or simmering water) and stir constantly until it begins to thicken.  Do not let it boil.

(Note:  this is not a firm custard, but more a custard sauce.  Still, if it does not seem thick enough to you, firm it up by slowly adding a paste made of 1 teaspoon of corn starch and 4 teaspoons of water.)

Strain and cool the custard.

Stir in 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Chill the result thoroughly in the fridge.

For the meringue

Whip until stiff:  3 egg whites and 1/8 teaspoon of salt.

As you do so, slowly add 3 tablespoons of sugar and ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract.

For the final assembly

Pull the chilled custard from the fridge and place in small baking dishes suitable for serving.

Heap the whipped meringue on top, making artful peaks here and there.

Place the result in a very hot oven, or under a broiler, and don’t take your eyes off it!

Remove immediately when the tips of the meringue start to brown.

Bring to the table.  Bask in the applause.  Devour till every last trace is gone.


Entry filed under: I Hate to Cook Book. Tags: , , .

Kitchen Gadget A-Go-Go Living, Loving and Letting Go

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. christine beaur-mortezaie  |  October 25, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    Sweets after a meal are not my thing, but floating islands… I love them, and you are right, they are truly to die for. Thanks for reminding me and giving the recipe.

  • 2. Neal  |  October 25, 2010 at 9:18 pm

    I don’t think I could pull this off, from a culinary perspective I still don’t know what they mean by folding something let alone whipping it till it’s stiff. Artful peaks would most likely collapse into volcanic craters in my kitchen… I’ll have to find a restaurant that can make this for me because it sounds delicious!

  • 3. Maggie  |  August 11, 2013 at 2:13 pm

    Thanks for this recipe (and this blog) – I adore this dish, but never yet dared to make it myself. But I now will try it.

    Just one thing – what is a “very hot oven”? I take this to be more than the usual 350 degrees? More like 400, or 425?

    • 4. johannabracken  |  August 11, 2013 at 2:17 pm

      I recommend using the broiler…with eyes on! The result you are going for is a nice brown tip to the meringue, and I’ve found the best result is from the broiler. Enjoy!


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