Ile Flottantes, literally floating islands, are baked meringues floating on pools of creme anglaise, flavoured with almond flakes and caramel.
Apparently in the UK, floating islands involve poached meringues, but in France those are known as oeufs à la niege.
I first had this dessert at Sebastien's, a bit of a risk, since I don't really like egg whites. But I was blown away by the feather-light meringue; it was almost like eating sweetened clouds. It became my new favourite dessert (it's also low fat and cholestrol and high-protein), a light way to end a heavy meal.
I also became quite obsessed with reproducing it at home, but without much success as I couldn't find a reliable way of making baked meringues. Eventually though, I managed to stumble my way onto a fairly decent recipe, itself adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe.
Ingredients (serves 4)
1 cup chilled creme anglaise
80g egg whites (2 - 3 eggs, use the yolks for the creme anglaise)
You could use the aforementioned caramel and almond flakes in place of the fruits, but I prefer the slight tang of the berries to offset the sweetness of the meringue and sauce.
Preheat the oven to 120°C, and butter two ramekins.
Central to the success of any meringue is the beating of the egg whites. I am told there are many tricks to achieve properly stiffly beaten whites. The ones I find most useful are to use day-old, room-temperature whites (store them in the fridge for a day), and use a really powerful KitchenAid mixer.
Failing which, try to beat the whites at an angle to incorporate more air into them, rather than letting the beaters go around horizontally (as you see here). This is especially helpful if you're only beating a small quantity of egg whites.
...and beating, until the egg whites form stiff peaks.
Using a spatula, fill the pre-buttered ramekins with egg whites. Tap the ramekins to ensure that there are no air-pockets. They should just reach the rim of the ramekins. Use your spatula to level off the top.
Place the ramekins into a baking tray, and pour hot water to come half-way up the ramekins. Pop them into the oven and bake for forty minutes. They should rise evenly, and at the end of forty minutes, the tops should still be white and smooth (not sticky) to the touch. If in doubt, bake for another five minutes.
Turn the oven off and leave the door slightly ajar, and let the meringues cool down in the oven for half an hour. Subsequently, transfer them to the refrigerator to chill for another half an hour. I suppose if you're pressed for time you could remove them straight from the oven to the refrigerator, but I prefer it this way.
When you're ready to unmould the meringues, remove them from the refrigerator. They should have shrunk in the ramekins, leaving a gap on one side. Tilt the ramekins, allowing the liquid egg whites to drain off through this gap.
Pour the chilled creme anglaise onto a plate and unmould the meringue onto it, wiping off any excess liquid that is clinging to your meringue.
Slice the strawberry and lay the slices around the meringue in a rosette, and drop the blueberries in between the strawberry slices.