This week’s recipe, Floating Islands, is a celebration of custard. Soft, puffy clouds of poached meringues floating on a sea of silky smooth custard, topped with a little caramel and some almonds for crunch – it is my idea of heaven in a bowl.
There are a couple of secrets to good meringue:
Your eggs should be fresh and cold. When the egg whites are fresh, it takes more time and more force to whip the proteins into a foam. However, the foam that is created ends up more stable with small, strong, uniform bubbles. Cold temperatures also help keep the proteins rigid and stable.
Your equipment should be spotlessly clean. Any oil or fat will stop your eggs from foaming properly.
You should use caster sugar and add it slowly.
Follow these simple rules and you will always get perfect meringues.
Kia Makona, Mawera x
2 cups milk
1 vanilla bean
1 1⁄3 cups caster sugar
- Separate whites and yolks of eggs. Set aside 4 of the egg whites and freeze the other 2 for another use.
- Beat egg whites until foamy, then add 1⁄3 cup of the sugar very slowly, continuing to beat until egg whites are shiny and stiff but not dry.
- In a pan, bring the milk to a gentle boil, then remove from heat. Split vanilla bean in half lengthwise, add to milk, cover and steep for about 15 minutes. If you do not have a vanilla bean, please use 1 tsp of vanilla essence. If you have ‘imitation’ vanilla in your cupboard, please throw in the rubbish bin.
- Remove vanilla pod. Return milk to heat. Bring up to a gentle simmer. Using a large slotted spoon, form big egg shapes out of whites and poach them in the milk for 30 seconds on each side. Do not overcook. Put the "eggs" on a clean towel to drain.
- Beat yolks and slowly sprinkle in 1⁄3 cup of the sugar. Continue beating until thick and pale yellow in colour. Pour hot milk from poaching pan, in a fine stream, into egg yolks while beating them continuously. Pour mixture back into a pan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly until it forms a custard thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 15 minutes; don't rush the process or the eggs will scramble. Pour custard through a sieve into a shallow serving dishes. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate.
- Combine remaining 2⁄3 cup sugar with 1⁄3 cup water in a small heavy saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat until sugar caramelizes, turning amber in colour. Remove pan from heat to prevent caramel from burning. This can happen very quickly, so it is best to take the pan from the heat just before the sugar darkens, as it will continue cooking. Cool for 5 minutes or until caramel forms into threads when drizzled from the tines of a fork.
- Using a slotted spoon, carefully arrange the "eggs" on top of the custard. Dip a fork into the slightly cooled caramel—you will have to work quickly—and wave the fork over the dessert to form threads of caramel that crisscross and tangle. Garnish with sliced almonds. Serve immediately.