œufs à la neige or Floating Island Dessert with flavors from Fennel, Rosewater, lime n how to make islands floating light…
I love beating egg-whites until they fluff up and try to become one with air. As I beat in I trap billions of air bubbles into the whites. It is hard work n I love doing this hard work n I don’t even use an electric beater; my friend is a good old big hand whisk. Sometimes I feel there is a big traditionalist living within me with experimental hands. There is a sense of magic in cooking where one thing transforms right into something else before your eyes, there is such a joy in observing that. Every time I beat the egg whites to quadruple in volume, becoming white as snow I sense that joy again n again. And that is at the heart of the floating island dessert.
The floating island dessert has another name- Snow Cream or œufs à la neige, French in origin. Egg whites are beaten with sugar as they fluff up, then they are quickly poached in vanilla milk, then placed in a vanilla custard known as crème anglaise which is made from the same vanilla milk. Some people treat the beaten egg whites with sugar or the meringue in a different way; they bake them in the oven. The poached egg white portions are so light that they float on this vanilla crème, n that’s how they become the floating islands.
They are so light to bite into, in fact there is almost nothing to bite into…almost air with touch of vanilla, sweetness, and the crème anglaise gives a smooth body that dissolves into my mouth. You have to close your eyes when you experience this sensation.
I interpreted the floating island dessert with touches of fennel seed known as ‘Saunf/ Mouri’, the citrus touch n fragrance from lime, the subtle touch of rosewater. And three of them lift the islands to a new height only to be enjoyed with your loved ones. After all it is a work of love. I dry roasted the fennel seeds ever so slightly to boost their flavor and then pound them to a fine powder, n I incorporated the powder at the final stages of beating the egg whites. As I made the crème anglaise or vanilla crème I flavor it with some whole fennel seeds just to give them a touch of that flavor, as it was cooling down I introduced the hint of rosewater n lime into it.
Caramel was coming into life in a pan, so when it the sugar transformed into dark caramel pour that over the chilled poached meringue floating in the crème anglaise. Some of the caramel drops into the vanilla crème and it further gives it a depth of flavor.
I completely transformed into a vanilla fennel guy as I went on with the islands, all over I smelled of vanilla n fennel, as if I live in those islands! Well I did live there for a while, you know.
Well now you must visit there, so here is the recipe. Bon voyage.
For The Recipe: You will need
Eggs-5 (4 whites n 5 yolks separated)
Caster sugar – around 80gms
Full fat milk- 800ml
Salt a pinch
Fennel seed- 1 tsp, roast slightly half of the seeds n pound into a fine powder
Lime- 1 medium
Rosewater- a few drops
Sugar-3 tbsp to make caramel
Vanilla flavor- 1-1 ½ tbsp
1. Begin by separating the egg-whites carefully , make sure no drops of egg yolks comes into the egg whites, yolks are fat , so their presence in the whites will reduce the rise of the whites by a quarter of a volume. So add about 7-10 drops of lime juice into the egg whites and then start beating them, the lime juice won’t let the egg whites go grainy. Always beat them in a big bowl so there is enough space for air to circulate. Use either a hand whisk which will take about 20 minutes to make them reach stiff peaks or a electric hand beater which will take about 5-7 minutes. Start beating the egg whites, as the egg whites goes to soft peak stage start adding 1 tbsp of caster sugar as you whisk, the sugar will sweeten n stabilize the meringue. Add another tablespoon of caster sugar; in total add about 4 tbsp of caster sugar as you beat in. When the whites begin to hold peak i.e. when you lift some of the white with whisk it holds its shape with a stiff peak, sprinkle the powdered fennel powder over them n beat them in for a final time.
2. Take the milk in pan with sides, add the vanilla extract, the rest of the fennel seeds and let the milk come to almost a simmering point, then with a tablespoon or ladle lift 1 tbsp or 1 ladle of meringue n place them over the milk lightly, they will float, don’t worry. In one go put about 5-6 portions, the milk should barely be simmering n not boiling. Now put a high lid on the pan and give them 2-3 minutes, then turn them over and give them the same amount of time. If you have dropped 1 tbsp of meringue, they will take about 2 minutes on each side and the ladle scoop portions will take about 4 minutes on each side. After that with a slotted spoon pick n drain them, put them a dish.
3. In a different bowl take 5 yolks and 60 gm caster sugar and beat them with whisk until well combined n smooth. Then take the hot milk in which the egg whites were poaching n pour a little milk into the yolk mixture whisking, then gradually add the milk while whisking all the time. After that place the mixture back into the pan and on a very low heat keep whisking the milk. Add a pinch of salt. Don’t increase the heat, the milk should not come to a boil or simmer. After about 5-7 minutes the milk will start to thicken and it will comfortably coat the back of a spoon. When the milk thickens slightly take them out of the heat and let it cool. Add 3-4 drops of rosewater and mix. I just want a hint of rosewater, so add drop by drop n mix n taste, if added too much the rosewater flavor will prevail. When the mix is almost cooled add 1tbsp of lime juice, mix well. Taste, add more if you want.
4. Place the cooled vanilla crème n the meringue in the freeze for a couple of hours to chill. When you are about to serve make the caramel. In a pan take the sugar and add touch of water so that the sugar is just wet, then on a high heat let it go to light brown stage, the reduce heat and watch it as it reaches the dark brown stage,add a slight pinch of salt n a dash of lime juice, remove from heat. Pour the caramel over the floating meringue on the vanilla crème. Pour some caramel over the vanilla crème. And now either you can dig in or freeze it a little more. Scatter some lime zest over the islands as you serve them n it is a beautiful sight to watch.
So now you are on the island, venture and enjoy. Bon appétit.