Floating Islands (caramel)

When I ask my husband what he’d like for dessert, floating islands have a strong likelihood of being mentioned. Floating islands are poached meringues floating in a sea of custard. The custard can be vanilla or caramel flavoured. We both prefer caramel, maybe because vanilla custard has so many other uses. The caramel version does take a bit longer to prepare though.

Floating Islands (caramel or vanilla)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 tbsp cornflour
  • (1 vanilla pod or 1 tsp vanilla essence for vanilla version)

Caramel (for caramel version only)

  1. Caramelize 3/4 cup sugar. To do this, melt the sugar slowly in a heavy bottomed pan. Don’t stir the sugar, but as it starts melting, tilt the pan gently to prevent the sugar from burning.
  2. When all the sugar has melted and is golden brown in colour, remove the pan from the heat. Very carefully, add 3 tblsp cold water (it will steam and spit), and then return to the heat and stir until the melted sugar and water have dissolved together. Set aside.

Islands

  1. Separate the eggs and set the yolks aside. Whisk the whites in a shallow bowl until stiff, and then gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar while whisking.
  2. Heat the milk to just below boiling in a wide pan. Use a big spoon to drop egg-white islands onto the milk. Let them poach for 2 minutes or until they fluff up, turn them over, poach them on the other side for 2 minutes, and remove. Be careful not to cook them for too long, as they will stop being fluffy and become rubbery. As they poach you should see them fluff up, at that point they are ready to be turned. Leave them on some paper towel to drain.
  3. KEEP THE MILK!

Custard (Caramel)

  1. Strain the milk you used to poach the islands, and bring it back up to 2 cups by adding some extra milk. Heat gently in a saucepan with 3/4 of the caramelized sugar.
  2. Whisk together the 3 yolks and the cornflour.
  3. Pour some of the milk over the yolk mixture, stirring constantly, and then pour the milk and yolk mixture back into the pan with the rest of the milk.
  4. Continue stirring this over a low heat until it thickens and is smooth (if you remove the spoon and draw your finger over the back, it should leave a groove in the custard coating the spoon). Remove from the heat and strain into a serving bowl (or individual bowls).
  5. When the custard is cool, place some islands on top. Chill for 2 hours before serving.
  6. Just before serving, garnish the islands with some of the remaining caramel. You may need to gently reheat the caramel.

Custard (Vanilla)

  1. Strain the milk you used to poach the islands, and bring it back up to 2 cups by adding some extra milk. Heat gently in a saucepan. If you are using vanilla pods, split the pods, scrape out the seeds and add the seeds and pods to the milk.
  2. Whisk together the 3 yolks, the cornflour, and 1/2 cup sugar.
  3. Pour some of the milk over the yolk mixture, stirring constantly, and then pour the milk and yolk mixture back into the pan with the rest of the milk.
  4. Continue stirring this over a low heat until it thickens and is smooth (if you remove the spoon and draw your finger over the back, it should leave a groove in the custard coating the spoon). If you are using vanilla essence, flavour the custard now with 1 tsp vanilla essence. Remove from the heat and strain into a serving bowl (use a coarse sieve so the vanilla seeds do not get strained out).
  5. When the custard is cool, place some islands on top. Chill for 2 hours before serving.
Tip: Rinse the used vanilla pods, leave them to dry, and then place them in a jar of caster sugar to produce vanilla flavoured sugar.
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