Oeufs a la Neige, Snow eggs, Floating Islands, Iles Flotante, whatever you choose to call these, they are one of my favourite sweets. These extremely light meringues are poached in slightly sweetened milk until just set, and glazed with a thin, crisp caramel coating. Crème Anglaise is the most essential sauce to serve with the meringue and hence the name, Floating islands, as the meringue floats lightly in the golden pool of sauce. Fresh or poached fruit are also an excellent accompaniment. Summer berries, green gooseberries poached with elderflowers, rhubarb poached with angelica, mango with lime, poached plums, a salad of winter citrus are just a few of the options.
The oeufs are sometimes garnished with crystallized violets or pralines.
The meringue is best served on the day it is made, ideally within 4 hours, but will still be good the next day if somewhat deflated.
Great care needs to be taken when poaching the meringue. The milk in the sauce pan should barely simmer and a wide saucepan with low sides makes the process much easier. I have used a spotlessly clean, low sided, heavy roasting tin on occasions and it worked perfectly.
- Egg whites that are a couple of days old, or even frozen ones that have been defrosted work perfectly here.
- The milk that will be left over after poaching the meringue can be used in the crème anglaise or can be saved for heating again and serving with coffee if sweetened milk is to your taste.
- 6 egg whites
- 4oz / 110g castor sugar
- Poaching liquid
- 2 pints / 1l milk
- 2oz / 55g castor sugar
- 7oz / 200g castor sugar
- Heat the milk and the sugar for the poaching liquid in a wide shallow pan to a bare simmer. Make sure your chosen pan is big enough to acomadate all of the meringue eggs in one go, as this meringue mixture is particularly light and will not hang around while you cook one batch. You just want to see a few bubbles bursting around the edge of the pan.
- In a spotlessly clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until they reach the soft peak stage. The egg white will still be frothy and light and barely hold a peak on the whisk. Still whisking add in the castor sugar in a steady stream and continue whisking for about 5 minutes until the meringue is firm and glossy and can easily be shaped with a spoon. With a tablespoon, shape the eggs into 10 quenelle or egg shapes. Do not worry if the shapes are a bit abstract. Gently slide each egg into the hot milk as you go. After about 4 minutes the top of the quenelles will start to feel a bit firmer, now carefully turn them over to cook on the other side. I use a palate knife or rubber spatula for this. After a further 3 minutes check to see that the meringue is firm and bouncy to the touch, and if pressed gently will not stick to your finger. Remove with a slotted spoon on to a tray lined with a clean tea towel to drain. The cooked meringue can now be refrigerated for several hours.
- To glaze the meringues, gently lift them on to a wire rack, leaving at least 2cm between each one. Sit the wire rack on a tray lined with kitchen foil.
- Put the sugar for the caramel garnish in a heavy saucepan on a low heat. There is no water required for this caramel, so it will look quite odd as it cooks. The lack of water gives a crisper and thinner caramel coating to the oeufs. Stir at intervals until the sugar starts to caramelize. It will look quite lumpy and uneven and you may think it is a
- disaster, but persevere with the stirring, and as if by magic, it smoothens out at the last minute to reveal the smooth chestnut coloured caramel that you require. As soon as all the sugar is dissolved and the colour is correct, immediately, gently and generously spoon the caramel over each of the eggs. The eggs must not be touching, as the caramel will stick them together. Do not touch them until the caramel is cold and completely set as it may stick to your finger and give you a nasty burn.
- To serve the meringues, lift them off the wire rack. This may require a bit of jiggling to loosen them from the rack. Sit them in a pool of crème anglaise and float them off to the table where you deserve to be greeted by thunderous applause.