Floating Island is a beautiful, romantic and outstanding dessert consisting of a light and fluffy meringue (the island) delicately floating on a rich crème anglaise all made from scratch. It is then garnished with some slivered toasted almonds and topped with a crunchy spun sugar web.
For Crème Anglaise
Crème anglaise is essentially just a custard of slightly thinner consistency, like a sauce. For a quick version of it, you can use custard powder. Otherwise here is how to make it from scratch.
Pour the milk and vanilla into a small saucepan and set over medium heat.
Meanwhile, in a bowl, add the sugar into the egg yolks and whisk them together until smooth.
When the milk mixture starts to simmer, pour about half a cup of it into the yolks and whisk it in very very quickly. Add about another cup of the milk mixture, and keep on whisking, then pour the whole egg-milk mixture back into the saucepan.
Return the pan to low heat and continue to cook the mixture while whisking steadily. The custard will thicken fairly quickly, so once it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, turn off the heat and immediately strain the custard into a bowl. Allow it to cool. Store covered, with plastic wrap touching the surface of the custard so a skin won’t form. Refrigerate for at least four hours before using.
For Meringue 'Islands'
Place the egg whites in a clean dry bowl of a mixer with the whip attached (or use a hand-mixer). Beat the whites on medium speed just until foamy, then beat in the salt/cream of tartar. When the eggs turn opaque, increase the mixer speed to medium-high. Continue whipping to the soft peak stage, then with the machine running add the sugar in a slow stream. Whip to stiff peaks but don't over-whip. The egg whites should still be glossy.
Pour the milk in a wide shallow pan, and on low heat bring to a simmer. It shouldn't boil, it should be gently simmering. Have a clean kitchen towel spread out next to the stove and a tray lined with parchment or greaseproof paper.
Now you can begin making the meringue 'islands'. Once the milk is simmering, using a spoon, scoop up some meringue (make it a big lump as it will swell in the milk then it will shrink again as it cools, so scoop about twice the size of an egg). Using a second spoon, gently slide the meringue into the simmering milk. Continue scooping more islands into the milk, but don't over-crowd the pan as you will need room to turn them over.
Let them poach for 1 minute, then gently turn each one over and continue to poach for 1 more minute. Then gently lift the Islands out of the milk and onto the kitchen towel. This helps absorb any extra milk from the meringue. You will get approximately 12 meringue islands.
Once all are done and cooled (they will deflate as they cool), transfer them from the kitchen towel on to the lined tray, cover them with cling film and refrigerate them for at least 1 hour. You can keep them refrigerated for up to 5-6 hours.
Now that your crème anglais and meringues are ready, you can prepare the spun sugar whilst they are chilling.
For Spun Sugar
In a clean thick-based pan put the sugar and add the water. Bring it to the boil on the stove to start making the caramel. DO NOT STIR.
As soon as the syrup begins to turn golden on the sides or centre of the pan remove it from the heat and let it cool down slightly. The colouring will then spread all over the syrup.
NEVER stir the caramel in the pan.
Let the caramel cool very slightly. Then with a spoon take some of the caramel and start drizzling it quickly back and forwards on a piece of parchment paper.
With this it is definitely practice makes perfect! Don't despair if it doesn't work the first time just try again and it will turn out beautifully with a bit of practice.
Set the pieces of parchment aside with the spun sugar on them. Let them cool completely. Then just peel them off the parchment and use for your desserts! They look awesome on ice-creams or cheesecake or caramel puddings etc. These spun sugar pieces can keep well for up to 4 days if stored in a cool dry place.
So now all your elements for the dessert are ready. The dessert should be assembled JUST before serving, preparing it too early will not work as the meringues will end up absorbing too much crème and won't be light and fluffy.
Take individual serving bowls, pour some crème anglais into each. Place an island or two (depending on the sizes of the islands you make) on the custard, sprinkle some toasted almond slices over the island then break a piece of spun sugar and place it on top.
Serve immediately and enjoy! :)