Îles flottantes (floating islands) are the perfect finish to any rich meal. Make the crème anglaise in advance to save time, and have fun with your own choice of flavourings.
For the crème anglaise
- 4 free-range eggs, yolks only
- 80g/3oz sugar
- 1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped out
- 500ml/18fl oz milk
- ½ tsp ground long pepper or freshly ground black pepper
For the praline
For the meringue islands
To make the crème anglaise, mix the egg yolks and sugar together in a bowl.
Place the vanilla pod and seeds in a pan with the milk and pepper and bring to a boil.
Remove the pod (you can rinse and dry it and use for vanilla sugar). Then pour a little of the hot milk onto the egg yolk mixture, whisking continuously.
Gradually whisk in the rest of the milk, then pour the mix into a clean pan, set over a gentle heat and whisk constantly. Do not let the custard simmer at any point or it will split.
After five minutes it will begin to thicken slightly and become the consistency of single cream (it will thicken more when it cools down).
Transfer to a bowl and chill in the fridge for at least four hours.
Meanwhile, to make the praline, line a baking tray with baking paper.
Put the sugar and 25ml/1fl oz water into a large pan, heat gently until the sugar dissolves, then increase the heat to high.
When the mixture starts to bubble, add the almonds and continue to cook for five minutes, stirring continuously to prevent the almonds sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning.
Once the sugar and nuts have become a dark golden-brown caramel colour, pour onto the prepared tray and spread as thinly as possible with a palette knife (be quick as it sets fast). Set aside to cool.
To make the meringue islands, put half the egg whites into a clean glass or metal bowl.
Add the sugar, lemon juice and salt and whisk until snow white.
Add the rest of the egg whites and continue whisking until the meringue forms stiff peaks when the whisk is removed.
Gently drop six spoonfuls of meringue into a large pot of simmering water and simmer for a few minutes or until they are slightly puffed up and just set. Remove with a slotted spoon and place onto a sheet of baking paper until needed.
To assemble, pour a ladleful of crème anglaise into each of six glasses and gently place a meringue in the centre. Snap the praline into small pieces and sprinkle on top.
You’re most likely to find long pepper at an Asian supermarket, or it can be replaced with regular black pepper.
This dessert should be served cold, which makes it perfect for preparing in advance. The praline can be made a couple of weeks before you need it and the crème anglaise a couple of days ahead. Keep the praline in an airtight container, as humidity will make it soggy and sticky. The meringues are best made on the day of serving.
If you prefer you can cook the islands in the microwave. Spoon six small heaps onto a plate, leaving at least 2cm/1in between each one, and microwave on medium-high for 30-60 seconds.
The vanilla pod can be changed for different flavourings. Here are a few ideas to get your
Winter warming: 1 cinnamon stick, ½ tsp ground ginger and a pinch of nutmeg.
Chocolate chilli: 4 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder and 2 pinches of chilli powder, or to taste.
Zingy citrus fruit: finely grated zest of 1 unwaxed orange, ½ lemon and ½ lime.