Gluten Free Floating Island Recipe
We live in a high speed, fast-paced world these days. It seems that the technology that was supposed to lighten our load has in deed only made it possible to pack more into our over-burdened lives.
We don’t have time to actually go into a bank. We conduct financial business online or use ATMs. Afternoon breaks with a nice chat over a cup of tea or coffee have been replaced by a cappuccino from the drive-through window at Starbucks and a quick text message. We no longer have the time or patience to pen a handwritten card or letter and send it by post, waiting excruciatingly long for a reply. We prefer the ease and speed of the internet. We don’t even have time for words anymore. LOL, BRB and OMG have crept into the collective lexicon.
As an antidote to this crazed, fast-paced frenzy, I decided to spend this stormy Sunday afternoon making a classic (and always gluten free) yet time consuming dessert and to revel in the manual labor involved. I decided to make Oeufs à la Neige or “Floating Islands.” And to make this Gluten Free Floating Island Recipe the old fashioned way.
I got excited as I contemplated taking down my beautiful antique French copper bowl and lovingly whipping egg whites by hand then carefully shaping the meringue into perfect ovals to be poached in vanilla scented milk. A huge smile dawned on my face as I imagined the joy I would get from beating egg yolks and sugar to produce fat pale yellow ribbons for the pouring custard and knowing I had to rely on no more sophisticated equipment than a good whisk. I was almost giddy as I envisioned slowly caramelizing sugar to the perfect shade of amber. Ah, the pleasures of producing an old fashioned dessert in the old fashioned way.
WTF was I thinking?
After what seemed to be an eternity of whisking egg whites in my dented old copper bowl and surely contracting carpel tunnel syndrome, I dumped the barely congealed mess in the shiny, stainless mixing bowl of the KitchenAide and put the sucker on high. Within seconds the slimy mess turned into beautiful mounds of perfect meringue. At this point, my wrists were too damaged to even think about shaping perfect ovals for poaching, so I stuffed the sweetened egg whites into a tube pan and “poached” them en masse in the oven. My handheld mixer helped out with the pouring custard and I even used the microwave to soften the caramel when it hardened too much.
Ah, the joys of technology! The Floating Islands were more like a large Floating Island but it was still delicious. There is a reason that classics are classics. And I guess in the end it doesn’t really matter how you get there just so long as you like it when you’re there!
Gluten Free Floating Island Recipe
- Butter and granulated sugar - for preparing the pan
- ¾ cup powdered sugar
- 6 eggs – separated
- 2 cups milk
- 1 ¼ cups granulated sugar – use divided
- 1 vanilla bean - or 1 teaspoon gluten free pure vanilla extract
- ½ cup water
For the Meringue
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Prepare a 6 cup plain or fluted metal tube mold by liberally buttering and sprinkling with sugar. Tap out any excess sugar.
- Beat the egg whites until stiff. Continue to beat adding the powdered sugar gradually until egg whites form stiff peaks and are glossy. Fill metal mold pan with egg white mixture. Place mold in an ovenproof pan with sides that are at least 2 inches high. Pour in very hot water until it reaches about halfway up the sides of the mold pan. Do not be surprised if the mold pan floats up slightly. Bake in oven for about 15 minutes or until the top is brown and the meringue is firm to the touch. The meringue will most likely have risen over the top of the mold pan.
- Remove pan from oven and remove tube pan from the water and let cool for a few minutes. The top will deflate back even with the top of the tube pan. Un-mold the meringue onto a plate and let cool completely. Can be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator.
For Pouring Custard
- Scald the milk (heat over medium heat until almost boiling). Stir a couple of times to keep a skin from forming. Add vanilla bean or vanilla extract. Remove vanilla bean if using after 10 minutes.
- In a mixing bowl beat egg yolks and ¼ cup granulated sugar together until the mixture is thick and a light, lemony yellow. Turn mixer down to low and whisk mixture into the scalded milk.
- Transfer custard mixture to a heavy saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly until you can coat the back of a spoon with it. Remove from heat and either pour into a chilled bowl or put pan into a bowl of iced water to stop the cooking and prevent curdling. Cool custard and then strain through a sieve to remove any lumps. Can be made ahead and stored in the fridge. Cover with plastic wrap and put directly on the surface if refrigerating to prevent a skin from forming.
- Mix 1 cup granulated sugar with ½ cup water in a heavy saucepan. Put over medium high heat and stir just until the sugar is dissolved. Turn up the heat and cook over high heat until the sugar mixture turns an amber color. Do not stir once the mixture stars to boil or it will form crystals. Instead swirl the pan frequently. Remove from heat.
- You can either serve this as one large floating island by pouring the custard into a deep dish, setting the meringue atop and then drizzling the caramel over the meringue or you can serve individually by cutting the meringue into wedges and serving on small dessert plates. Pour the custard sauce first, set the meringue slice atop the custard and then drizzle the caramel over. The caramel will harden as it cools making it hard to drizzle, but it can be softened by putting the pan back over heat or by heating briefly in the microwave.
- To make the caramel decorations like in my photo, I drizzled some caramel onto a piece of parchment paper with the tines of a fork and let it cool for about ten minutes. Then, I stuck a piece into the back of the meringue.
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