In the kitchen with Elise tonight, it’s Quiche Lorraine, une salade, and les baguettes, followed by the fabulous île flottante (which is sort of a ball of meringue floating in a sea of custard). How did I get so lucky? And why does she leave so soon?
Tomorrow, we head to Eugene to show her the University of Oregon, then it’s on up to Portland to stay the night with friends so the early morning trip to the airport the following day isn’t so tiresome. It’s been fantastique, our time together. I found a wonderful American friend for Elise, too. When you’re a young girl exploring cultures, this is a dream come true! I love being a match-maker! Now, I just wait for the time when I get to visit her in France.
I told Elise about the time when I was around her age and had the opportunity to be an au pair for a family in Besançon, a city in the northeast of France at the foothills of the Jura Mountains and near the Swiss border. I shortly thereafter met my future husband and cancelled the job and the opportunity of a lifetime, which is unknown to a young girl at the time who just worries about whether he’ll be there when she gets back. I’m so proud of her, and perhaps a bit envious, for getting out there and doing what is not so simple and unfettered a thing to do once you’re married and have children. Oh, I’m so happy I stayed back and married my husband, and someday I will have another opportunity. However, I generally counsel the youth I work with or come in contact with to just go. Really, if that boy truly loves you, he’ll still be there.
La cuisine beckons, so je suis aller!
Recipe for île flottante
2 1/2 cups sugar, divided
1 cup water, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract, divided
1 1/2 cups (5 ounces) sliced almonds
8 extra-large egg whites, at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Creme Anglaise, recipe follows
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
For the caramel, heat 1 1/2 cups of the sugar and 1/2 cup water in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan until the sugar dissolves. Cook over medium heat until the syrup turns a warm caramel color. Don’t stir, just swirl it in the pan. Off the heat, add 1/2 cup water and 1/2 teaspoon of the vanilla; be careful, the syrup will bubble violently. Stir and cook over high heat until the caramel reaches 230 degrees F (thread stage) on a candy thermometer. Set aside.
For the praline, combine the almonds with 1/4 cup of the caramel and spread them on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the almonds are lightly browned. Allow to cool at room temperature and then break up in pieces.
Lower the oven to 250 degrees F. Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper.
For the meringues, beat the egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment on medium speed until frothy. Turn the mixer on high speed and add the remaining 1 cup of sugar. Beat until the egg whites are very stiff and glossy. Whisk in the remaining teaspoon of vanilla. With dessert spoons place 12 mounds of meringue on the parchment paper and bake for 20 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.
For serving, pour creme anglaise on the bottom of individual plates. Place a meringue on top of each serving, drizzle with caramel sauce, sprinkle with praline, and serve.
To make a day or two ahead, leave the caramel and praline at room temperature and refrigerate the creme anglaise. Bake the meringues before guests arrive and assemble the desserts just before serving.
4 extra-large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 3/4 cups scalded milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons Cognac
Seeds of 1/2 vanilla bean, optional
Beat the egg yolks and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium-high speed for 3 minutes, or until very thick. Reduce to low speed, and add the cornstarch.
With the mixer still on low, slowly pour the hot milk into the eggs. Pour the custard mixture into a saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until thickened. The custard will coat the spoon like heavy cream. Don’t cook it above 180 degrees For the eggs will scramble!
Pour the sauce through a fine strainer, add the vanilla extract, Cognac, and vanilla seeds, if using, and chill.
Yield: 2 cups