Wikipedia is (Maybe Not) Wrong

Why do the French have to invent confusing desserts?!?! Ignore me, that’s a rhetoric question. Nothing about the French is simple and straight forward. Even the wikipedia got it wrong.

Few months ago, I made a classic french dessert: oeufs a la neige (snow eggs). It’s basically a whisked egg white poached in boiling water. Typically served with creme anglaise, but I made mine with chocolate custard, using a recipe from La Tartine Gourmande.


This time round, I made iles flotantes (floating islands) using Antony Bourdain’s recipe from his Les Halles Cookbook. It is basically a whisked egg white that is poached in milk, unlike oeufs a la neige, that is poached in water. The result is a richer meringue of some sort.


We love both, but H has a stronger preference towards iles flotantes. Because he adores creme anglaise and basically drips, drenches, soaks every single cake with it.

ILES FLOTANTES
(source: Les Halles Cookbook by Anthony Bourdain)
serves 4  (see note below)

8 egg whites
pinch of salt – I used cream of tar tar
280 gr sugar divided into 2: 168 gr for egg white, 112 gr for egg yolk
2 cups milk
1/2 vanilla bean, cut in half length wise
4 egg yolk
28 gr slivered almonds, to garnish – I used pisctahio

  • In a large bowl, place the egg white and salt and whisk on low speed to break them up, then increase the speed and beat until soft peaks.
  • Reduce the speed and slowly add 168 gr sugar. Continue beating until sugar is incorporated and the eggs once again hold soft peaks.
  • Place the milk in a large, shallow pan and bring it to boil. Reduce heat to a simmer.
  • Use large spoons and scoop 12 ‘quenelles’ and gently place them on to the simmering milk to poach. 2 mins per side.
  • Remove the quenelles and place on the plate lined with paper towel. Set aside.
  • Strain the milk onto a small pot, adding milk if necessary so that there is exactly 2 cups.
  • Add the vanilla bean and bring the milk back to boil. Turn off the heat and let it infuse (about 30 mins).
  • Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks and remaining sugar. Bring milk back to boil and while whisking the yolk, add the half of milk little by little to the yolk (to temper). Once this mixture is homogenous, add it back to the pot with remaining milk and whisking constantly.
  • Over low heat, continue to whisk the milk (or use wooden spoon to stir) making sure it reaches all edges of the pot. Continue to stir until the mixture is thick and coats the back of the spoon.
  • Remove from heat, discard the vanilla pod and place into an ice-water bath, making sure the water doesn’t leak into the custard. (see note below)
  • To serve, place 3 quenelles in the center of each of the four soup bowls, ladle creme anglaise into each bowl and garnish with almonds and serve immediately.

Note:
~ I didn’t serve the iles flotantes immediately. I made it at home, had 1 hour drive then consumed it about 2 hours after making. Though the egg whites flattened a teeny weeny bit (as compared to right after cooking), they were still very much presentable. Make sure you only mix the egg whites and creme anglaise right before serving.
~ For the same reason, I didn’t place my creme anglaise in an ice-water bath. I filtered it into a tight lid jar and kept it in the fridge until it’s dessert time.
~ I scooped my quenelles using normal tablespoon and hence the size is smaller than Bourdain’s. I made about 16 quenelles with about two-third of the egg whites, which brings me to the next point..   ~ The recipe serves for 4. But I think this is a restaurant’s portion. Or you can have this in absence of any other dessert. There were about 10 of us and I only served 1-2 quenelles each bowl, and that’s more than enough. But again, we had other desserts.
~ I wouldn’t bother making this with skim milk. Full cream please.

Lastly, if you’re looking for a french cookbook, especially french classic dishes: moules marinieres, pot-au-feu, salade d’onglet, steak tartare, blanquette de veau, etc, I would recommend this book from Anthony Bourdain. I have not tried a single recipe and failed (read: the instructions were super clear). And we have not been disappointed with the recipes, meaning I’m really looking forward to making Gigot de sept heures or 7 hours leg of lamb!

Yes, this book also has coq au vin, cassoulet and boeuf bourguignon. But really, you should venture far from the periphery and discover, how not complicated french cooking is. French pastry, well.. that’s a different story altogether.

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4 comments

  1. Wow – impressive! I’ve never realized there were so many desserts I’ve never tried!!! I’ve never tried oeufs a la neige nor iles flottantes. what in the world.. where have i been? looks scrumptious though… and difficult to make! i’m going to have to search out a restaurant version first before i can even think of attempting it at home (good excuse, huh? haha)!

  2. Dear Yellow Plate, this is a nice post. We french would use “iles flottantes” and “oeufs a la neige” in an interchangeable manner. The former is more evocative (we like the literary art of menus to make us dream into imaginary, immobile journeys). Therefore it is preferred in restaurants or mundane occasions. The latter, “oeuf a la neige” is more for casual. Similarly, according to preference, we fluff the egg white in water or in milk. I personally prefer water as the white fluffs better, though milk with infused vanilla beans can bring in a more complex flavor. Whether water- or milk-based, it does not change the name of the dessert for me, and I believe, for a lot of fellows french(wo)men. Kind regards, F.

    1. Hello F, thank you for the clarification. You are probably right. I thought they are different, but come to think about it, I never see “oeufs a la neige” in restaurants, but almost always see “iles flottantes” in the menu. Ha! I learn something new 🙂 Thanks again.

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