Cooking from The French Laundry – Ile Flottante : Slow Baked Meringues with Creme Anglaise and Bittersweet Chocolate

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Desserts on this site are becoming increasingly popular so keen to keep the ball rolling heres another one. The French Laundry is like a boomerang, the moment I put it back on the shelf it invariably ends up back in my hand. I became tempted by a dessert that, on the face of it, looked simple. Ile Flottante – a slow baked meringue decorated with a creme anglaise and a chocolate ‘salad’ (eh?).

In case you’re wondering, the salad element doesn’t involve any greenery other than a dash of mint oil. Thomas Keller’s idea of a salad in this instance consists of shavings of chocolate dressed with a little mint oil, probably the most appealing salad i’ve set my eyes on. Other elements to the dish are a cold creme anglaise or custard to us normal folk. In the centre a baked meringue filled with a chocolate ganache, sound’s alright this doesn’t it?

I began preparing this dessert and ran straight into my first hurdle…tiredness. I had barely any sleep the previous night just thinking over new ideas for this site and generally getting excited about our upcoming trips which I can’t wait to share with you all. As a result of this I was in no mood to constantly convert Keller’s evil US measurement systems into my more familiar ml’s and gram’s.

Still, battling on I had a number of elements that needed time in the fridge so I began with the meringues. For this you need a heck of a lot of sugar which then gets added into egg whites before being whisked gently over a pan of simmering water to dissolve the sugar. The whites then get whipped in the bowl of a stand mixer until holding soft peaks. These needed a good whipping for a fair while before I could achieve the right result.

With the meringue done I placed half of it in a piping bag, managing to create a sticky mess all over the worktop in the process, some of it finally ended up in the bag and I was able to pipe the meringue into two prepared, greased ramekins. The meringues then cook in a bain-marie (water bath) covered with foil for 20 minutes until puffed up and set. It’s well worth leaving around a 1cm gap at the top of the ramekins as the meringues do rise a little. Once cool I placed the meringues into the fridge to chill.

 

While dem’ meringues be chillin’ I went onto the mousse/ganache that fills the meringues a little later on. It’s easy enough just breaking up chocolate and pouring boiled double cream over to create the ganache, the other additions are just whipped double cream and the remaining meringue to form a sweet, rich mousse. I placed this into a piping bag to set in the fridge along with the meringues.

Things were going a lot better now, possibly because I had become more awake. I cracked on with the creme anglaise which is something that i’ve made a lot in my time. Egg yolks and sugar were beaten together and a combo of milk, cream and vanilla poured on once boiling and whisked together to form the custard. On the heat for a short time to thicken resulting in a smooth, sweet creme anglaise. Mastering creme anglaise really great skill to have in the kitchen as it’s used for so many things and extremely easy to make your own.



With the creme anglaise chilling in the fridge I dug a small indent in the base of the meringues. Into which the chocolate mousse gets piped inside leaving a hidden surprise for the diner, a really clever concept. Back into the fridge for a further hour to reset while I tackled the last two components – the chocolate tuile and mint oil.
 

I love Thomas Keller’s way of making flavoured herb oils, it’s so simple. Take a large bunch of herbs, in this case mint, blanch in boiling water for a few seconds before refreshing in iced water to preserve the vibrant green colour. The drained herbs are then blitzed with a neutral oil such as groundnut or canola and the resulting liquid strained through a cloth. You are now the proud owner of herb oil.

The tuiles however are notoriously tricky to master – for what it’s worth here’s my take on it. I brought together the mix as instructed, cream butter and sugar, flour and cocoa powder yada yada…then instead of making a stencil for the silpat i created two circles freehand using the back of a spoon and simply baked them in the oven, bringing them out a minute early. Using a round cutter about the size of the meringue top I then punched out the perfect circle and discarded the outer tuile. You can thank me in the comments below…



All the work had been done (almost) time now to put this dish together. All the elements sitting on the worktop made for quite a sight and served as a reminder of just how much work goes into just one dish at The French Laundry. I began by pouring a pool of the creme anglaise – now cold – onto the centre of the plate and inverting a meringue on top. I just love how smooth they look, not quite perfect but striking all the same.

Next I layered up the chocolate tuile on top and garnished with chocolate shavings. I used a pipette to dot the mint oil around the plate. Finally my shaky hand could now relax as we dug into what looked a stunning dessert.



the french laundry

Keller really doesn’t hold back on flavour. The sweetness from the meringue was strong but oh so nice and that’s before you get to the chocolate surprise in the centre which adds another dimension. The creme anglaise and meringue go together as any classic combination do, perfectly. The tuile on the top was amongst the best ever seen in my kitchen, absolute perfect thickness and a delicate snap. The mint oil in the background complements the chocolate elements brilliantly.
 

It sure takes a lot of time and effort but when food is this good, it’s more than worth it, right? It’s almost enough to make me want to jump on a jet over to Yountville to sample the real deal. Maybe one day….

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