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This is an elegant and easy dessert inspired by the French. It consists of delicate poached meringues floating on a pool of custard sauce, with a web of caramel drizzled over... thus the name. Floating island can be made up as individual desserts, or the meringues can be floated on a larger "sea" of custard sauce.
FOR THE MERINGUE:
8 egg whites
3/4 c. sugar
Pinch of salt
Fill a large pot 3/4 full of water and bring to a boil. While the water is coming to a boil, beat egg whites and salt until they form soft peaks. Slowly add sugar, continuing to beat egg whites until they are very stiff.
Turn the flame under the water down and reduce water to a simmer. Scoop out egg whites by the large spoonful, and slide each into simmering water. Poach for about 2 minutes and then turn with a slotted spoon. Poach on other side for another 4 minutes.
Remove poached egg whites from water, drain on paper towels and set aside until ready to use. If the meringues are prepared more than 1 hour before serving, refrigerate uncovered.
FOR THE CUSTARD SAUCE:
4 egg yolks
1/4 c. sugar
Pinch of salt
2 c. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. lemon rind, grated fine
Beat the egg yolks slightly, then add the sugar and salt. Scald the milk and slowly add to the egg mixture, whisking to prevent yolks from curdling. Place the custard in a double boiler, stirring constantly until it begins to thicken and coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Add the vanilla and lemon rind. Chill thoroughly until ready to use. Note: This is not a firm custard, but a sauce. It must not be permitted to boil at any time. Makes about 2 1/2 cups.
FOR THE CARAMEL SAUCE:
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. water
Combine sugar and water in a heavy saucepan. Stir well and then heat until sugar turns a golden brown. Do not stir while sugar mixture is boiling or it may crystallize. Remove from heat and cool slightly.
To assemble: Pour a bit of the custard sauce into a deep dessert plate. Float a poached meringue on each pool of custard. Dipping a fork into the caramel sauce, drizzle a web of the caramel sauce atop the meringues. Serves 8.
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