Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Desserted Island!

After making Oeufs a la Neige (French Snow Eggs), I wanted to make the classic French dessert "Ile Flottante" (Floating Island) and really make it worth the effort. This means going to the master, specifically Thomas Keller, and The French Laundry Cookbook. According to Keller, "this is a classical French preparation, further enhanced and refined." I have to agree! This recipe is a little technical, but the results create a dessert that is unbelievably decadent and absolutely beautiful! I followed this recipe exactly, and all-in-all, it took me about 4 hours to complete. Don't let that scare you! You can make a few components ahead: the filled meringues - up to 1 day in advance, the creme anglaise - up to 2 days in advance, the chocolate tuiles - in advance and stored in an airtight container, and the mint oil - up to 2 days in advance (to retain optimal color). With a little careful planning, this dessert would be a snap to plate and serve to any of your lucky guests. But what is it? Well, it's a chocolate mousse filled meringue, floating in a sea of custardy creme anglaise, topped with a chocolate tuile and "chocolate salad" dressed with fleur de sel (French sea salt), and carefully enhanced by strategically placed dots of beautiful green mint oil! It's so amazing and definitely worth the effort!!!

Ile Flottante (Floating Island)

Serves 6

For the Meringues
5 large egg whites
1 cup sugar

For the Chocolate Mousse
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup meringue (reserved from above)

For the Creme Anglaise
1/2 vanilla bean, split
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
5 large egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar

For the Chocolate Tuiles
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup powdered sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
5 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 large egg white

For the Mint Oil
4 packed cups of mint leaves
About 3/4 cup canola oil

To Serve
Block of bittersweet chocolate for chocolate shavings
Mint oil, in a squeeze bottle
Fleur de sel (French sea salt)

For the Mint Oil
    Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Prepare a large bowl of ice water, set aside. Place the mint in the boiling water for 15 seconds. Remove the mint with a slotted spoon or strainer and plunge the blanched mint into the ice water bath to chill.
    Drain the cold mint and squeeze as dry as possible. Use scissors to cut them into small pieces, and place half of the mint into a blender with enough of the oil to just cover the mint. Turn the blender to medium speed and allow the mint to blend for a minute to begin the process. Keep blending for about 2 minutes. Don't let the blender get too hot, or their will be some loss of color. Add the remaining mint to the machine and blend until smooth. Remove the puree to a container and refrigerate for at least a day to intensify the color. (I only allowed an hour to chill...)
    Place a piece of cheesecloth over a container, fill with the puree, and secure with a rubber band or string. String the cheesecloth from a height above the container (I hung it from a kitchen cabinet knob), and allow the oil to drip through the cheesecloth for about an hour. Do not squeeze the cheesecloth or it will cloud the oil. Store the oil in the refrigerator, preferably in a food-safe squeeze bottle, until ready to use, for up to 2 days.

For the Meringues
    Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Spray six 4-ounce souffle molds or ramekins (about 3" wide) with nonstick spray.
    Combine the egg whites and sugar in a metal mixer bowl. Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and whisk gently until the whites are warm and the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove the bowl from the heat and place it on the mixer stand. Use the whisk attachment to beat the whites until soft peaks form. Reserve 1/2 cup of the meringue for the mousse.
    Fill a pastry bag fitted with a large plain tip with the remaining meringue. Pipe the meringue into the centers of the 6 molds, allowing the filling to move outward from the center as you pipe to fill them. Smooth the tops of the meringues and place the molds in a deep baking pan. Pour in enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the cups. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 20 minutes, or until the meringues are set but still moist. Remove the molds from the baking dish and refrigerate for 1 hour, or until firm.

For the Chocolate Mousse
    Place the chocolate in a medium bowl. Bring 1/2 cup of the cream to a simmer and pour over the chocolate. Let sit for a minute, then stir until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth. Let cool to room temperature.
    Beat the remaining 1/4 cup cream to soft peaks. Fold the reserved meringue, and the whipped cream, into the chocolate mixture.

To fill the Meringues
    Leaving the baked meringues in the cups, gently scoop out the center of each to make a rounded cavity, leaving about 1/2-3/4" wall of meringue. (I used a paring knife to cut the top and a small spoon to scoop out the center.) Using a spoon or pastry bag, fill the cavities with the mousse; you will have extra mousse. (My kids ate it immediately!) Return the meringues to the refrigerator to chill for at least 1 hour to set, or up to a day.

For the Creme Anglaise
    Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into a saucepan, add the pod, milk, and cream, and bring to a simmer. Turn off the heat and let cool to room temperature to infuse the flavors.
    Add half the sugar to the milk mixture and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
    Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks and the remaining sugar in a bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in 1/3 of the hot milk mixture to temper the yolks and then return the mixture to the saucepan. Stir the custard with a wooden spoon over LOW heat until it thickens slightly and coats the back of a wooden spoon. Immediately pour into a bowl set in an ice-water bath and stir it occasionally until cool. Strain the sauce and refrigerate until ready to serve, or up to 2 days.

For the Chocolate Tuiles
    In a bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Sift the flour and cocoa together. Beat half the cocoa mixture into the butter mixture, add the egg white, and then add the remaining cocoa mixture.
    Cut out a hollow round stencil with a 2 1/4" diameter. The top of a plastic container works well for this. (I'm sure my husband will wonder what happened to the coffee lid???....)

    Place a Silpat mat on the counter. Place the stencil in one corner of the Silpat and holding it flat against the Silpat, scoop some of the batter onto the back of an offset spatula (or spoon) and spread it in an even layer over the stencil. Run the spatula over the top to remove any excess batter. Repeat to fill the Silpat. You will need only 6 tuiles for this recipe; extra batter can be frozen.

    Place the Silpat on a baking sheet and bake for 8 minutes, or until the tuiles are set. Let the tuiles cool to room temperature, then carefully remove using a small narrow spatula. Store the cookies in an airtight container until ready to assemble the dessert.

For the Chocolate "Salad"
    You will need about a tablespoon of shavings for each dessert. If you have a large block of chocolate, pull the blade of a chef's knife (at about a 45 degree angle) over the top of the block toward you to create chocolate shavings. If you have a smaller piece, use a vegetable peeler to peel off shavings. If the shavings are too brittle, let the chocolate warm up very slightly in a warm spot. (I just placed my hand over the chocolate until slightly softened.) Keep the shavings in a cool place.

To Serve
    Invert the meringues onto a paper towel and unmold them. (The towel will absorb any excess liquid.) Dip a 2 1/4" cutter in hot water, center it over a meringue, and cut down from the top to even the sides. Repeat with the remaining meringues. (I didn't have a 2 1/4" cutter, so I skipped this step and think they still look very nice.)
    Spoon some creme anglaise onto each plate. Place a meringue in the center of the sauce and lay a chocolate tuile over the top. Squeeze dot of the mint oil over the custard. (I think it's easiest to keep the squeeze bottle still and rotate the plate.) Stack some of the chocolate shavings on each tuile, drizzle with a tiny bit of mint oil, and sprinkle with fleur de sel. You're done!!! Enjoy!!!!

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