When I lived in Lyon, France, I made do on a student’s budget and rarely went out to eat. But on the rare occasions that I did, my favorite thing to do was walk down the cobblestoned streets of the Old City and check out each restaurant’s daily menu. A three-course prix fixe meal cost around 20 or 25 euros at that time. It seemed an extravagance—but a worthwhile one. Sure, these restaurants were all tourist traps, but even the corniest places served up a respectable salade lyonnaise mounded with lardons and a creamy poached egg, and most of them offered a decent pavé or onglet as well.
Each little restaurant had its charms, but the one thing that swayed my decision every time was dessert. During my first week in the city, I had tried an île flottante and instantly fallen in love. For me, it was the perfect marriage of rich decadence and light elegance—the dessert that could wrap up any sort of meal. The composition is simple: a pillowy soft meringue island, floating in a sea of thick, smooth custard, and occasionally topped with a drizzle of caramel sauce or a sprinkling of praline.
Fast-forward several years: In the course of my work as an editor for a drinks magazine, I tried a product that had just hit the U.S. market and caught my attention with its show-stopping packaging and frankly weird recipe. Vov Zabajone Cream is sort of like eggnog—it’s a mixture of egg yolks, sugar, Marsala wine, and grain alcohol. It’s shelf stable and pairs with rum for its signature cocktail, the Bombardino. The word “vov” plays on the Italian uovo (egg); the liqueur comes from Padua in Italy and was the result of a surplus of egg yolks from the local nougat industry.
When I tried Vov, the first thing I thought of was baking. The egg yolk base, the sweet and slightly wine-y flavor—these things would work well in a variety of applications, but especially custard. So when I got a hankering for my old friend the île flottante, I decided to incorporate Vov into the crème anglaise. Since the liqueur is really sweet, I reduced by half the normal amount of sugar that I would add to the eggs.
Both the crème anglaise and the caramel sauce can be made in advance. The meringues should be served more or less immediately; they don’t keep well.
Floating Islands (Iles Flottantes) with Vov Crème Anglaise and Rum Caramel Sauce
For the crème anglaise:
– 1 cup whole milk
– 4 large egg yolks
– 2 Tbs. white sugar
– 1/4 cup Vov Zabajone cream liqueur
1. In a small saucepan on medium heat, warm the milk until it’s just simmering. Cover and set aside. Meanwhile, put a double boiler on to heat, making sure the insert doesn’t touch the water. (If you don’t have a double boiler, don’t worry about it. Just find the thickest saucepan you have and prepare to pay close attention!)
2. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or using hand-held beaters), beat the egg yolks and sugar on medium speed until well blended. Reduce the speed to low and slowly add the hot milk, starting with 1 tablespoon to temper the eggs. Add remaining milk in a thin, steady stream.
3. Transfer the egg-milk mixture to the double boiler, which should be at a nice lively simmer by now. Or if you’re using a heavy saucepan, dump it all in that and set it over a medium-low flame. Stir constantly for 5-ish minutes, until the mixture coats the back of a wooden spoon. (You should be able to run your finger through it and leave a distinct line.) Remove from heat, stir in the Vov liqueur and strain everything through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean bowl.
4. Set the bowl into an ice bath to cool for about 15 minutes, whisking occasionally. You can use the crème immediately or store it in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to a week. When using it from the fridge, let it come up to just below room temperature by resting it on the counter for 15-20 minutes before serving.
For the caramel sauce:
– 1 cup packed brown sugar
– 4 Tbs. butter
– 1/2 cup heavy cream or half and half
– 1 Tbs. dark rum (I used Zacapa 23)
In a heavy saucepan, cook the sugar and butter together over medium heat until dissolved and then boil 4-5 minutes. Swirl the saucepan occasionally but do not stir! Once the caramel is very dark, remove the pan from heat and stir in the cream and rum. You can serve the caramel immediately or refrigerate in an air-tight container for up to two weeks. To use from the fridge, heat for a few seconds in the microwave to loosen the sauce.
For the meringues:
– 4 large egg whites
– 1 cup white sugar
– 1 pinch of salt
– 1 Tbs. vanilla extract
– (optional) 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
Heat the oven to 250.
1. Using a stand mixer or hand-held mixer with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites with the salt and cream of tartar (if using) in a very clean bowl until just before they hit soft peak stage. With the mixer on high, whip in the sugar until the egg whites are stiff and glossy. Whisk in the vanilla.
2. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly mist with cooking spray. Using two large spoons, gently drop large ovals of meringue onto the pans, leaving two inches between each. Bake the meringues for 20 minutes—just until they’ve set, removing them before they get too stiff. Let cool on the pans for five minutes, then serve.
To assemble the Floating Islands:
Spoon 2 tablespoons of crème anglaise into a rimmed plate or shallow bowl. Top with a freshly cooked meringue, then drizzle with caramel sauce. If you want some extra texture, scatter toasted almonds on top.