The January Daring Cooks Challenge will ensure that no matter where in the world you are, you will have a bit of snow! Kim from Ask a Foodie challenged us to make Oeufs à la Neige, or ‘Eggs in Snow’.
I’ve had this classic French recipe on my hit list for some time now, so was thrilled when it came up as a challenge. I thought it was the same as Ile Flottante (Floating Islands), but apparently that’s not the case, although the names are often used interchangeably. According to Irma Rombauer, the meringues are baked for the Ile Flottante, whilst they’re poached for the Oeufs à la Neige. Semantics aside, this little dessert and I didn’t get off to a good start.
Initially I used Mary Berry’s recipe (incorrectly titled ‘Ile Flottante’ I might add!) which called for poaching the meringues in a mixture of milk and cream for 9-10 minutes. I had no idea whether this length of time was standard or not and to my dismay the meringues overcooked and deflated. On top of that I found the dessert to be cloyingly rich and sweet and I didn’t even finish it (which would have to be a first!). I don’t know about you, but I like layered flavours in my food – sweet, sour, salty, bitter… So, it’s not surprising I had issues with what was basically a sweet creme anglaise topped by sweetened meringue. Heck, traditionally, you’re even meant to pour caramel on top!
So I wrote the dessert off and declared I’d never make it again. But then, a week or so later I happened upon another recipe for Oeufs à la Neige – this time from Taste.com.au – it poached the meringues in milk (with no cream in sight) for only a minute each side and paired the dessert with raspberries. I saw a chance for redemption and decided to give it another go. This time though I halved the recipe so that if it was a disaster, I wouldn’t be peeved about the amount of ingredients I’d used. I needn’t have worried as it all went swimmingly well this time around.
And, can I just say… yum. I much preferred the milk-only creme anglaise (not nearly so rich) and the meringues remained nice and puffy, thanks to the shorter cooking time. The only change I made was to the topping, swapping the raw sliced almonds for an almond praline, as per the Daring Kitchen’s recommendation. And, even though the resulting dessert was still sweet, the tart raspberries provided a much needed counterbalance, while the praline’s dark caramel delivered a hint of welcome bitterness.
So, a bit of a challenge with this challenge (LOL) and one that took a bit of extra work to get right, but I’m happy to say worth the effort.
Oeufs a la Neige (Eggs in Snow)
- 1 litre 36.3 oz full-fat milk
- 1 vanilla bean sliced open and seeds removed and reserved
- 150 g 5.2 oz caster sugar, divided in half
- 8 eggs separated
- 350 g 12.3 oz icing sugar, sifted, plus extra, to dust
- 220 g about 1.5 US cups fresh raspberries, to serve
- Toasted flaked almonds to serve (or make almond praline*)
- Place milk, vanilla bean (but not the seeds), and 75g (2.6 oz) caster sugar in a large, wide saucepan or deep frying pan and slowly bring to a gentle simmer.
- Meanwhile, using an electric mixer, whisk egg whites and a pinch of salt until soft peaks form, then gradually add icing sugar and beat until mixture is thick and glossy.
- Remove vanilla bean from milk and reserve, keeping milk at a very gentle simmer. Line a tray with paper towels.
- Using 2 metal dessert-spoons, scoop ovals of meringue and drop up to 6 at a time into milk (but don’t over-crowd as the meringues expand during cooking). Cook for 1 minute each side, then transfer to tray (will make about 24 meringues**). Meringues will keep at this stage for up to 2 hours.
- Strain milk into a clean saucepan (the volume of milk will have lessened during cooking, so you’ll need to top up the milk to make 1 litre). Add reserved vanilla bean seeds.
- Whisk egg yolks and remaining 75g (2.6 oz) caster sugar in a bowl until combined, gradually pour in the hot milk, then return mixture to pan and stir over low heat until mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Don’t boil or the custard will split (if it does start to split, immediately transfer it to a blender and blend at high speed). Custard can be served immediately or refrigerated until ready to serve.
- To serve, spoon custard among 8 glass or china bowls, top with 3 snow eggs (or however many fit in your dish), raspberries and toasted flaked almonds and dust with a little extra icing sugar if you wish.
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