Floating islands (Iles flottantes) or snow eggs (oeufs a la neige) are traditionally served as individual meringues poached in milk. But a whole baked one makes a delightful centrepiece dessert for Christmas Day. Both the meringue and custard may be made a day ahead – just keep refrigerated until ready to serve.
For the topping
50g flaked almonds
½ tsp ground cinnamon
⅛ tsp ground cloves
finely grated zest of 1 orange
¼ tsp flaky sea salt
For the creme anglaise
300ml pouring cream
120g caster sugar
peel of 1 lemon
seeds from ½ vanilla pod
6 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1 bay leaf
6 egg yolks (reserve the whites for the meringue)
⅛ tsp salt
1-2 tbsp brandy
For the meringue
1 tbsp vegetable oil
6 egg whites
⅛ tsp salt
1 tsp lemon juice
150g caster sugar
1½ tsp vanilla extract
For the garnish
80g caster sugar
1. To make the nut topping, preheat oven to 160C fan-forced (180C conventional). Spread the flaked almonds out on a baking tray and toast in the oven for 8-10 minutes, until lightly browned. Set aside to cool, then transfer to a medium bowl. Add the cinnamon, cloves, orange zest and salt, then use your hands to mix and crush the nuts lightly. If preparing ahead (up to 3 days, stored in an airtight container), leave out the orange zest and add on the day of serving.
2. To prepare the creme anglaise, place the milk and cream in a medium saucepan. Add 60g of the sugar, the lemon peel, vanilla, cardamom pods and bay leaf. Place over the lowest heat setting and allow to infuse, stirring from time to time. When the milk mixture begins to simmer – about 10 minutes – whisk the yolks, remaining 60g sugar and salt together. Continue to whisk as you pour about a third of the hot milk mixture over the yolks.
3. When well combined, pour the mixture back into the pan with the milk. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula to ensure it doesn't catch on the bottom of the pan. The custard is ready when it is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon or spatula, and holds a clear line when you draw one down the centre.
4. Remove from heat, add the brandy and strain the custard over a sieve into a clean bowl. Discard the lemon peel, cardamom pods and bay leaf. Press a large piece of cling film over the custard and set over a bowl of ice to cool before placing in the fridge.
5. Make the meringue up to 1 day ahead. Preheat oven to 160C fan-forced (180C conventional). Brush the inside of a 23cm bundt tin (8-10 cups capacity) with the oil, taking care to oil the tube in the middle as well as the rim of the mould. Turn upside down to allow any excess oil to drip away, and set aside.
6. Place the egg whites in the clean, dry bowl of a cake mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on medium-high speed. When the mixture is frothy, add the salt and lemon juice and continue to beat on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually drizzle in 150g of sugar, one tablespoon at a time, whisking continuously until the mix is stiff and glossy – about 5 minutes altogether. Add the vanilla extract and whisk just to combine.
7. Using a spoon, dollop the meringue into the prepared tin, making sure there are no large gaps in between the spoonfuls – the meringue will fill to the top of the mould when finished. Use the back of a spoon to even out the surface, then place into the preheated oven.
8. Bake for 30 minutes – do not open the oven during the first 20 minutes. It will have puffed up gloriously, though will collapse as it cools. A skewer inserted into the middle of the meringue should come out clean when it is done. Remove from oven and set aside 1 hour to cool.
9. When cooled, invert the meringue onto the serving plate. If not serving on the day, refrigerate, uncovered, for up to 1 day. When ready to serve, pour a little of the chilled custard on the plate around the meringue. Sprinkle some of the spiced almond mixture over the top and sides of the meringue (the remaining nuts will be sprinkled over each serve).
10. Finally, for the caramel garnish, place 80g of sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. The sugar will begin to melt, then caramelise. Do not stir, but gently swirl and tilt the pan so that the sugar browns evenly. When it is a deep amber colour, remove from heat and after one minute, use a fork to dip and drizzle golden threads of caramel in large circles around the Ile flottante.
11. To serve, pour some cold custard on each serving plate, then slice a thick piece of the meringue and place on top. Sprinkle with more of the spiced nuts before serving, along with a scattering of fresh cherries.
Christmas menu: This recipe goes with Neil Perry's asparagus, capsicum and avocado salad and Karen Martini's roasted rolled chicken with 'nduja, black garlic and sage.