A classic French dessert, also called oeufs à la neige, this pretty pudding of poached meringues set in a sea of egg custard looks a more impressive and difficult construction than it really is.
Start by making the custard: put the milk with the split vanilla pod over a low heat and bring to just below boiling.
While it is heating, whisk the egg yolks with
Off the heat, slowly whisk in the milk, then return to a clean saucepan over a low heat. Cook gently, stirring with a wooden spoon, until it forms a custard thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. This will take about 10–12 minutes. Pass through a sieve into a bowl and leave to cool then cling-wrap and refrigerate. This can be done the day before.
Rinse the vanilla pod and put it in a wide, low-sided saucepan with water and bring to boil. Lower the heat to a bare simmer.
Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form soft peaks. Sprinkle over the remaining caster sugar and continue to whisk until you have firm peaks.
Dip a metal serving spoon into the hot water, then scoop out an oval of meringue and slide it into the water. Repeat to make 7 more or, if preferred, make 4 large meringues. Poach for 2 minutes then turn over with a slotted spoon and poach for a further 2–3 minutes. Remove to a clean cloth to drain and allow to cool.
Ladle the custard into 4 bowls and float the meringue islands on top.
© 1998 Alastair Little. All rights reserved.