Served with a plain or chocolate crème anglaise, floating islands are very easy to make and deliciously retro.
MAKE THE CRÈME ANGLAISE. Bring the milk and cream to the boil in a saucepan with the vanilla bean, split in two lengthways.
MEANWHILE, BEAT THE EGG YOLKS WITH THE SUGAR IN A MIXING BOWL UNTIL THE MIXTURE IS PALE AND HAS DOUBLED IN VOLUME. Pour the milk and cream mixture over the beaten egg yolks and stir. Return this mixture to the saucepan and place on a very gentle heat. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the custard thickens. Watch out, it mustn’t cook!
ONCE THE CUSTARD IS THICK ENOUGH TO COAT THE BACK OF THE WOODEN SPOON, TAKE IT OFF THE HEAT AND POUR IMMEDIATELY INTO A LARGE COLD MIXING BOWL TO STOP IT COOKING ANY FURTHER. If you decide to make the chocolate version, melt the chocolate in the crème anglaise at this stage and mix together well.
COOL THE CRÈME ANGLAISE WITHOUT REMOVING THE VANILLA BEAN, THEN SET IT ASIDE IN THE FRIDGE SO IT IS WELL CHILLED BEFORE SERVING.
FOR THE MERINGUES, BEAT THE EGG WHITES TO STIFF PEAKS WITH AN ELECTRIC BEATER. Heat the milk in a large saucepan until just simmering, then divide the beaten egg whites into four portions and poach them for a few minutes in the milk. You can also cook them for 15 seconds in a dish in the microwave.
MAKE A CARAMEL BY MELTING AND COLOURING THE SUGAR IN A SAUCEPAN (OR USE SOME READY-MADE CARAMEL) Divide the crème anglaise between dessert bowls, place the poached meringues on top and decorate with threads of caramel and toasted flaked almonds before serving.
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