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Rach's sister Maria shares a recipe for one of her favorite desserts: a Floating Island, which is meringue served on top of crème anglaise (sweet custard). This is a popular dessert in France, where it's called Île Flottante, and was one of Julia Child's favorite desserts, too!
The ingredients to make a Floating Island are simple, but Rach calls it a challenge because you have to pay close attention and whisk continuously while tempering the egg yolks with the hot cream mixture. You don't want them to curdle! BUT it's well worth the effort for a special occasion.
Swap It: Make a summery orange version by substituting 2 tablespoons of orange zest for the vanilla. Tastes like a creamsicle!
Preheat oven to 350˚F. Spread almonds evenly on a baking sheet and toast until light brown, about 7 minutes.
Combine milk, cream and vanilla extract in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir until hot and bubbles begin to form around the sides. If using a vanilla bean, split open lengthwise, scrape out seeds with the tip of a knife and add seeds and bean casing to the milk mixture. Remove from heat.
In a medium bowl, whisk 1 tablespoon sugar into egg yolks. Slowly pour hot milk mixture into egg yolks while whisking continuously.
Pour mixture back into saucepan. Return to stove over medium heat, and whisk constantly for 5 minutes; do not boil. Remove from heat, strain and let stand to cool to room temperature. Cover the crème anglaise and refrigerate until ready to serve. (The crème anglaise will keep for up to 3 days.)
Preheat oven to 285˚F. In a medium bowl, add salt to egg whites then beat until soft peaks form. Continue beating and add remaining 3 tablespoons sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, until glossy stiff peaks form.
On a parchment-lined baking sheet, make 4 mounds of meringue. Cover in almonds. Bake for 25 minutes. Let cool before serving.
In bowls or on plates, divide crème anglaise, then top each with a meringue. Serve ice cold.