On today’s menu:
Rack of Lamb Encrusted with Thyme, Garlic & Black Pepper
Greek Lamb in Yogurt & Anise Seed
Smashed Potatoes with Rosemary & Chives
Oeufs a la Neige (Eggs in Snow) with Vanilla Bean (see recipe below!)
Ouefs a la Neige with Vanilla Bean
Literally “eggs in snow,” this classic French dessert is a close cousin of Ile Flottante (“floating island”). Both are out of fashion in these days of multi-layered, deconstructed desserts, but what a delight it was to encounter the oeufs at Perigord a couple of weeks ago. There’s nothing lighter and more divinely insubstantial than clouds of egg white meringue poached in warm milk—and nothing richer, when they are drizzled with caramel and served in a pool of crème anglaise flecked with vanilla seeds.
This recipe is adapted from Craig Claiborne in the original The New York Times Cookbook—itself a throwback to “gourmet” cooking circa 1961.
Ingredients for the meringues:
2 cups whole milk (more if needed)
1 vanilla bean
5 egg whites
2/3 cup sugar
Method for the meringues:
Pour the milk into an 8 or 9-inch skillet and add the vanilla bean. Over low heat let the milk warm until bubbles appear around the edge. (If using a larger skillet, add a little more milk.)
While the milk is warming, beat the egg whites until foamy. Gradually add the sugar, continuing to beat until the whites are stiff. (This may take anywhere from 4 to 6 minutes on high speed.)
Remove the skillet from the heat and drop the beaten eggs whites on the milk in large, rounded spoonfuls. (I used a round soup spoon. Don’t worry if the oeufs are not perfectly shaped—it’s the texture and flavor that count.)
Return the skillet to very low heat; the surface of the milk should barely quiver. Lightly poach the mounds of egg white for 2 minutes. Using 2 forks or spoons, turn and poach for 2 minutes on the other side. The meringues should be firm to the touch—but don’t overcook or they will toughen as they cool.
Remove the meringues to a clean kitchen towel spread on the counter and let them drain. Reserve the milk and vanilla bean for the crème anglaise (aka English cream; see recipe below). (If you did not use all the meringue mixture, strain the milk, add enough to make 2 cups, and poach the remaining egg white mixture before proceeding to the last step.)
Pile the meringues in a bowl and refrigerate. To serve the dessert, fill a crystal bowl with the chilled crème anglaise and float the meringues on top. (Discard any liquid that may have accumulated in the original bowl.) Drizzle with caramel (see recipe below) and serve.
Ingredients for the caramel:
½ cup sugar
¼ cup warm water
Method for the caramel:
Melt the sugar over low heat in a small heavy bottomed skillet or saucepan, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. The sugar will clump slightly before it melts, but the lumps will eventually melt as well.
Remove the pan from the heat and carefully pour in the warm water. Return the skillet to low heat and simmer until any lumps have melted, stirring constantly. The caramel syrup should be clear, pale golden and should have slightly thickened. (Do not overcook however, as it will thicken further as it cools. The syrup should remain thin enough to trickle over the meringues.)
Drizzle the caramel, barely warm or at room temperature, over the meringues. You can keep it covered, off heat, until needed.
Ingredients for the crème anglaise:
Milk reserved from cooking the meringues, plus more whole milk as needed
Vanilla bean reserved from cooking the meringues
5 egg yolks
½ cup sugar
Method for the creme anglaise:
Strain the milk into a large measuring cup and add enough fresh whole milk to make 2 cups. Slit the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the milk. Cut the bean in half and add to the milk. Whisk briefly to disperse the seeds throughout the milk.
Pour the milk into the top of a double boiler. (I improvised by placing a large metal mixing bowl over a medium saucepan filled with boiling water.)
Over the boiling water, heat the milk just until bubbles appear around the edge.
Meanwhile beat the egg yolks with the sugar using a fork. Add the hot milk very slowly, whisking constantly.
Return the mixture, with the vanilla bean, to the top of the double boiler (or metal bowl, if using) and cook over simmering water, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and lightly coats the back of a spoon. Do not overcook—the mixture should pour easily.
Chill the creme anglaise quickly by setting the top of the double boiler (or metal bowl) in a large bowl of ice water; stir occasionally while the mixture cools.
Strain, if desired (though you may lose the vanilla seeds) and refrigerate until using.