Mixed emotions accompany the taking down of the Christmas decor. It means the festive season is officially over and it's time to head back to work and study. But once the pine needles are vacuumed and the decorations neatly stowed in their proper place in the storage room, I like to putter and rearrange things. January, for me, is all about simple, spare and white.
My mantle holds just a few things - a tall crystal vase filled with brown twigs and several glass candle holders. Flickering candles that refract light through glass charm me as I read or knit or write in my living room.
Although this recipe has a lot of steps, it's not difficult at all. Most of it can (and should be) made ahead, even a day or two. I spent a couple of hours puttering in the kitchen in the early afternoon, then did the meringues at the last minute.
Burnt Sugar Sauce
3/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup water
another 1/4 cup water mixed with 1 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tablespoons heavy cream
Heat the sugar and 1/4 cup water in small, heavy sauce pan, stirring once or twice until the sugar dissolves. Cook over medium heat, not stirring, but swirling every few minutes, until the syrup turns a light caramel. Remove from heat and add the water mixed with vanilla. Be careful as the mixture tends to pop and bubble. Return to heat and stir and cook until caramel reached 230 degrees F (thread stage). Remove 1/4 cup of caramel for the praline (recipe follows). Set the remainder aside to cool slightly, then add the cream and stir until combined. This can be made ahead and then reheated slightly when you are ready to assemble the dessert.
3/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup of the caramel sauce
Combine almonds and sauce. Bake on a parchment lined baking sheet for 10 minutes at 350 degrees, or until almonds are toasted. Let cool, then break into small pieces. (I like mine quite fine and smashed them with a rolling pin.)
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream (whipping cream)
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
2 egg yolks
Heat the milk and cream in a small saucepan until just hot. (Steam should rise from the milk, but it shouldn't boil.) Whisk together the egg yolks and sugar with the salt. Add a small amount of the hot milk to the eggs, then whisk the yolk mixture back into the saucepan with the rest of the milk. Cook, stirring constantly until the sauce thickens slightly - about 175 degrees. The mixture should not boil. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Strain mixture into a glass or metal bowl. Press a piece of plastic wrap or waxed paper onto the top of the sauce to prevent a skin forming. Chill. (Will keep up to 3 days.)
Preheat oven to 275 degrees F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Beat 2 egg whites with a dash of salt and 1/8 tsp cream of tartar until foamy. Then increase the speed and add 1/2 cup of white sugar. Beat until the egg whites are very stiff and glossy. Beat in 1 tsp vanilla. Spoon the meringue onto the baking sheet, forming 6 mounds. Bake for 20 minutes (they will be soft).
To assemble the Floating Islands, pour a puddle of Crème Anglaise onto a dessert plate, place a Meringue on top, drizzle a little Burnt Sugar Sauce over top and sprinkle with a bit of Praline.