Fergus found his calling with Floating Islands, ‘The first thing that I ever cooked from a book, when I was about seven years old, was Îles Flottantes. I was knocked out by it. Those celestial fluffy egg whites! The yellow pool of custard! By merely following words on a page I had created this miracle. A finger had descended from the clouds and pointed to my destiny.’
It’s a controversial view, but Floating Islands should be unadorned by heavy nuts or a constrictive caramel cage. These bind the ethereal clouds with earthly elements, which is the very opposite of your intention.
|For the islands:|
|4||large free-range egg whites|
|½ tsp||white wine vinegar|
|½ tsp||vanilla extract|
|320ml||whole milk, for poaching the meringues and then for the custard|
|For the custard:|
|4||free-range egg yolks|
You will need: an electric whisk.
Using an electric whisk on a high setting, in a spotlessly clean and dry bowl, whisk the whites with the vinegar and vanilla extract until soft peaks appear. Lower the speed and continue whisking, slowly incorporating the sugar until glossy and stiff then add the cornflour, folding it through with a metal spoon until completely incorporated.
Heat the milk to the gentlest of simmers in a large saucepan and spoon little heaps of meringue into the simmering milk, carefully easing them off the spoon with a finger. Aim for 3 little meringues per person. Poach the clouds for 2 minutes, then gently flip them over and poach for another 2 minutes before removing with a slotted spoon. Set aside to cool, then refrigerate until needed.
Now for the custard sea! Scrape the vanilla seeds into the milk and follow with the pod, then bring the milk back to a decent simmer. In a bowl whisk the yolks and the sugar together until pale, then add the hot milk to the yolks a little at a time, whisking continuously. Transfer the mixture back to the pan and place over a medium heat.
Keep stirring the custard, making sure that you get right into the corners of the pan. It is crucial not to let it get too hot – bubbling will curdle the custard, a disaster for your seascape. It is cooked when a finger dragged through the back of a custard-coated spoon leaves a channel. At this stage, immediately transfer to a bowl, lay cling film over the surface, leave to cool, then refrigerate until needed.
Serve each bowl as an archipelago of three islands in a shallow sea.