Bake Along 2013 – Floating Islands
Episode 3 of the Bake Off brought a pretty challenging technical bake – Floating Islands. They comprise poached meringue, Creme Anglaise and spun sugar, so quite a few skills needed for this one, and frankly who poaches meringues on a regular basis? Not me, that’s for sure.
As with last week, I had the benefit of watching the episode before I made them, which certainly helped.
Begin by making meringue. Meringue seems like a simple thing to make, but there are some things that make it more likely to work and to be firm and glossy.
Tip 1: Begin slowly, build up speed, add sugar slowly
Ok, that’s a couple of tips. The thing is, it seems like you should just start beating the egg whites like crazy, but you don’t need to. It’s not a race. Beat slowly (1 on my KitchenAid) until this start to foam, then increase speed to about medium. When it’s a nice firm foam but still shiny, add the sugar a tablespoon at a time and continue to beat on medium. I tend to beat each one in for about a minute, though I haven’t timed myself so I can’t say for sure. But definintely give each spoonful a little time to be incorporated. Continue on in this fashion until it’s all in, then keep beating on medium until you get firm peaks (see pictures) but don’t beat on the fastest speed, and do stop as soon as it’s firm. Think slow and steady. It will get there. Don’t keep beating, or rush by beating too fast, or you’ll ‘break’ the meringue. It will end up dry and grainy, rather than firm but still glossy and voluptuous. Paul noted that some of their meringues were broken – this is what I think he meant. Much of this knowledge I gained from reading the inimitable Mrs Humble’s unbelievably informative posts on macarons. I highly recommend them to anyone interested in macarons (or just her site generally. It’s superb).
Meanwhile, I warmed the milk and cream in a high-sided frypan and then got ready to make the quenelles. I had very little idea how to do it and restrained myself from looking it up. I knew they were done with two spoons and knew what they looked like but that was it. I had a bash at a few and they were ok, I think. Here they are in the poaching liquid.
I’m informed that there is a knack to making quenelles, so I’ve now looked for a video that shows you how but most of the YouTube ones aren’t very good. This is the best I could find before I got bored looking. I also have a book to write, so can’t spend all day looking for videos of how to quenelle!
Now the poaching, which understandably caused them much anxiety on the show. I had the benefit of Mary’s instructions, which emphasise that the poaching liquid shouldn’t boil as it will make them puff up and then collapse so…
Tip 2: Don’t let the liquid boil
This was harder than it sounds. I ended up turning the heat down to the lowest setting, kept the lid on (for 5 mins per side) and took it off the heat if it started to really bubble. Even so, I think it would have been better to start with the temperature at the lowest and keeping it there. I managed to flip them (with my heart in my mouth) and then drain them:
Now for the Creme Anglaise. Much as I love custard, I’ve not made this very often. But I knew that the eggs have to coagulate just enough. I winged it, using my Le Creuset to keep the heat constant but low, and I whisked it rather than stirring with a spoon. This may be custard heresy, but it worked for me. I also used my Creme Patissiere approach but modified a bit – whisked the eggs and sugar to fluffy stage, got the milk nice and hot, then tipped most of it in, kept the rest hot but not boiling as I had a feeling that would make the whole thing too hot. I tipped the egg/sugar slurry back in and whisked. It took about 3-4 minutes and didn’t split. Here are some pics of me testing it to see if it ‘coats the back of a spoon’:
I took it off the heat and immediately dumped it into a clean bowl and put this in the sink full of cold water. I think this stops it cooking and helps prevent splitting. I also noticed that some of the custard on the bottom of the pan was a lot thicker than I wanted it, so I resisted the urge to scrape this out. Here’s the finished custard and you can see it’s fairly thick but not split (cue much dancing about the kitchen with relieved joy at this point. There may have been wine involved). I have a feeling there was a lot of beginner’s luck here, so Creme Anglaise is on my list of things to research and perfect now because I’m pretty sure next time I’ll screw it up and get a curdled mess. But I would say that custard is partly about confidence, and having the courage to hold on until it’s thick enough, but being ready to take it off fast before it goes too far. This is the hard bit, and I imagine when you’re under pressure to be perfect, this is the hardest aspect.
Spun sugar. Hmm. Well, I dumped the sugar in the pan, heated, stared at it for ages, it finally melted and went golden, I refrained from stirring and just shook it in the pan. As soon as it was properly golden, I dumped the pan in water to stop it cooking further so that is Tip 3: Put the hot sugar pan in cool water when it’s golden.
To spin it, Glen had the brilliant approach of spinning it over two handles. I wish I’d done that, but I did it over one and it was fine. Main thing is grease them! Otherwise it sticks. The other tip is wait until the sugar syrup cools enough – you need it to cool so you can stretch out the sugar. You can see it when you take a spoonful, then stretch it up and instead of dropping, it makes a long, sticky string downwards. I couldn’t photograph it for fear of dropping my heavy camera if I balanced that while making spun sugar. Main thing is, it’s not that hard, just be confident. I think I’ll be practising this, too.
Here are the end results. It was surpringly tasty! I might even make them again!