Merry 8th Day of Christmas. We wait all year for the 25th of December, when it is really Christmas for 12 whole days in the
Tis the day for “8 Maids a-Milking.” Oh for a warm barn and brown cows and fresh milk every morning as if from a BBC production. Does anyone still live like this? I cannot give you, Dear Reader, any of this bucolic package, but I can offer a very new version of a very old recipe with milk as the main ingredient. And, of course, some memories. At the convent where I grew up, St. Anne’s School in Arlington Heights, Massachusetts, the Sisters of St. Anne (an order founded in 1910 by Fr. Powell, a Cowley Father from the UK), had a special Sunday dessert called “Floating Island.” Not many people have heard of it today, and when described most people go, “ugh.” It is, however, a very old “treat, called “Eggs in Snow” in French. There were of course, more traditional desserts: milk puddings: rice and tapioca and custard. Before that, when I was lucky enough to live as a toddler with my grandmother, Florence Barbara Whiteway, in Framingham, Massachusetts, she often fed me at my little table and chairs (just my size) a supper of bread and milk. Maybe it was a Canadian thing, but she cut white bread up in little pieces, poured milk over it and sprinkled sugar on top, and sometimes it was broken up crackers. Today this sounds pretty sad to me, as if we were too poor for cereal. But I have heard this was a “normal” English supper for kids in the upstairs nursery with their nannies. I don’t know if my Grammy had a nanny. I doubt it, even though her uncle was Sir Robert Whiteway, the prime minister of Newfoundland. My Grammy was the warmest part of my life then and remains so even now in memory. I wonder what kids would do if you sat them in front of the TV with a bowl of bread and milk with sugar on top. I do not recommend it…even if bread is $5.00 a loaf and cereal is half that. Wheat has a bad name today what with the Paleo diet and gluten-free products, but I bet the only healthy thing is the milk? Truthfully, it will take some courage to offer Floating Island to dinner guests, but for nostalgia’s sake:
oeufsenneige or floating island, a “convent” dessert.
Today the Sisters host Bethany, House of Prayer but the chapel is the same one I prayed in for eight years. It was designed by the amazing Ralph Adams Cram (see Wikipedia). The following is a recipe for Floating Island from none other than Emeril Lagasse. Wowie! We never had the caramel sauce. I think I may try this again.
3 cups milk
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, separated
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 recipe of Caramel Sauce ( recipe follows)
In a large nonreactive saucepan, combine 2 1/2 cups of the milk, 1/2 cup of the sugar, and the vanilla over medium heat and whisk to dissolve the sugar. Bring to a gentle boil. In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer on medium speed until soft peaks form. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form. With a wooden spoon, scoop 2 balls of the meringue into the simmering milk mixture. Poach the balls for 2 to 3 minutes, rolling them over with the spoon and basting them with the milk. When all sides are cooked (they are slightly firm to the touch), lift them out with a slotted spoon and set aside on a platter. Scoop 2 more balls from the remaining meringue and repeat the process.. The meringues can be stored for about 1 hour, loosely covered with plastic wrap, in the refrigerator until ready to use. In a small mixing bowl, combine the remaining 1/2 cup milk, the egg yolks, and cornstarch and whisk together. Slowly whisk 1/2 cup of the warm milk mixture that the meringues were cooked in, into the egg mixture, then pour back into the warm milk mixture in the saucepan. Whisking constantly, bring the mixture to a gentle boil and cook until it thickens enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, pour into a glass bowl, and let cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap down against the surface of the custard to keep a skin from forming. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to 8 hours. To serve, gently stir the custard and spoon equal amounts into four dessert bowls. Set a meringue ball on top of each and drizzle with the caramel sauce.
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup heavy cream
In a small, heavy saucepan, combine the sugar and water and bring to a boil, stirring often. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is a deep caramel color and has the consistency of a thick syrup, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir in the cream, return the saucepan to high heat, and boil the sauce until regains the consistency of a thick syrup, about 2 minutes. Let cool. The sauce can be refrigerated until ready to use. Allow it to reach room temperature before using it. Yields: about 3/4 cup