In this season’s last episode of Ludo à la Maison, it’s time for dessert. Ludo is excited to show us one of his childhood favorites: a light, whimsical dish known as le flottante or in English as a “floating island”
“It’s a very classic French dessert,” says Ludo. The reason for the name is pretty obvious: “When you look at the dish, it’s like a big island—the egg white—and around that is the vanilla custard, so it looks like the sea.”
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The first step is the “island,” a light poached meringue. Ludo recommends using very, very fresh eggs for this recipe—“You’ve seen the movie Ghostbusters? The ghost is very, like, uhhh, how you say...slimy!” For very fresh eggs, “the egg white should be slimy, like Ghostbusters.” Words of wisdom.
Ludo separates out the whites of his eggs, setting aside the yolks, and whips them at medium speed while slowly adding sugar. Once the whites begin to foam up, he increases the speed until the mixture becomes creamy and has tripled in volume.
“How you know the eggs are ready? We make a joke in the kitchen, we take them like this”—Ludo inverts the mixing bowl over his head—“and they’re not falling down, so it means, okay.” At this point, a rogue chunk of meringue falls into Ludo’s hair.
He transfers the whipped egg whites to a ceramic soufflé dish and places it in a bain-marie, or water bath, before baking at 350F. Remember to cool it completely once ready—Ludo suggests placing the whole soufflé dish in a pan of ice water.
Next, Ludo prepares a nougatine topping—caramel with nuts, similar to a praline. He melts sugar until brown and stirs in lightly-toasted hazelnuts and almonds, quickly spreading the mixture on a silicone pad to cool. “Don’t play with the nougatine when it’s hot!” he says, though he has some trouble heeding his own advice—“I can’t help but play with my nuts, that’s for sure.”
Crème anglaise, a thin vanilla custard, will create the ocean around the meringue island. To make the custard, Ludo scrapes fresh vanilla pods and adds them to a slowly heating pot of milk and cream. In a separate bowl, he creams together sugar and egg yolks—you should have some leftover from your meringue—and pours in the hot milk mixture, stirring thoroughly, before transferring everything back to the pot to cook.
How will you know when your custard is ready? Ludo shows us a trick from his cooking school days: stir the mixture with a wooden spoon, and remove the spoon from the pot. Use your finger to draw a line down the back of the spoon—if the line stays put, your custard is good to go. At this point, transfer the mixture back to the bowl and place it on ice.
Once all the elements are sufficiently cooled, it’s time for plating—a treacherous process at times, especially when unmolding the meringue. “Always do a prayer,” advises Ludo. “It’s not like I’m nervous, but you just never know. Mistakes happen sometimes. We don’t whip the egg whites enough, guess what? Bad news and you need to start again.”
Get the full le flottante recipe here.
Fortunately for Ludo, when he inverts the dish he reveals a perfectly cooked soufflé. To plate, he pours some of the chilled custard into a bowl and lays a slice of meringue in the middle, sprinkling the nougatine on top.
“The egg whites are so light, in your mouth it’s like breaking a pillow,” says Ludo, taking his first bite of the île flottante. “For me, that’s one of the perfect desserts.”