Sunday, January 22, 2012

Dinner Train: The Count of Monte Cristo - Il Flottante

     Using my rudimentary and not at all dubious French translation skillz (honed in my undergrad years in Canada by listening to public service announcements at train stations) I knew I had a winner of a desert when flipping through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking desert section and discovering something called Il Flottante.  Loosely translated (using my aforementioned skillz), I deduced that this meant "The Floater."  Which obviously appetizingly means ISLAND.  And you know what is an island?  MONTE CRISTO.  My heart swelled two sizes when I realized it also had nothing in it to murder my allergic to dairy guests! 

     Now, I will caution you, this dish is delish.  But it is really two recipes in one, and you do need to leave yourself enough time to prepare the pralines, let them cool, and additionally to prepare your meringue, and to in turn let that cool.  It's an all day type of recipe, but well worth it.   The best way to describe it is as a French meringue flan.  A few other notes: I doubled the original praline recipe to meet the requirements of the desert.  I also did not use a souffle dish, because I don't have one, but the high sided casserole I used worked just fine.  An electric mixer, either hand or stand, is beyond necessary.  You will be beating eggs all day elsewise, and there are more fun things to beat, like, I dunno, your rugs if you are an extra in Aladdin.  Also, I do recommend pouring out the caramel and then using it as a garnish; I didn't because I thought it would end poorly for me with my notorious lack of motor skills.  I think it consequently became a bit soggy on the bottom.  Finally, good luck not sneaking bites of praline; you're a stronger person that I am! 

Il Flottante
(Translation: "The Floater")
via Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking
serves 6-8

Il Flottante, unreliably translated to mean "the floater."
Perhaps more appetizingly described as an island of flavor that melts in your mouth. 
Kind of like the opiates the Count enjoys, but sans the hallucinogens (sorry to disappoint).


1 cup slivered almonds
1 cup granulated sugar
4 Tbsp water
Parchment paper lined baking sheet

Il Flottante:
Butter (for "heavily buttering" a souffle or porcelain baking dish that will fit at least 2 qts; use your own judgement here)
2-3 Tbsp granulated sugar
8 egg whites at room temperature (they will be easier to separate at room temperature)
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup of pralin



1.  Preheat your oven to 350.
2.  Place your almonds on the parchment covered baking sheet and bake for approximately 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until the are a golden brown.  Let them cool.

3.  Prepare to be the picture of nervous patience. 
4.  Boil your sugar and water over about medium-high heat in a heavy bottomed saucepan with a lid, as this allegedly prevents it from crystalizing.  Stir at the beginning to incorporate with a heat resistant spatula (candy is HOT, y'all), and then place the lid on and prepare to wait. Seriously, this takes a while.  
Early in the process

5.  The caramel will be ready when it turns a clear but golden brown.  This may be my favorite direction ever from Julia Child, "keep peeking." 

About 20 minutes later, so close to almost ready it hurts.
6.  Immediately turn off the heat and stir in your toasted almonds.

7.  As soon as they are incorporated, pour them onto your baking sheet, using the same parchment.  There is some natural oil from the almonds, but if you are nervous about sticking give it a very quick spritz of cooking spray.  I mean, really quick.  Don't overdo it. 
8.  Spread the mixture out as best you can, and do not touch, or say, try to nibble on them.  Again, candy is hot, y'all.

This stuff is so sticky, but don't touch.  It'll hurt, and then it'll still really hurt because it sticks.
Not that I learned that one the hard way or anything...
9.  Allow them to cool for long as you can.  At least ten minutes, but longer isn't going to change things.  Patience.  Then, cover them with wax paper or another piece of parchment and bash the heck out of them.  You can use a pulverizer or tenderizer; I just used the bottom of the mug I'd been using for tea.  Voila, you have a tray of pralin!

Il Flottante:

1.  Preheat your oven to 250.  Crack and separate your eggs.
2.  Heavily butter your baking or souffle dish.  Whatever that means.  Then dump in two to three tablespoons of sugar, roll it around to coat, and then dump out the rest that doesn't stick into the sink.  Help yourself to a pralin.
Your buttered and sugared dish, which is clearly not a souffle dish.
Since I don't have one, I took Tim Gun's advice and made it work.
3.  Beat your egg whites at a lower speed in either your stand mixer or with a hand mixer in a large bowl until they are what Julia Child calls frothy.  This is the point when you should add your salt and cream of tartar.  For reference, I think it kind of looks like boogers at this point:

4.  You may now gradually increase your mixer speed to a faster setting.  When the eggs start to form soft peaks, you may add your cup of sugar, two tablespoons at a time.  The eggs with soft peaks look something like this:
Dreamy cloud-like pillows...of egg.
5.  When the sugar is fully incorporated, continue beating at a high speed until the egg whites could be described as having stiff, not soft peaks.  Stiff, as in when you pull out the mixer the result looks like the top of a soft serve ice cream.  Now you have permission to mix in your vanilla (thanks, Julia!)  It should look something like this:
Oh you know, just whippin' up a fury of revenge!
5.  Mix until your vanilla is incorporated, and then STOP.

6.  It is now time to give up the mixer and take up a spatula, because we're going to do some delicate folding!  Specifically, let's fold in our cup of pralin, but do it 1/4 of a cup at a time to make sure they don't all clump together.  Be gentle, you Luddites.
Before mixing.

After mixing.  The pralin are too shy for a close up.

7.  When the pralins are nicely mixed in (totally okay if they are enveloped in the cloud of meringue and you don't believe they are there), spread your mixture into the prepared baking dish.  If you are using a souffle, Julia assures me it is okay if the mix is slightly (1/4 inch) higher than the sides of the dish; just make sure to smooth them out like a flat top.  If you are not having this problem, move on.

8.  Bake on a lower shelf in your oven for 25-30 minutes until the meringue has risen about half an inch and changed color slightly (it's tough to judge, I know; it should be soft but not wet, if that helps).  Have a pralin and wait it out.

9.  Remove from the oven.  Let it cool for 30 minutes, and then place in the fridge for at least an hour.

10.  Here's where things literally get sticky.  If you used a baking vessel that is a less ridiculous size than mine and have a serving platter, it will be much easier to attempt to drain off some of the caramel sauce that has accumulated.  Save that stuff!  On a platter, Julia says to unmold your dessert.  I take this to mean flip it out like with a bundt cake, but as I didn't do this step, I could be wrong.

12.  Sprinkle the top with pralin and drizzle with the caramel sauce you drained off.  Or, allow your guests to do this to their own taste.  Devour!
Sure this picture is over exposed.  But I assure you it looks delicious in the dark too.
Pretty, pretty, pretty Madeleine cookie courtesy of Arianna from the Wandering Librarians.
The verdict: the floater is an island of delicious!

Frankly my dears, this was a meal book-ended with tastiness, but filled with an excess of some other stuff too.  Kind of like The Count of Monte Cristo.  Or so I assume, having, ahem, not finished the book.   I hope you have enjoyed my excessively descriptive directions with under and over-exposed photography; I took a page from Dumas.   You're welcome!  More importantly? I'm really looking forward to the est-fest that the February Dinner Train starring Anne of Green Gables promises to be!  For now, I'm off to stare at some salmon left-overs while thinking about how I'd really rather have pizza.  It's not going to eat itself!

1 comment:

Marry lee said...

OOOH this looks delicious! There is actually a recipe post that I am preparing as we speak for Pralin. I hope mine looks as good as yours once Im done! Christo`s Pizzeria

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