Floating Islands

1 vanilla bean
2 1/2 cups milk
8 egg yolks
1/4 cup granulated sugar

For the meringues:
4 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 1/4 cups superfine sugar

For the caramel
3/4 cups granulated sugar

Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the tiny black seeds into a medium saucepan. Add the milk and bring just to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Remove from pan and cover. Set aside 15-20 minutes.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolds and sugar for 2-3 minutes until thick and creamy. Whisk in the hot milk and return the mixture to the saucepan. With a wooden spoon, stir over medium-low heat until the sauce begins to thicken and coat the back of the spoon. Do not allow it to boil. Imeediately strain into a chilled bowl, allow to cool, stirring occasionally, then chill.

Half fill a large, wide frying pan or saucepan with water and bring just to the simmering point. In a clean, grease-free bowl, whisk the eggwhites slowly until they are frothy. Add the cream of tartar, increase the speek, and continue whisking until they form soft peaks. Gradually sprinkle over the superfine sugar, about 2 tablespoons at a time, and whisk until the whites are stiff and glossy.

Using two tablespoons, form egg-shaped meringues and slide them into the water (you may need to work in batches). Poach them for 2-3 minutes, turning once, unti lthe meringue is just firm. Using a large, slotted spoon, transfer the meringues to a baking sheet lined with paper towels to drain.

Pour the cold custard into individual serving dishes and arrange the meringues on top.

To make the caramel, put the sugar into a small saucepan with 3 tablespoons of water. Bring to a boil over high heat, swirling to dissolve the sugar. Boil without stirring until the syrup turns a dark, caramel color. Immediately drizzle over the meringues and custard.

Serve cold.
from French (Clements and Cohen).