Île Flottante (Floating Island)
Pour the half and half into a medium saucepan and heat over medium-high heat until very hot and steamy, just below simmering. Meanwhile, separate the eggs and place the 4 yolks in a medium bowl. (Reserve 2 egg whites for the meringues.) Add the sugar to the yolks and whisk for about 1 minute. Slowly pour 1 cup of the hot half and half into the egg mixture, stirring constantly to prevent the eggs from curdling. Pour the egg mixture slowly into the saucepan of remaining half and half, stirring constantly. Cook the custard over medium-low to low heat, stirring continually with a wooden spoon, until it thickens slightly and coats the back of a spoon, about 15 minutes.
Place a strainer over a 4-cup glass measure or a medium bowl. Pour the custard through it to remove any curdled bits. Stir in the vanilla extract. Pour the custard evenly into four to six parfait glasses or dessert bowls. Cover the bowls with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, or until well chilled.
Meringues: (Prepare up to 8 hours before serving.) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Using an electric mixer, whip the 2 reserved egg whites with the cream of tarter at high speed until the mixture is foamy. Gradually add 1/3 cup of sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form. Pour about 1/2 to 3/4-inch of boiling water into a 13x9-inch baking dish. Drop 6 to 8 large scoops of meringue into the water, taking care not to overlap them. Carefully place the baking dish in the oven and bake the meringues for 5 to 6 minutes, until they are firm and light gold on the edges. Remove the baking dish from the oven. Using a slotted spoon, lift the meringues from the water, drain briefly and place them on a platter to cool for 10 to 15 minutes. Place a meringue on the top of each of the chilled custards. (Since you'll have extra meringues, choose the best shaped ones.) Tent each serving with aluminum foil and chill until ready to serve.
Caramel: (Prepare up to 2 hours before serving.) Place 1/3 cup of sugar in a small stainless steel skillet over medium heat. Gently shake pan as the sugar begins to liquefy. When it begins to color around the edges, stir gently with a wooden spoon until it begins to caramelize. Do not let the sugar scorch. Lower the heat if needed. When the caramel reaches a light to medium mahogany color remove the skillet from the heat. Immediately drizzle a spoonful of caramel over each of the meringues.
The dessert may be served immediately, or chilled and served up to 2 hours later. Serves 4 to 6.
Recipe by Jayni Carey ©Copyright, August, 2010.