Ile Flottante & Buccaneers

(The untold story that got your Zen-ness into culinary school. For better or for worse!)

Under a caramel sky, a fluffy meringue ‘iceberg’ was floating away on a sea of vanilla custard, in it’s shadow, the legendary and ferocious Zen Blackbeard was waiting on the deck of his pirate ship plotting a surprise attack. The target was a ship of the Royal fleet carrying vast quantities of precious Tahitian vanilla beans destined to be offered as a gift for the hand of the King’s eldest daughter. When the ship got to striking distance the pirates sneaked-up behind it skillfully. Zen Blackbeard rapidly gave orders:

‘Ahoy buccaneers! Take your position!’ and turning to one of his trusted lad, said:
‘Hornswaggle!! Run a shot across the bow and disable that ship!’

Hornswaggle – a big and clumsy gunpowder lad – followed the order and fired a single cannonball – killing the Captain of the Royal carrier instead. Everyone was in awe.

‘Shiver me timbers!’ exclaimed Hornswaggle surprised by his lucky shot.
‘Holy Waffles!’ cried-out the crew of the Royal ship in unison.
‘Son of a biscuit eater!!’ shouted Zen Blackbeard with amazement.
‘Blop!’ bubbled the fishes.

After a period of scuffle and chaos onboard, the sailors of the Royal vessel finally surrendered to the vanilla thirsty pirates.

‘Hornswaggle!! Your weight in vanilla beans!’ shouted Zen Blackbeard and turning to his lads:

‘Get me some cackle fruit, some rum and some chocolate while you’re at it! Let’s feast!!’

When i looked up at the dinner table, my parents – with a worried look on their face – were staring at me playing Pirates Legos – knuckles deep into my bowl of ile flottante. My mom leaned over to my dad and whispered:

‘Let’s send him to culinary school… he needs discipline!’

This was the moment, ladies and gentlemen, that sealed my destiny forever!

For your share of the treasure valiant pirates, don’t forget to submit your entry to the Vanilla Bean Giveaway before Friday at midnight. And when you get your hands on the bounty – why not make some ile flottante? This retro/back in the spotlight French dessert is a great way to experience vanilla in all it’s glory. Ahoy me hearties!!

Île flottante
(serves 6 people)

For the custard:

  • 5 egg yolks
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 oz sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, splitted and seeds scraped

For the meringue:

  • 5 egg whites
  • 1 cup sugar

For the caramel:

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup corn syrup

For the meringue:

  1. Preheat your oven to 250 F.
  2. Take 6 ramekins and spray the inside with vegetable oil.
  3. Put the eggs and the sugar in a metallic bowl.
  4. Place over a pot full of simmering water and mix until the sugar is dissolved.
  5. Using a mixer, whip the egg whites until they form stiff peaks.
  6. Use a pastry bag and fill the ramekins with the meringue.
  7. Place the ramekins in a deep oven dish and pour hot water as high as half the height of the ramekins.
  8. Cover with a piece of foil paper and place in the oven for 20 mins. Remove.
  9. Place the ramekins in the fridge for an hour minimum before unmolding.

For the custard :

  1. Bring the milk with the vanilla pods and seeds to a boil.
  2. Beat together the sugar and the egg yolks until pale colored.
  3. Pour 1/2 cup hot milk in the egg preparation while stirring constantly, then add the rest of the milk.
  4. Place the pot on medium to low heat again to thicken the cream while stirring constantly until the cream coats a spoon. DO NOT BOIL.
  5. Strain it and place it in a bowl plunged in iced water so that it cools down. Refrigerate.

For the caramel:

  1. Tie two wooden spoons on your counter, side by side, handles sticking out (using rubberband to secure them).
  2. Spray vegetable oil on the handles.
  3. Tie together 2 forks with their teeth pointing outside.
  4. Melt the sugar and corn syrup in a pot.
  5. Bring the temperature to 300 F. Remove from the heat.
  6. Check the temp. and when it cools to 250 F, dip the forks in the caramel.
  7. Make movements from left to right at about 2 feet above the handles. Threads of caramel will form and fall.

To Serve, place some of the vanilla custard in a shallow plate or bowl, place a meringue in the middle. Put a caramel nest on top and serve. The combination of flavors is amazing.Enjoy.

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  • Julie

    Oh my God! The Ile Flottante! With all the years between me and Paris I had forgoten how much I LOVE this dessert.

    Man….I gotta get back to France. Matey.

  • AzAzura

    sea of custard and islands of meringues and golden caramel .Am I in heaven?

  • Angélique

    Thank you so much for posting this recipe!

    This is one of the favorite desserts of my French Paramour. His mother made a large version served in a large bowl from which the whole family can take scoops. She passed away already and so I can’t get recipes from her.

    I ate this all summer last year (for six weeks traveling around South Eastern France, wherever I could find it.

  • Ann

    When are you going to run a local contest (i.e., me and other NY-ers) with the prize being a meal cooked by you for me (um, I mean for the lucky winner)?

    Those photos… that recipe… *swoon*

  • waliz

    zen ..u are the best story teller i’ve come across this blogsphere…

    i think the sacrifices your parents made to send u to culinary school has been paid off..bravo!

    nice but strange looking dessert..:D

  • Sweetiepie

    Wow!great story…LOL!That; really funny..holy waffles.You make my day!Thanks for sharing the precious recipe..

  • A Z R A

    i guess culinary school was the right choice for you! 😀

  • Big Boys Oven

    oh this looks so yummy delicious!

  • Chicken & Waffles

    ARRRR! You fine scurvy dog of a bitch master’s spawn!


  • Chicken & Waffles

    Uh, no offense to the family lore. I say that with admiration.

  • Zen Chef

    Julie, you should!… Ahhh… les p’tits cafes Parisien. C’est quand même quelque chose! :-)

  • Zen Chef

    No Azazura… You are in my comment room! 😀
    But that’s the next best thing!

  • Zen Chef

    Angélique!… I’m happy I could help!
    Say Bonjour to the French paramour for me! Hehe

  • Zen Chef

    HaHa.. Ann not a bad idea… but wait…You’re the only New Yorker reading this blog! Hehehe
    Easy! :-)

  • Zen Chef

    Waliz! I’m the best storyteller on this blog! On the blogosphere that’s another story! :-)
    I guess it paid off, still trying to figure out that one! Hehe

  • Zen Chef

    Holy Waffles!! Sweetipie!
    Think I should trademark this one? :-)

  • Zen Chef

    Azra… well i don’t know! :-)
    And my therapist won’t answer my calls! hehe

  • Zen Chef

    Thank you big boys oven!

  • Zen Chef

    C & W…don’t worry!! I understand your sense of humor. haha
    You’re hilarious!! :-)

  • Christy

    This looks so lovely!!:)

  • foodhuntress79

    I like everything about sugar threads- that one on photo just looks perfect. I tried the threads a few times and always end up with an afro ‘do. :) Great dessert and dinner story too.

  • Anali

    Oh this is the cutest story! I’ve never heard of this dessert before, but it looks spectacular and so rich. It also looks like I might do it a terrible disservice. Maybe I’ll be brave enough to try it one day! : )

  • Susan from Food Blogga

    That’s edible art you’ve got there, Zen!

  • beachlover

    what a cute name!!!your caramel look so cool.I wish I can do that trick!

  • Helene

    This is insane. Looks so good.

  • Tartelette

    One of the first dessert I learned to make and love. Try it with Toffee Bits on top…hmmmmm!