It’s time to cook something eggy, because it’s Easter and we want to put to good use all those yolks and whites left after decorating our Easter eggs. So why not prepare Bird’s Milk – a simple yet nutritious dish which is said to have originated in France, but my mind will always associate it with Grandma’s rural kitchen in the south of Slovakia.
Bird’s Milk (or Vtáčie mlieko in Slovak) has different names in different countries. In France alone this classic dessert appears under two names as Œufs à la neige (which translates as ‘snowy eggs’), or Îles flottantes – the latter being the source of the English name for Floating Islands, a popular dessert made of whipped egg whites (meringues) floating in a custard sauce. Is it why the French call this sweet sauce ‘crème anglaise’ in return?
While I wait for someone to answer my question, let’s see what we need for a Slovak version of Îles flottantes.
For the cream:
- 4 egg yolks
- 400 ml milk
- 40 g sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the meringues:
- 4 egg whites
- 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
- a pinch of salt
- cinnamon to drizzle
- berries of your choice
- To make the cream, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar in a mixing bowl until smooth and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract and stir evenly into the egg mixture.
- Heat the milk in a pot over a medium heat until steaming. Set aside. Pour a few tablespoons of the milk into the egg mixture to warm it. Stir gently, then transfer the egg mixture to the warm milk.
- Place over a medium-low heat and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly. When the mixture starts thickening, continue cooking for another 5 – 10 minutes until you achieve almost cream-like consistency. Remember to stir well all the time. Don’t let the cream boil or it will curdle. Divide into dessert bowls and let cool.
- In the meantine, make the meringues by whisking the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form stiff peaks. Whisk in the powdered sugar and put aside.
- Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Take large spoonfuls of the meringue mixture and transfer it onto the tray, creating small ‘islands’. Preheat the oven to 200ºC, put in the baking tray and reduce the heat to 100ºC. Bake for about 15 minutes or until the meringues are crisp and lightly browned at tops. Let cool at room temperature.
- Transfer the meringues onto the cream, drizzle with the cinnamon and top with the berries. Refrigerate and serve chilled.And if you ask me why Slovaks call it Vtáčie mlieko (Bird’s Milk), I can only give a speculative answer. Those fluffy meringues sitting in the vanilla cream remind me of bird feathers, and I’ve heard it on some occasion that they can be shaped and decorated like birds. I may give it a try next time.