It’s time to cook something eggy, because it’s Easter and we want to put all those yolks and whites left after decorating our Easter eggs to good use. 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 my 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 Île flottante (Îles flottantes in plural) – the latter being the source of the English name for Floating Island(s), a popular dessert made of whipped egg whites (meringues) floating in a custard sauce. Is that 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
- a packet of vanilla sugar (20 g)
- 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 and transfer the contents of the mixing bowl 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 mixture boil or it will curdle.
Divide the warm mixture 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 vanilla sugar and put aside.
Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Take large spoonfuls of the ‘egg snow’ and arrange them in rows on the tray. Preheat the oven to 200ºC, put in the baking tray and turn down 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.
Cover the cooled cream with the meringues, drizzle with the cinnamon and top with the berries. Refrigerate and serve chilled.
And if you ask me why the 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’d swear I’ve heard it on some occasion that they can be shaped and decorated like birds. I may give it a try next time. 😉