One of my all-time favorite movies is “Desk Set.” A little known Tracy and Hepburn film, Katharine Hepburn plays a research librarian at a television network in New York City; Spencer Tracy plays an efficiency expert. It’s great fun and I watch it every December because the movie starts in November and a big scene takes place at Christmastime. (So I was especially excited to go to Rockefeller Center last December to live my version of the movie!)
There is a scene where, following a big rain storm, Tracy is soaked and ends up having dinner at Hepburn’s apartment; he makes her fried chicken and she makes floating island for dessert. Her boyfriend shows up, suspects their cozy dinner is something other than what it is, and assumptions and confusion ensues. Of course, it ends happily.
I’ve been making this dessert since the first time I saw this movie probably 20 years ago. A soft custard pudding, it has a meringue “island” floating on top. It is a perfectly comforting and homey dessert that takes little time and makes just the right amount for two. I had to research the history of this dessert and I thought it was American through and through, but turns out it is European!
This recipe, from Betty Crocker’s New Dinner For Two Cook Book, says to make this in a double boiler. If you don’t have one, like me, a thick-bottomed saucepan works just as well.
Make Soft Custard (below). Make a meringue of 1 egg white and 2 tbsp. sugar. Drop meringue as “islands” on custard in serving dish. Chill before serving. (MVK’s Note: Making the meringue takes about 10 minutes at least with a hand mixer set on high.)
¾ cup milk
2 egg yolks (or 1 whole egg)
2 tbsp. sugar
Pinch of salt
½ tsp. vanilla
Scald milk in top of a double boiler over direct head. Beat egg yolks in a small bowl. Blend in sugar and salt. Gradually stir in scalded milk. Return to double boiler. Cook over simmering (not boiling) water, stirring constantly. When custard coats silver spoon (thin coating), remove from heat. Cook quickly. If custard should start to curdle, beat vigorously at once with rotary beater until smooth. Blend in vanilla. Pour into serving dish. 2 generous servings.