4 1/2 cups milk
1 vanilla bean
7 tb sugar
1/8 ts cream of tartar
1 vanilla sugar, optional
1 ts cornstarch, optional
the cornstarch is optional, and i don't always use it. i've seen it done with a lot of it, to make a thick sauce, but that doesn't have my name on it; also, my mother's recipe instructs to poach the meringue in the milk, but in doing so i always, always burn the milk. it's like i'm cursed or something: no matter how carefully i watch it, it always ended up sticking to the pot.
heat the milk with the split vanilla bean to infuse. separate the eggs. beat the yolks with 4 tb sugar and cornstarch if using. temper them by slowly pouring a ladle of hot milk, stirring constanly.pour this back in the milk and keep stirring until thickened. set aside to cool.
heat 2 inches of water in your widest pan. beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt and cream of tartar until soft peaks form then start adding the remaining 3 tb sugar and the vanilla sugar. beat until you have a stiff luscious meringue. then using a spoon place blobs in the hot water to poach, 1 minute on each side. do not crowd the pan, as they will puff a bit.
remove to a colander and let drain. then put them in a serving bowl - or individual serving bowls and pour the thickened milk mixture on top, taking care to cover them completely. chill for several hours, ideally overnight.
it is like biting into a perfumed cloud. it's the kind of dessert that's a sure hit with kids, but their parents will enjoy too. and i think it's fancy enough to entertain. and it's the perfect make-the-day-before thing.
i like to serve it with a dusting of cacao mixed with a bit of powdered sugar, or vanilla sugar.