Recipe: Canonigo

Of all the desserts of my childhood, canonigo is one I find full of flavor, yet relatively light on the stomach. It’s icing that lands on top of all the heavy food you’ve devoured at a party. Many of our family gathering have at least two desserts prepared. I have canonigo for dessert when you want to have one more bite, but cake would be too heavy, and skipping straight to coffee would feel like deprivation.

Canonigo is a Filipino dessert inspired by the French île flottante, though my Mom usually used the Anglicized term “floating island”. The meringue is cooked to a light fluffy texture, then flipped onto a large serving plate where a light orange flavored custard sauce is poured over it, making it look as if an island of meringue rose out of the sauce. When Mom and some of my aunts ran Old Fashioned Bibingka at Iba Pa, their made to order food and catering business, canonigo  was a favorite of many of their customers. 

Cointreau is my Mom’s preferred brand of orange liqueur. You can use whatever you have on hand. Grand Mariner also works well with the recipe. 

Canonigo can be made a 1-2 days in advance and assembled before serving lunch or dinner. By the time your guests have finished eating their main courses, the canonigo will be ready to serve.

Caramel Ingredients

  • 1 cup (200 grams) white sugar

Meringue Ingredients

  • 7 egg (1 cup) whites
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Sauce Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) white sugar
  • 7 egg yolks
  • 1 cup fresh milk
  • 1/4 cup orange liqueur

Preparing the pan:

  1. Begin by preheating your oven to 300ºF or 150ºC.
  2. Get an 8” round baking pan 3” tall or a rectangular baking pan at least 3” tall. Place pan over the lowest heat setting on your burner.
  3. Add 1 cup (200 grams) white sugar into baking pan.
  4. Wait for sugar to begin to liquefy. If the sugar starts to brown too quickly, move the heat to another part of the pan.
  5. Gently move the container with your hands covered in oven mitts to melt the rest of the sugar.
  6. When most of the sugar has liquefied, turn off the heat.
  7. With the pan always facing away from you, slowly move the pan so the caramelized sugar coats all sides of the pan.
  8. Set aside caramelized pan for filling later.

Making the meringue:

  1. Prepare sugar-baking powder mixture. In a bowl, mix ½ cup (100 grams) white sugar with baking powder. Set aside.
  2. Separate eggs into egg whites and egg yolks. Measure out 1 cup egg whites. You may need more or less eggs depending on the size of the eggs you have on hand. Set aside egg yolks.
  3. Pour egg whites into bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites on medium speed with a wire whisk attachment until foamy. Stop mixer.
  4. Divide sugar-baking powder mixture into 4 portions. 
  5. Add 1 potion sugar-baking soda mixture to egg whites. Resume beating egg whites at medium high speed until incorporated. Stop mixer.
  6. Repeat Step 5 until all the sugar-baking powder has been incorporated into the egg whites.
  7. Continue beating the egg whites until they are stiff but not dry. To test if egg whites are stiff, scoop a bit of egg whites onto a spatula to form a peak. Turn the spatula so the peak is parallel to the ground. If the peak droops towards the floor, the egg whites need to be beaten some more. A peak that holds its shape is stiff. Over beating the egg whites will cause the bubbles formed to collapse and make the canonigo flat.
  8. Add vanilla extract to egg whites. Whisk until blended. The egg whites are now known as meringue.
  9. Spoon the meringue onto the caramelized pan. Carefully pack the meringue into the pan to minimize creating air pockets. Air pockets will cause holes in the canonigo.
  10. To remove any remaining air pockets, carefully lift the pan about 6” from a sturdy table top made of wood or granite and drop the pan onto the table. This sudden jolt to the pan removes any remaining air pockets.
  11. Prepare bain-marie. Get a baking tray with sides at least 2” tall. Pour in water until water level is 1” high.
  12. Place meringue filled pan in the middle of bain-marie. Carefully place bain-marie into pre-heated oven. 
  13. Bake for 60 minutes, or until the top of the meringue is a golden brown.
  14. Turn heat off in the oven and let meringue rest for 60 minutes. Remove from oven. 
  15. Slide a thin knife between the meringue and the pan to dislodge any stuck caramel from the sides of the pan. 

Making the sauce:

  1. Prepare a double boiler. Get a bowl that can fit over a saucepan. The bowl should not touch the bottom of the saucepan. Add water to the saucepan until it covers the bottom but when the bowl is placed over it, the bowl will not touch the water. 
  2. Combine milk, egg yolks, and ½ cup (100 grams) white sugar in the double boiler. Place the double boiler over low heat. Using a wire whisk, continuously stir the mixture to prevent the sauce from coagulating. Keep stirring until the mixture slightly thickens. Remove from heat.
  3. Add orange liqueur to sauce and stir with whisk until well blended.
  4. Allow sauce to cool, then refrigerate for at least 60 minutes. 

Putting everything together:

  1. Remove meringue from refrigerator. Get a serving dish with 2” sides that can cover the entire meringue. Place the serving dish over the meringue. Holding the baking pan firmly to the serving dish, quickly flip the meringue onto the serving dish. Remove the baking pan from the meringue.
  2. Remove sauce from refrigerator. Whisk sauce to a pouring consistency. Pour over meringue. Chill for 60 minutes, then serve. 

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