Floating Islands Recipe

I wouldn’t call floating Islands a no-brainer, but they do offer a surprisingly high return on the time and ingredient investment. Like most home-spun classics, there are several ways you can make them. This is how I do it. You’ll want to gather:

2 cups milk
4 room-temperature egg whites
a pinch of salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 recipe crème anglaise, chilled
caramel sauce

If you’re not in the habit of making caramel sauce and keeping it in your refrigerator in a squeeze bottle, now’s a good time to start. It’ll store indefinitely and only needs to be brought to room temperature to be used. As for the crème anglaise, you can use the yolks from the separated eggs to make that. For the truly lazy and/or time-pressed, some melted vanilla ice cream will stand in for the crème anglaise (it’s pretty much the same thing).

Set the milk on to simmer in a shallow saucepan while you prepare the meringue. Have a clean kitchen towel and a sheet pan lined with parchment or waxed paper ready. Place the egg whites in the bowl of a mixer with the whip attached. Whip the whites until they’re foamy, then add the pinch of salt. Continue whipping to the soft peak stage, then with the machine running add the sugar in a slow stream. Whip to stiff peaks.

With the milk simmering — but not boiling — spoon two or three heaping spoonfuls of the meringue into the pan. Poach the meringue for 1-2 minutes, then flip and poach another two minutes more. Remove the meringues to the towel to drain. Add more spoonfuls of meringue to the pan and continue poaching in batches until you have about twelve of them. When they’ve all drained for a few minutes, remove them to the lined sheet pan, cover with plastic and place in the refrigerator for at least an hour, up to five hours.

When you’re ready to serve, place an island in a shallow bowl, spoon the crème anglaise over the top and finish with a drizzle of caramel sauce. Obviously, these are great for dinner parties since you can make all the components ahead and they take almost no time to assemble.

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6 Responses to Floating Islands Recipe

  1. Reader Lee says:

    Here’s a chemistry question for Prof. Pastry. I noticed when I made these that there was MUCH less milk in the pot at the end of the poaching process than there had been at the beginning. Also, the individual meringues were both heavier and more solid. Obviously, they had absorbed a lot of milk while poaching, but in doing so, became stronger, which seems counter-intuitive, considering how frothy the meringues are at the start. Can science shed any light on what is happening here?

    • joepastry says:

      Science always has an answer, Reader Lee. ALWAYS. The problem is that most of the time I don’t know what it is. In this case I believe most of the moisture is being lost to evaporation, and probably some to absorption. I think most of the firmness and density of the finished “islands” comes from the fact that they shrink up as they cool. So a meringue blob that looks huge in the pan is decidedly less monstrous on the plate. It’s those air cells inside the meringue, you see. As they cool they contract. But not question they do soak up at least a little of the milk in the poaching process.

  2. Reader Lee says:

    Thanks Professor! Here’s something else that science can help with. I made these, and then put the (small amount of) leftovers in the fridge overnight, a bunch of islands floating in a sea of Cream Anglaise. I expected it to be a goopy and gooey mess the next day, but was surprised to discover the islands and the sauce were both still delicious, with most of the textures intact. And I hadn’t even bothered to cover it with anything; I am sure it would have tasted even fresher had I at least tossed on some Saran Wrap before putting it away. I mention this only because many of the recipes for the dish give the impression that you have to eat it right away. It seems, though, that you could make it the day before if you had to. Not that it’s that complicated…

    • joepastry says:

      True enough! Once the puffs set up and finish shrinking they’re good to go for quite a while, methinks. Some recipes say an hour, some say three, I beefed it up to five because, well, they really will hold up that long (at least).

  3. Fleur says:

    Hello Joe,

    Thank you for communicating this recipe to others so they can enjoy simple french dessert.

    I am french and I enjoy very much making and eating this dessert.
    As far as I can remember I’ve always been eating l’ile flottante made with simply whipped whites, no sugar added, no meringue. The whipped whites are poached into a preparation with milk and a pinch of sugar. As the final touch is to cover the “ile” with hard caramel still liquid and boiling. So easy to make that my mother often put me in charge of the ile fottante making. :)
    My fingers still remember the caramel. when I was a kid several times I had boiling hot drops of it dropping on my hands.
    The whites will naturally get sweet from both the caramel and the creme anglaise.
    I have checked the english version of wikipedia definition. If saying about french ile flottante, the second paragraph of definition is totally wrong. I never heard or saw ile flottante made out of alternate layers of alcohol-soaked dessert biscuits and jam …Yuk !

    French version is creme anglaise, whipped egg whites poached into milk/ sweetened milk and hard caramel poured on the top while still hot and liquid.
    Thank for your hard work on cuisine subject.
    PS: my next to try from you is Cake Doughnut Recipe.

    • joepastry says:

      Thank you very much for your comments, Fleur, they will be a valuable addition to the post. I’ve heard that freshly made hard caramel is the most popular garnish for this dish in French homes. I made the decision to prepare it with caramel sauce because it seemed less intimidating for people who have never tried floating islands before. However I shall make a note in the tutorial, giving readers the option. Again, many thanks! – Joe

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