Floating Island (“île flottante”)

French Fridays with Dorie.

Floating Island ("île flottante")

“Floating Island” is the English name for the French dessert “île flottante” or “œufs à la neige” . It uses a French custard dessert sauce called “crème anglaise” which when you translate it means “English creme”. Oh those crazy French. In my family Floating Islands was a storied dessert. One which we were told my grandmother would prepare for my mother and her sister when they were little girls by using the traditional preparation of poaching spoonfuls of meringue in a sweetened milk before floating them on a base of custard sauce.

My mom never, ever made it for us.

When I was of the age my mother was enjoying her Floating Islands we were heavily into the 1970’s health food scene and such sugary sweet desserts were not something we would enjoy.

“How would you like a piece of fruit for dessert or one of these carob chip cookies that taste like sawdust?”

Eventually we would relax the rigid house no-sugar rules but my mother still never rushed to make us Floating Island but it has remaind on my to-do list through the years having seen it made umpteen times on cooking shows. When it showed up on our French Fridays with Dorie radar I knew I was not going to let this one pass even if I have to post it on a Saturday. I wasn’t really looking forward to the messy milk poaching so when I read the recipe and saw Dorie’s method for cooking the meringue was to do so in one piece in a pan and cut later I was quite relived. Atta girl Dorie!

Because creme anglaise is essentially an uncooked ice cream custard I decided to serve it up in traditional ice cream dishes with a drizzle of caramel sauce topping. I suppose in a pinch you could do what I’ve seen Ina do and just use melted vanilla ice cream but I find that this makes for a way too sweet sauce and if there is one thing this dessert doesn’t need it is extra sweetness. In fact, I’ve toned down the sugar content from Dorie’s version and still found it too sweet.

The final preparation is very easy making it a winner for entertaining and a nice one to find a nice way to make it your own. (See recipe below for ideas.) I added a splash of bourbon the the creme anglaise (because nothing says Trevor like bourbon) and topped with a drizzle of caramel sauce. I would think a nice fruit liquor or run would work nicely as well. A last minute addition to these were some sliced nectarines to swim in the dish but they were gone much too fast for me to grab a photo. Quelle domage.

Floating Island ("île flottante")

Floating Island (“île flottante”)

Once you get the basics of this dessert down I would encourage you to adapt it and make it your own. Creme Anglaise is essentially unfrozen ice cream custard, something I got down to a science thanks to my devotion to David Lebovitz. For this dessert, however, I would suggest using a tad less sugar than seems right for an ice cream. For me a splash of bourbon is all I need to make any recipe “my own”. A highly recommended addition that ties in nicely with the caramel sauce if you top with that…even if it is not all that French.


Floating Island
(“île flottante”)

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 40 minutes

Yield: 6-8 servings

Floating Island <br>(“île flottante”)

Shown here with meringues topped with caramel sauce, floating island can be served drizzled in chocolate and crunch candy or served with a scoop of chocolate ice cream and cookies. Recipe for a quick microwave caramel sauce can be found here.

This is what you will need:

    For the Creme Anglaise:
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup sugar (or slightly less if you are me)
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • pinch salt
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp. bourbon, rum or another liqueur (optional.)
  • For the Meringue
  • 6 large egg whites at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

This is how you make it:

    Make the Creme Anglaise one day in advance:
  1. Heat the milk in a small sauce pan on the stove top but don't let it boil. Whisk the egg yolks in a 2-quart bowl, adding the sugar steadily as you whisk and continue beating 2 to 3 minutes until the mixture is pale yellow and thick.
  2. Slowly, dribble in the hot milk--stirring, not beating, because you do not want the sauce to foam. Go slowly so as not to cook the eggs with the heat from the hot milk.
  3. After the milk has been added to the egg mixture completely return the mixture to the saucepan using a rubber scraper to get all of it.
  4. Set the saucepan over moderately low heat, stirring rather slowly with the wooden spoon, and reaching all over the bottom and sides of the pan. The sauce will heat up not simmer and will thicken as it heats. The sauce is done when it coats the wooden spoon with a light creamy layer thick enough to hold when you draw your finger across it.
  5. Remove from the heat at this point and stir in the vanilla, the butter if you are using it, and the bourbon. Let come down to room temperature and then cover and chill. When ready to use give it a good stir. Serve slightly chilled or at room temperature.
  6. Make the meringue:
  7. Center a rack in the oven and heat to 250 degrees. Prepare a 9 inch springform pan by buttering it and dusting with granulated sugar and tapping out the excess. Wrap the bottom of the pan snuggly with several sheets of aluminum foil coming half way up the side and set aside until ready for it.
  8. Whip the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Add a pinch of salt and continue beating at medium speed until the start to thicken. Add sugar gradually. Whites will get glossy and start to hold firm peaks. Add vanilla and continue beating until fully incorporated.
  9. Scrape the meringue into the prepared pan and smooth over with spatula.
  10. Put springform pan into roasting pan and add hot water to reach half way up the side of the pan. Put in the oven and bake for 40 minutes. Top should be firm to the touch. Don't worry if the meringue is ever so slightly browned as I think that adds nice interest to the finished dish.
  11. Remove from the oven and carefully remove meringue pan from roasting pan being careful to let all water drain out. Remove foil so water can drain. Carefully wrap new foil around pan and let cool to room temperature and then chill at least one hour or overnight.
  12. When ready, carefully remove meringue from pan to a cutting board and cut into wedges or squares.
  13. To assemble:
  14. Pour creme anglaise into shallow bowls or plates and top with a slice or meringue. Drizzle caramel sauce, chocolate sauce, praline crumbles, etc. or just add a scoop of chocolate ice cream. Sliced plumbs or nectarines would be inspired as well.


You can make both the meringue and the creme anglaise a day in advance.




About Trevor Kensey

To be truthful, I don't know what “Sis. Boom. [blog!]" means either. The name implies something explosive just happened I suppose I would like it if each post would make made a small 'boom' in your day or at least a fizzle. Even though a recipe is included with every post I have a hard time calling this a "food blog" or even myself a "food blogger".

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  1. How could I miss adding the bourbon?? Especially since I drenched it in caramel and dulce de leche… Baking is the way to go with this dessert. That way it can be made in advance.

  2. Tres belle, Trevor! An artful drizzle if ever there was one. The only possible way this could be improved would be to add just a soupcon of raw poisson, n’est-ce pas?

  3. A perfect dessert, and bourbon never hurt anything. Have a happy holiday weekend.

  4. Yes, a well placed shot of bourbon is never remiss and often required.

    My mother never made me floating islands either. I think we should get dessert therapy to help us cope with this childhood injustice.

  5. My grandmothers were both French and I grew up with this wonderful dessert. It’s the first thing I order when I go to France. 🙂

  6. I think you need to have your family over for this one, to make up for all the island-less years.

  7. Your floating islands look tre elegant, and the splash of bourbon is a great idea.

  8. No way, I thought that I was the only one who grew up with the joys of carob. My parents had a similar sugar-is-evil policy, which they have only started to ease up on since I left the house.

    And bourbon. Brilliant. Why the heck didn’t I think of that?

  9. Your floating islands look gorgeous, Trevor…and I love the idea of the bourbon! Next time I make this (and there will be a next time) I’m baking the meringue!

    My grandchildren are growing up with sugar restrictions, however my son in law always tells them, “grandma’s house, grandma’s rules” and we all know I believe that “a balanced diet is a cookie in each hand”!
    Have a great weekend!

  10. I must try this in a springform pan! Well done, my friend…another gorgeous presentation!

  11. What a tour de force. I have always loved this dessert. I recall years ago seeing a huge bowl of it on a dessert table in Martha Stewart’s first book, “Entertaining.” Of course we ALL had to make it. I just stood in my kitchen eating it, drinking it, and generally enjoying it. Yours is great. And the bourbon is a wonderful idea.

  12. Great styling, and love the addition of bourbon.

  13. I wanted my mom to be like yours. I remember a meeting a girl my age who ate only organic food. I told my mother that I wanted to eat the same way and she said in true scientific fashion, “There are organic and nonorganic things… Food is organic, you can’t eat rocks.” Well, your islands are beautiful. I didn’t make this one because I just returned from an island.

  14. Mmm, I saw Ina make these once and I was intrigued. This version looks tasty. I like the addition of bourbon!

  15. Sugar and bourban? Yes and yes. Oh gosh, I’m a 7 & 7 gal back to my sorority days. Just those two words in the same sentence evokes fond memories. Back to your dessert. Love the shape of your cloud in the sherbet dish. It makes for a very elegant presentation. As always, your accompanying story is the true tasty treat of your posts.

  16. I was too busy putting the bourbon in the peanut butter/chocolate chunk blondies I was making the other day and completely missed this important step with the Crème Anglaise. I like that you toned down the sugar, too. It was delicious, but I’d prefer less of a sugar bomb, next time.

  17. My mother used to make merengón, the tall fluffy meringue cake like Paula’s, and served the creme anglaise on the side sometimes when we had company over. It was probably the most impressive dessert I had ever seen her make while growing up and I loved it. I know this needs the catch-up treatment. Have a great Labor Day!

  18. I’m from the Midwest, meaning my Mother never enjoyed île flottante as a kid nor did she ever make it. The first time I ever had it was 9 years ago in France. I loved it. (No bourbon, I’m afraid.) Your version looks beautiful and I can imagine it was delicious. Good idea about less sugar – I remember it being very, very sweet. My convention bags arrived, Trevor (I ordered one for Laurie also) and I cannot thank you enough. I will see you soon in Seattle.

  19. I knew I had seen someone on TV melt vanilla ice cream and called it creme anglaise. Thanks for reminding me that it was Ina! Sometimes I feel like my memory is gone…

  20. Hi! I’m here because Bizzy Lizzy reco’d your blog to me on FB. The Hungarian’s call it Madár Tej (bird’s milk); used to be my Mom’s go to dessert, she made it look so easy. I tried it once and it flopped, poaching meringue in sweetened milk is not easy to do, so like you, when I saw this on French Friday’s with Dorie I became ecstatic! I can hardly wait to make this.

  21. Lovely! This really was a fun one to make.