The dessert derives its name from its appearance — a mass of meringue, the island, floating in a sea of crème anglaise, a light vanilla custard of pouring consistency. Floating island is made with the simplest ingredients — eggs, milk, sugar and vanilla — and the basic recipe can be tweaked in every imaginable way from simple to ultra fancy.
The meringue can be cooked in a number of ways — baked in a water bath (baine marie), baked in a mould lined with caramel or simmered in sweetened milk. The meringue can be shaped by using a spoon, a mould or a piping bag.
For my version of floating island, I piped the meringue and baked it directly. No moulds, no water bath. Unlike most versions with lily-white meringue, I prefer a golden topped meringue to add color to an otherwise pale-looking dessert.
Some cooks add flour or cornstarch to thicken crème anglaise. I prefer not to, relying on the natural capacity of the egg yolk to thicken as it cooks. You can use more than a tablespoonful of sugar if you prefer a sweeter custard.
The ingredients list says “vanilla sugar“; if you don’t have any, you can add a split vanilla pod to the milk or use a few drops of vanilla extract.
And two more links that will be useful before embarking on the floating island adventure:
Floating island (île flottante)
Preheat the oven to 375F (I used a turbo broiler but I preheated it just the same).
Make the meringue. Beat the egg white (I used a hand mixer) just until it starts to take shape. Sprinkle in 1 tbsp. of sugar and add a tiny pinch of salt. Continue beating until stiff and shiny.
Line an oven-proof plate with baking paper. Pipe the meringue onto the baking paper. Bake at 375F for five minutes or until the top and sides are golden. Using a spatula, transfer the meringue to a shallow bowl.
Make the crème anglaise. Lightly beat the egg yolk with the remaining 1 tbsp. of sugar and a tiny pinch of salt.
Heat the milk in a small sauce pan until tiny bubbles appear along the edges.
Pour half of the milk into the egg yolk, mixing as you pour.
Pour the egg yolk mixture into the sauce pan with the milk. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring, until the custard coats the back of a spoon.
Pour the custard into the bowl with the meringue. Cool to room temperature or chill before serving.