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.