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Floating Islands – Sugar High Friday 31

The first dessert that came to my mind when Tara of Seven Spoons announced the Sugar High Friday 31 theme Shades of White was this quintessential French bistro dessert: Iles Flottantes or Floating Islands.

The choice was obvious for me on many levels. The dessert itself is composed of pillowy soft white meringue set on a pool of soft almond cream colored vanilla bean speckled custard sauce, also known as creme anglaise.

The main reason however spuns from a conversation I had many years ago with my grandmother, Paulette. The village where my parents and grandparents reside now is the traditional French village where the church sits prominent in the middle of the town center, surrounded by local artisan shops, pastry shops, a couple of cafes and in our case located close to the "chateau". I disgress…
We are neighbors (literally) so one day we were going to get bread at the bakery we passed the church while a wedding was taking place. The bride and groom were just coming out and my grandmother reacted the way she always did in that case, she frowned and mumbled…She was a modern woman in many ways and was aware that most brides knew pre-marital sex, but as a true product of her generation it was inconceivable that the bride would wear white. Wedding white or pure white as she would say was a badge of honor (slightly tinted with envy I think) for women her age.
That particular day, I did not feel like letting her get in a bad mood over this so I decided to play with her and indulge her sweet tooth: "If not white, and definitely not red, then what shades of white would be allright to wear for a wedding dress?" We kept on walking while describing shades of pale almond creme anglaise taffeta, caramel speckled meringue petticoat, nutty beige creme dacquoise undergarnment (she surprised me with this one), soft pink marshmallow lipstick, champagne veil and vanilla creme shoes. Gosh, did we make ourselves hungry while getting to the shop! She stopped right in front of the bakery and exclaimed: "Iles Flottantes is a dessert fit for a bride, in all its shades of white and soft meringue!"

Floating Islands are indeed a staple dessert in French households and bistros/cafes. They are easy to make, do not require a whole lot of time and make for a show stopping presentation. They are so light and airy that it makes them the perfect dessert choice during the warmer months or at the end of multi-course dinner. The meringue is almost always drizzled with caramel, and out of respect for the traditional I give you the steps to do so, but when you don’t feel like messing around with hot sugar syrup, a simple topping of toasted nuts (I used pistachios) is perfectly fine. The meringues are poached into hot milk, which helps preserve their texture and form while you put everything together.

Floating Islands – "Iles Flottantes":

Serves 6

For the creme anglaise:

2 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
1 whole vanilla bean, split or 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Heat the milk with the vanilla bean to boiling point. In the meantime, in a bowl whisk the sugar and egg yolks until thick and pale. Slowly pour in some milk to temper the yolks, whisk and pour the remaining milk. Stir. Pour the whole batter back in the saucepan and cook over medium-low heat until it coats the back of a wooden spoon.
Remove from heat, let cool to room temperature, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

For the meringue islands:

2 cups milk
4 egg whites
1/4 sugar

Spread a clean kitchen towel on your counter near the stove and have a large slotted spoon nearby.
In a large saucepan, heat the milk to a simmer over low heat in a large saucepan.
Whip the egg whites to a soft meringue and slowlt incorporate the sugar, one tablespoon at a time until you get a stiff , satin like and glossy meringue.
Using an ice cream scoop ar a large spoon, form rounds of meringue. Gently lower them down into the milk, without overcrowding the pan. Poach the meringues one minute on each side. With the slotted spoon, remove them from the milk and lay them down on the kitchen towel.
When all are poached. Put them on sheet pan lined with baking paper and refrigerate one hour.

To assemble:

Divide the creme anglaise among 6 dishes, top with the meringue islands and drizzle some caramel on top or sprinkle with toasted nuts.

For the caramel: (optional and right before serving)

1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup water

In a heavy saucepan, stir the sugar and water together and cook over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and cook until the caramel gets golden brown. Remove from the pan and let it cool a little. Spoon over the meringues.

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Warda May 21, 2007 um 2:52 am

Ta grand mere avait bien raison, L’ile flotante est parfaite pour un mariage…et pour moi en toutes occasion.

Anonymous May 21, 2007 um 2:59 am

Now that’s my idea of an island! Sweet, and something to help me feel indulgent and relax 😉 Much cheaper than buying a little tropical atoll too!

Anh May 21, 2007 um 3:50 am

This is the type of dessert that make you feel like flying and dreaming! Beautiful! I love the photo.

Brilynn May 21, 2007 um 3:56 am

Que c’est beau!

Anonymous May 21, 2007 um 4:50 am

your "ile flotante" is very beautiful, I love the picture!

Meeta K. Wolff May 21, 2007 um 5:57 am

I’d like this type of island any day. Sinking into it would be so. I loved your story about your grandmother Helene. Wonderful!

MyKitchenInHalfCups May 21, 2007 um 7:18 am

That’s the most wonderful grandmother story! Gorgeous dessert. My grandmother used to make us something she called floating islands, I don’t think it was this grand.

Anonymous May 21, 2007 um 7:25 am

mmmmmm miam miam. I love this dessert, I fell in love with it on my first trip to Paris. I nearly always have to have it if it’s on the dessert menu.

Eva May 21, 2007 um 8:47 am

Wonderful! I had thought about exactly the same thing to make for SHF – and then ended up not participating… But I’m glad that you did and I’ll try your version as soon as possible!

Inne May 21, 2007 um 2:13 pm

What a sweet, funny story! And les îles flottantes look absolutely delicious – like fluffy clouds.

Anita May 21, 2007 um 3:02 pm

So beautiful and airy looking – I always thought this dessert had the best name!

Cheryl May 21, 2007 um 3:03 pm

Just so beautiful. I had seen this made once and just fell in love. I love your presentation in that beautiful glass.

Patricia Scarpin May 21, 2007 um 3:15 pm

The dessert is beautiful, Helen, and I love its name as well. The conversation with your grandmother was so cute and funny! 🙂

Anonymous May 21, 2007 um 5:02 pm

What a great story! Grandmothers can be so funny~ this is the perfect dessert for shades of white.

Cookie baker Lynn May 21, 2007 um 6:27 pm

Breathtaking! I love the story about your grandmother, too. She sounds like a wonderful woman to know.

Anonymous May 21, 2007 um 7:51 pm

I dream of creme anglaise! That is my favorite desssert sauce. I want myself a floating island too!

Anonymous May 21, 2007 um 8:33 pm

Waouhhh, elle est superbe !!!

Kelly-Jane May 21, 2007 um 9:02 pm

A lovely post ( and dessert too!).

Jen the Bread Freak May 21, 2007 um 10:38 pm

I’ve been wanting to make these for ages. Yours look divine!

jasmine May 22, 2007 um 12:43 am

I’d heard of these, but never had or seen one. How beautiful.


Peabody May 22, 2007 um 8:55 am

Ah, so very french. Beautiful.

Freya May 22, 2007 um 11:18 am

Oh Helene, you genius! I have wanted to make this dessert for ages and I didn’t think about it for SHF – which is pretty lucky else I would have been thought of as a copy cat! I’m still going to make it – one day! I love your post – so evocative!

Anonymous May 22, 2007 um 7:36 pm

I’ve always wanted to try one of these and have never gotten around to it. Yours turned out beautifully, of course!

Nora B. May 22, 2007 um 9:06 pm

Wonderful story. And this is an excuse for me to make creme anglaise.

Lis May 23, 2007 um 1:24 am

Well I guess I have lived a sheltered life because I’ve never heard of this! Hmm.. maybe sheltered wasn’t the right word.. maybe SUCKY is! 'cuz I doan have any.

Maybe you can SHOW me how to make it! squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!


Anonymous May 24, 2007 um 1:42 am

Oh yummy! What a beautiful dessert.

tara May 25, 2007 um 1:46 pm

How sublime. I love these, not only for the beautiful presentation, but also for the perfect-looking texture. A delight to behold, and surely to eat! Cheers and many thanks for your participation in this month’s SHF.

Susan May 25, 2007 um 9:30 pm

You know, Helen, when your comment on my SHF post directed me to your blog, I expected to find your own post fairly quickly here. Not so! You have so many lovely white and cream recipes: cupcakes, ice cream, white chocolate brownies…It really is an elegant color, and so is your blog.

Andrea May 29, 2007 um 6:06 pm

I love the dessert and the conversation with your grandmother is just too funny!

Brian October 14, 2008 um 4:59 am

I am going to attempt this now with Ze little twist; ) coconut milk and some sliced mango and toasted coconut
with a sherry chocolate sauce drizzle. Thanks for your wonderful site ! A cooking we will go…..
Cheers Brian (Sydney Australia)

Anonymous November 25, 2008 um 4:38 pm

I would love to feature this piece on my web site.

I don’t have any details to contact you.

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