Floating island (dessert)

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Floating island
Ujuvad saarekesed.jpg
Place of originFrance
Main ingredientsmeringue (egg whites, sugar and vanilla extract), crème anglaise (egg yolks, vanilla, milk, sugar)

A floating island is a dessert consisting of meringue floating on crème anglaise (a vanilla custard). The meringue is prepared from whipped egg whites, sugar, and vanilla extract and baked in a bain-marie.[1] The crème anglaise is prepared with the egg yolks, vanilla, and hot milk, briefly cooked.


There is some confusion about the name. Oeufs à la neige ("eggs in snow") is often confused with the Floating Island but they are not the same dessert; the former is made with smaller pieces of poached meringue while the Floating Island is made with one larger piece of meringue that is baked in a bain-marie.[2][3]


The earliest known English language references to the dessert have been traced to the Thirteen Colonies of the United States, in a 1771 letter from Benjamin Franklin reporting "At dinner had a floating island".[2] An 1847 American cookbook lists floating island as a Fourth of July celebration dessert.[4]

The historical form of the dessert was quite different in England than in France, where it was known as Ile Flotante. Some scholars say that today's "Floating Island" more closely resembles the 18th century French Ile Floatante than the elaborate cake and jelly constructions of English cuisine,[3] while others say that the early French versions were not made with meringue at all, but layers of liquor soaked spongecake or brioche served in custard sauce (or berry puree).[5]

Elizabeth Raffald's 18th century recipe published in the The Experienced English Housekeeper seeks to create a pastoral winter landscape:[5]

"beat the white of an egg to a strong froth, and roll a sprig of myrtle in it to imitate snow ... let it stand till it is quite cold and stiff, then lay on rock candied-sweetmeats upon the top of your jelly, and sheep and swans to pick at the myrtle; stick green sprigs in two or three places on top of your jelly, amongst your shapes".

Hannah Glasse is noted for a similar "pretty Middle Dish" that she suggests for a "second course at a Grand Table or a Wedding Supper" resembling "a floating island, set round with candles like a Christmas Tree."[6] It is made with sweetened thick cream, sack and lemon peel whipped into a froth, then layered with thin slices of bread alternating with jelly, piled high with the stiffened froth. Fruits and sweetmeats are arranged in a ring around the edge of the dish that is presented as a centerpiece for the table with candles all around it.[7]

According to Larousse Gastronomique the dessert was served a little less by the time the encyclopedia was published in 1938, and its writers expressed regret because the dish is "excellent" .[8] The version recorded in the Larousse Gastronomique was made with stale Savoy biscuits sliced thin and soaked in kirsch and maraschino layered with apricot marmalade and a garnish of chopped almonds and currants. The layers were assembled to form a type of cake that was frosted with chantilly cream, with either custard or berry puree poured over the whole thing.[9]


Crème anglaise, the base of floating island

Floating island consists of a meringue served floating on a milky custard sauce. Some variations use a thicker sauce, served on top of the dumplings, but usually the custard is thin and the dumplings "float" on top.

First, the custard made of milk, sugar, vanilla, and egg yolks is briefly cooked in a bain-marie. The custard should be thick enough to coat a spoon.

To make the meringue, the egg whites are beaten with sugar and poured into a mold that may be lined with caramelised sugar.[10] It is then steamed in the oven in a bain-marie. Once the meringue is cooked and chilled, the sauce is poured on a serving plate and the unmolded meringue placed on the sauce to "float". The result can be served at room temperature or chilled.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pépin, Jacques (2012). Jacques Pépin New Complete Techniques.
  2. ^ a b Ayto, John (2010). The Diner's Dictionary: Word Origins of Food and Drink. Oxford University Press.
  3. ^ a b Grossman, Anne Chotzinoff (2000). Lobscouse & Spotted Dog: Which It's a Gastronomic Companion to the Aubrey/Maturin Novels. p. 78.
  4. ^ "What do Americans eat on July 4th?".
  5. ^ a b Sax, Richard (2010). Classic Home Desserts: A Treasury of Heirloom and Contemporary Recipes. 2010. p. 152.
  6. ^ "The Cornhill Magazine". Smith, Elder & Co. 1903. Cite magazine requires |magazine= (help)
  7. ^ Glasse, Hannah (1748). The Art of Cookery.
  8. ^ Montagne, Prosper (1938). Larousse gastronomique. Cet entremets était jadis très en favuer. On le fait in peu moins aujourd'hui, ce qui est regrettable car ii excellent.
  9. ^ Turgeon, Charlotte. The New Larousse Gastronomique. p. 379.
  10. ^ Perrin-Chattard, Brigitte; Jean-Pierre Perrin-Chattard (2000). Toute la cuisine. Jean-paul Gisserot. p. 544. ISBN 978-2-87747-443-6.

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