Making Floating Islands

My daughters, my neighbors’ daughter, my neighbors and my wife were all stunned at how good this dessert was. On the face of it, it just doesn’t sound all that interesting. Meringue poached in milk? Oh, yippee. You really have to try this to understand how remarkable it is. With your caramel sauce and crème anglaise at-the-ready, start making your islands. Pour the milk into a saucepan and set it on to simmer.

Pour the whites into the bowl of a mixer fitted with the whip.

Whip the whites to a froth and add the salt.

Whip on medium-high until the foam is opaque and start adding the sugar.

Whip to the stiff peak stage.

Then spoon up some of the meringue and drop it into the simmering milk. Poach from 1-3 minutes. I noticed that the longer the poaching goes on, the more the sulfur notes of the eggs comes out. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The point is that these can be poached rather lightly if you wish.

Flip them with a spider or a spoon (I went over to a metal spoon after this photo, it was just too darn big for this pan).

When done, remove the islands to a clean kitchen towel or a paper towel to drain.

After a few minutes move the islands to a parchment or waxed paper-lined baking sheet.

Cover them with plastic and refrigerate at least an hour, up to five hours.

To assemble, simply place an island on a plate and spoon over the chilled crème anglaise.

Finish with caramel sauce and serve!

I should mention that caramel sauce is just one potential topping. “Spun” caramel is a very popular topping in French homes, and produces a nice crunchy texture contrast. For that, you’ll want to have a shallow pan containing a cup of sugar and 1/4 cup of water standing by. When the islands are plated, swirl the sugar over high heat until it turns a dark amber. Insert the end of a fork into the caramel and — carefully — drizzle it over the islands.

If you prefer caramel sauce but still want a crunch, some sliced, toasted almonds are a nice addition.

16 thoughts on “Making Floating Islands”

  1. Having never so much as heard of floating islands before, I’m finding this whole thing baffling. So, what’s the texture like on the islands after poaching? Is it like the underside of the meringue on a lemon meringue pie? Is it bouncy, or does it sort of dissolve when you bite into it? I admit – as much as I love creme anglaise and caramel, this doesn’t sound at ALL appealing. If someone doesn’t like, say, baked meringue-topped pies, are they likely to like this?

    1. It’s hard to say, The texture of this is “bouncy” as you say…like a very light and slightly sweet cooked egg white. If that appeals, I recommend trying them! – Joe

  2. this looks so delicious.but i was wondering at the magic of this dish.., while the egg dissolves with milk/cream to form custards, the floating islands just withstand it to form melt in mouths. Though this is a daring bakers challenge for a novice baker like me..i am going to definitely try this.

    1. That’s interesting. Yes, you’d think that the meringue would simply dissolve in the milk, but it doesn’t — there’s no time before the egg cooks! A very interesting case study in egg cookery. Let me know how they turn out!

  3. Hi Joe,

    i like this a lot. I have never had in my life and i just tried it. it came out well, except for one thing. after i poached the meringue, and kept on a towel, it came to its original size and the absorbed mlik comes out. while poaching it was very fluffy. whats the reason for this. didn’t i beat the meringue enough?


    1. Actually that’s normal. The heat of the poaching process causes the bubbles in the foam to expand. As they cool, they contract. Just make your heaps a little bigger next time. – Joe

  4. hi joe !

    i have been thinking of making these islands for a long time but never bothered…i think i must try them soon !
    Question: why do we have to refrigerate the islands and not serve them right away ? Also won’t the lump of meringue form a crust while poaching that will prevent it from shrinking afterwards ? that’s how i imagined it..
    and finally do you think this could have an interesting outcome made with italian meringue ?..being partly cooked it may spare us the shrinkage !


    1. There’s no functional reason why they need to be served chilled, they’re simply considered tastier that way (and they’ll shrink in volume no matter what). But they don’t form a crust or exterior skin, they just get firm. The whole things is a little odd, I’ll grant you. Regarding Italian meringue, it would be interesting to try it, however I doubt there’s any way to get around the shrinkage problem, for while the eggs are heated in Italian meringue, they aren’t actually cooked. But let me know how your experiments go! I’ll be interested. – Joe

  5. This is VERY typical in Venezuela. Any kind of party is nothing without it…lol…! I actually make a version in the microwave that is done in 5 minutes. Pretty amazing stuff! Of course is not done with quenelles, just a whole island floating in the creme anglaise. :)

  6. Good stuff! It’s a pretty common desert in Hungary. I loved it when I was a kid.
    The straight translation of its hungarian name is Bird Milk. :)

  7. We’ve had these a few times in France – Ile Flottante.

    I’ve made them two ways – one, which avoids wasting the poaching milk, is to make the islands first, and then use the poaching milk to make the creme anglaise with the yolks and sugar. The other is to make the meringues in a microwave – blasting several dollops of meringue on a plate for 60 seconds on High is enough to cook them to the soft fluffy poached consistency.

  8. This recipe came up as the technical challenge on the Great British Baking Show — most of the contestants had never heard of it! I was curious about it since I too had never seen it before, so I searched for it on your site.

    1. Hey Josette!

      Yes in the Anglosphere this sweet is virtually unknown, which is odd since it’s so common in French households. But then the French don’t place a premium on home-made sweets like we do. I get the feeling that this is more a make-do for them when they don’t have access to anything else. How did it go on the show?


      – Joe

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