For a luxurious dessert made quickly at home, look no further. ‘Floating island’, or ‘îsle flottantes’ (as the French call them) are poached meringue gently sitting on top of créme anglaise and decorated with sugar decoration or a caramel topping. This recipe is so easy to get right with a little bit of practice, and in no time you could be entertaining your guests with the wonderful sophistication that this dish provides. Skip the expensive French restaurants and opt to make equally good desserts at home instead!
With the fluffy and beautifully light texture that the meringue gives, combined with the delightfully silky feel of the custard and the satisfying crunch from the sugar decoration, who can deny that this is a feast for the senses?
The meringues are delicately shaped into small ‘quenelles’ by passing the mixture to and fro between two spoons. It may take a little bit of practice to get it right, but once you see the end product the work pays off. Remember to use clean and dry bowls and beaters when whisking up the egg whites, or else they will not be able to whisk up properly.
The trick is to make sure that your milk is not boiling when you are poaching the meringue, or else the meringue will puff out and then collapse on itself. The way to tell if the meringues are done are to check if they look like a cloud; they should be soft and fluffy.
During the process of making the custard, remember to slightly temper the eggs by mixing in a little bit of the warm poaching milk in first, before returning the whole mixture to the heat and thickening it slightly. This prevents your eggs from curdling as it slowly raises the temperature of the entire mixture.
If the spun sugar decoration seems too daunting for you, or you just don’t want to burden yourself with cleaning up all the dried and hardened sugar, another option would be to decorate your adorable meringues with caramel sauce.
Floating Island (Îles flottantes) (Adapted from Mary Berry’s recipe)
For the meringue:
- 3 egg whites
- 150g caster sugar
For the créme anglaise:
- 150ml whole milk
- 150ml double cream (whipping cream can also be used)
- 1/4 tsp of vanilla extract
- 3 egg yolks
- 100g caster sugar
For the spun sugar:
- 100g caster sugar
- Gently heat the milk and the vanilla extract in a large saucepan and bring to a simmer.
- In a large and clean bowl, add the 3 egg whites and whisk until foamy. Gradually add the sugar and keep whisking until the meringue is glossy and forms stiff peaks.
- Using two spoons of the same size, take some of the meringue and transfer it between the spoons using a scooping movement, until it holds a quenelle shape (it should look like a rugby ball).
- Gently lower the meringues into the simmering milk and poach for around 4 minutes, turning half way through until the have puffed up and look fluffy. Spoon them out and leave them aside on a dry plate.
- In a large bowl, mix the egg yolks and the sugar (for the créme anglaise) until they are incorporated. Sieve the milk and return to a simmer.
- Slowly pour about one third of the warm milk onto the eggs, continuously mixing, then pour the tempered egg mixture back into the saucepan with the rest of the milk.
- Slowly cook using a low heat whilst continuously mixing for 3-4 minutes, or until the custard coats the back of a spoon. Pour onto your serving dish and leave aside.
- For the spun sugar, melt the sugar slowly whilst stirring slightly until it is completely liquid. Stop stirring, and keep on heating until it turns golden brown. Immediately turn off the heat.
- Dip a fork into the sugar and quickly flick the fork back and forth across and greased rolling pin. Gather the strands off of the rolling pin and shape it into a small ball and leave them to the side.
- To assemble the dish, place the desired amount of meringues onto the serving dish with the créme anglaise, then top it with the balls of spun sugar.