Île Flottante (Floating Island)

Floating Island is a Perfect Light Dessert

Ile Flottant

Île flottante, also known as floating island, is a light and ethereal classic French dessert made from poached, sweetened egg whites. The accompanying sabayon sauce is a brilliant pairing as its velvety texture complements the frothy ile flottante beautifully and uses up the yolks. These recipes are from EGG, a new book by Michael Ruhlman that celebrates eggs in all their guises and glory. (Read the review).

Recipe adapted and reprinted from EGG: A Culinary Exploration of the World’s Most Versatile IngredientCopyright 2014 by Michael Ruhlman. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or printed without permission in writing from the publisher. Reprinted by arrangement with Little, Brown and Company. Photo Credit© Donna Turner Ruhlman

I first had île flottante, floating island, at the French Laundry restaurant in the Napa Valley and fell in love with its texture. Traditionally, meringue is dropped off spoons into sweet simmering milk (filled with air, it floats), cooked for a couple minutes, flipped, and served. The French Laundry bakes tiny ones in small foil cups in a water bath, unmolding for an easy and clean presentation (also filling them with chocolate mousse, serving on a crème anglaise with mint oil, and garnishing with chocolate). I do mine in small ramekins, and I find that steaming them is an easy, fast, and excellent way to cook the meringues.

Serve with Poire Williams Sabayon made from the yolks and garnish with shaved chocolate or sliced fruit and berries. This yolk-based dessert sauce is typically made with a sweet wine such as a sauterne or, in Italy, where it’s called zabaglione, with an Italian sweet wine such as marsala. For this recipe I used a Michigan-made pear eau de vie; you can also use Grand Marnier or another favorite brandy or liqueur.

The sauce is made by whipping yolks, sugar, and wine over a double boiler until the yolks are cooked and the sauce has become thick and ribbony. It can be served as is in small cups, or poured over fruit or cake.

Ile Flottante
Makes: Serves 4
Floating Island:
  • 4 egg whites
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar or ½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2⁄3 cup/130 grams sugar
  • 4 egg yolks
  • ¼ cup/50 grams sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • ¼ cup/60 milliliters pear eau de vie (or other suitable spirit)
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice (optional)
  • Grated lemon zest, for garnish
  1. For the Floating Island: Butter four 3- to 4-ounce/85- to 115-milliliter ramekins. Place a rack or steamer basket in a pot large enough to hold all four ramekins. Pour in enough water to just reach the rack and bring it to a simmer over high heat.
  2. Combine the egg whites, cream of tartar or lemon juice, and vanilla in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Begin mixing on high. Slowly pour in the sugar. Continue mixing until you have stiff but still soft, glossy peaks.
  3. Fill each ramekin with the meringue and level off the top. Put them on the rack in the pot of simmering water, cover, and steam until the meringues are puffy and firm, 3 to 4 minutes. These can be unmolded and served warm, left to cool to room temperature, or refrigerated for up to 3 hours and served cold or at room temperature.
  4. For the Sabayon: In the top of a double boiler or a large metal bowl set over simmering water, combine all of the ingredients except the lemon zest and whisk continuously until the mixture is warm, has quadrupled in volume, and becomes a satiny, ribbony sauce, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and serve warm, garnished with grated lemon zest.
  5. To serve with Poire Williams Sabayon, spoon about ¼ cup/60 milliliters of the sauce into the center of each plate and top with an Île Flottante.

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