Floating Islands

Floating Islands or oeufs a la neige need care to be successful but are so delicious that this dish is well worth the effort. The egg whites are poached rather than oven cooked, so less sugar than usual is used and it is all whisked in, to enable it to dissolve in the egg whites.

Photo by Thomas Warm
Photo by Thomas Warm

Floating Islands Ingredients

  • 400 ml milk
  • 250 ml thin cream
  • 2 tablespoons caster sugar
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • 2 teaspoons cornflour
  • 4 eggs
  • pinch of salt
  • 100 g caster sugar

Floating Islands Directions

  1. Place 250 ml milk, the cream, 2 tablespoons sugar and the vanilla pod, which you must split lengthwise, in a heavy-based pan over medium heat.
  2. Heat until bubbles appear at edge. Remove from heat, cover and leave to infuse for 10 minutes.
  3. Remove the vanilla pod. Take out 1 tablespoon of the liquid and blend with the cornflour in a small bowl. Stir this cornflour paste into the liquid in the pan.
  4. Replace the pan over medium heat and bring to the boil slowly, stirring all the time. Lower the heat and simmer for 2-3 minutes to cook and to take away the raw taste from the cornflour.
  5. Separate the eggs. Put the yolks into the top pan of a double boiler and beat until just frothy. Add the cream mixture in a thin stream, beating all the time.
  6. Put the pan over the bottom half of the double boiler, containing hot, but not boiling, water. Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring all the time until the sauce will coat the back of a spoon. Do not let the sauce boil or the egg yolks will curdle. Remove from heat and leave to cool.
  7. Mix the remaining milk with 550 ml water in a wide, deep frying pan.
  8. Add salt to the egg whites and whisk until stiff. Add 100 grams of caster sugar a little at a time, whisking between each addition until the sugar dissolves in the white and no longer feels grainy.
  9. Bring the milky water to the boil then reduce the heat so that it is just simmering.
  10. Shape 1 tablespoon of the meringue mixture into a mound with a knife and drop it into the milky water. Repeat three more times.
  11. Poach the 'islands' for 4 minutes, turning half-way through cooking time with a palette knife so that all sides are cooked. Do not cook for any longer than 4 minutes or they will fall apart.
  12. Lift out the islands with a slotted spoon and lay on a wire rack or kitchen paper to drain.
  13. Cook the rest of the meringue mixture in the same way.
  14. Pour the sauce into a serving dish. Arrange the islands on top. Chill for 30 minutes before serving.

Serves 4 - 6

Floating Islands Variations

  • For caramel floating islands, prepare as above. Combine 50 grams of caster sugar with 1 tablespoon of cold water and cook over low heat until the sugar has melted. Increase the heat so the liquid browns and bubbles and turns to caramel. Spoon a little caramel over each island and allow to set before serving.
  • For chocolate floating islands, add 75 grams grated dessert chocolate to the milk at step 1 of the recipe. Allow the chocolate to melt into the milk, stirring all the time, then proceed as usual.
  • For orange floating islands, substitute the thinly pared rind of an orange for the vanilla pod. When still warm, flavor the sauce with the juice of the orange and 2 teaspoons Grand Marnier.
  • For coffee floating islands, flavor the milk with 1 tablespoons instant coffee dissolved in 1 teaspoon of boiling water. Stir 1 teaspoon of Tia Maria into the sauce while it is still warm.

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