Floating Islands (Iles Flottantes) 8.000

Renee Comet for The Washington Post; styling by Bonnie S. Benwick

Plate Lab Jun 18, 2015

This is a showstopper dessert that takes little hands-on time and few ingredients. Et Voila! chef Claudio Pirollo has reengineered the classic French recipe to make it more restaurant-kitchen efficient, and in doing so, he’s done the world a favor. Instead of poaching the meringues in milk, he steams them briefly in the oven. Piped into ring molds, they become modern structures that he finishes with a crackly coating of burnt sugar.

To make the dish look like it's served at the restaurant, you'll need eight 3-inch wide, 2 1/2-inch tall ring molds. Or you can just dollop the islands (freeform) onto another piece of equipment you'll need: a perforated pan that can be suspended over a baking dish (so the meringues can steam as they bake). A kitchen torch is handy for bruleeing the finishing sugar on top, but you can run the meringues under the broiler, too.

Make Ahead: The baked meringues need to be refrigerated for at least 2 hours, and up to 2 days in advance. The creme Anglaise can be refrigerated a few days in advance. You'll have more sauce than you need for this recipe; leftovers can be served with angel food cake or used as a base for homemade ice cream.


When you scale a recipe, keep in mind that cooking times and temperatures, pan sizes and seasonings may be affected, so adjust accordingly. Also, amounts listed in the directions will not reflect the changes made to ingredient amounts.

Tested size: 8 servings

  • For the meringues
  • 8 large egg whites, plus 1 extra-large egg white, at room temperature (1 1/3 cups total)
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • 8 to 16 teaspoons turbinado sugar
  • For the creme Anglaise
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 1 generous cup heavy cream
  • 2 vanilla beans, split
  • 9 large egg yolks (a generous 1/2 cup)


For the meringues: Preheat the oven to 205 degrees. If you're using the ring molds, grease them with cooking oil spray, then arrange them on the perforated pan.

Combine all the egg whites in the warmed bowl of a stand mixer of handheld mixer fitted with a balloon-whisk attachment. Beat on medium-high speed; once they are frothy, gradually begin adding the granulated sugar (a tablespoon or two at a time) and the salt. After the last of the sugar has been added, beat for 3 minutes. The resulting meringue should be firm, smooth and shiny. If you plan to use the ring molds, transfer the meringue to a large piping bag (with no tip).

Pipe the meringue into the molds; use an offset spatula to smooth their tops. Or spoon 8 large dollops of the meringue onto the perforated pan. Place it over a baking dish filled with just-boiled water, making sure the pan doesn't touch the water. Bake/steam the meringues for 3 minutes, then turn off the oven; let them sit in the oven for 3 minutes, then transfer the pan to a small baking sheet. Cover loosely and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, and up to 2 days.

For the creme Anglaise: Combine the milk, heavy cream, split vanilla beans and egg yolks in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat; cook for 10 minutes, stirring constantly, or until the mixture thickens to form a sauce that can coat/nap the back of a spoon. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer, discarding the vanilla beans. Transfer to an airtight container; cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until well chilled.

Just before serving, sprinkle the tops of each meringue with a teaspoon or two of the turbinado sugar. Use the kitchen torch to scorch the sugar just until it melts and turns brown; do not blacken the sugar. Place a meringue on each plate, then spoon a good amount of the chilled creme Anglaise around each one (so they look like they are "floating"). Serve right away.

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Recipe Source

From Claudio Pirollo, chef-owner of Et Voila! in the District's Palisades neighborhood.

Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick.

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