Serious Eats: Recipes

Essentials: Floating Island

For the last year or two I’ve been obsessed with the idea of floating island even though I had never tasted it. It’s an old-fashioned dessert that sounded to me like pure delight: chunks of caramel-drizzled meringue in a puddle of crème anglaise. I’m neutral when it comes to meringue but figured that any dish involving a sea of crème anglaise had to be right for me.

Afraid that my dark-chocolate-loving husband would turn up his nose at the combination of vanilla custard, caramel, and fluff, last week I made it for my family in Houston. Reader, this involved a lot of time standing at the stove patiently stirring and vigilantly watching the candy thermometer. And then the meringues didn’t really succeed. My mother and I dished it up anyway. And?

“Dad is licking his plate!” my sister hollered before mom and I had even made our way to the table. Then my sister licked her plate, too. The recipe’s head note, which dad had not read, said, “Your friends will be licking their plates,” but I hadn’t taken it literally.

My own first bite was okay but did not overwhelm me with deliciousness. The crème anglaise was yummy, but the meringues did not have the right texture at all (they were more like marshmallows; I’ve tried and failed to make good meringues before, so this could be one of my cooking curses) and the caramel seemed too sweet, as if it needed a pinch of salt or longer cooking for a burnt flavor.

In sum, the long-dreamed-of floating island was a hit with half of my family, not so much with the other half. Since the crème anglaise was my favorite part, I found myself thinking I would be just as happy with a good bowl of homemade vanilla ice cream. If I do try it again, I will make the meringues according to Julia Child’s recipe in The Way to Cook (she bakes a dish full of meringue and then carves it up instead of making individual puffs), and I will not bother with the cornstarch in the crème anglaise (since I’m a fairly confident custard-maker).

About the author: Robin Bellinger recently escaped a career in book publishing, which was cutting into her cooking time. Now she's a freelance editor and can bake bread on Tuesday afternoon if she feels like it. She lives in Midtown Manhattan with her husband and blogs about cooking and crafting at home*economics.

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