Île Flottante (French Floating Meringues With Crème Anglaise)

This simple, elegant dessert of "floating islands" suspended in a pool of crème anglaise is a French classic.

Overhead view of ile flottante

Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Why It Works

  • Slowly adding the sugar to the whipping egg whites ensures that it will dissolve properly.
  • Whisking the meringue at a lower speed for longer results in a stronger, more stable foam that’s less likely to deflate.

For a long time, île flottante—or floating island—was something I only saw in vintage cookbooks and magazines. The simple, elegant dessert of baked meringue suspended in a pool of crème anglaise was supposedly a favorite of Julia Child’s and served at the famed New York City restaurant Le Cirque. From the 1960s to 1980s, île flottante and its close cousin, oeufs à la neige, seemed to be all the rage: Associated Press food editor Cecily Brownstone called ouefs à la neige a “dessert to remember” in 1966; Leo Schofield of the Sydney Morning Herald described it as a “real blockbuster” in 1983; and former New York Times food editor Craig Claiborne claimed it was his “favorite of all French desserts” in 1985. 

These meringue-based desserts were popular not just at restaurants, but at dinner parties, too. Recipes for both abound in back issues of Gourmet, Bon Appétit, and newspapers across the country. At some point, île flottante and oeufs à la neige fell out of popularity. It wasn’t until I visited Paris in my early 20s that I finally saw it on the menus of bistros and brasseries everywhere; here in the United States, île flottante may be relegated to the past, but in France, the dessert is going strong.

Side angle of two bowls of ile flottante

Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

“For the French, this dessert is not only a classic, but often a childhood touchstone,” baking expert Dorie Greenspan noted in Lucky Peach’s book All About Eggs. “In a country where people are more likely to buy their desserts from a neighborhood pâtisserie than prepare them at home, îles flottantes (floating islands) remains a mainstay in the make-at-home repertoire, in some part because it is so easy and in some part because it’s a naturally showy dessert.”

Île Flottante vs. Oeufs à la Neige

Though île flottante and ouefs à la neige have been used interchangeably by both chefs and writers, the two are—or are supposed to be—prepared differently. The only trouble is that you can find different answers about what those differences are depending on where you look. According to Claiborne, a floating island should consist of a sponge cake brushed with liqueur (like Kirschwasser) and apricot preserves that’s then layered with rehydrated currants and chopped almonds. Whipped cream goes on the side of the cake, and it’s then baked, sliced, and served with custard poured around it—no meringue in sight. 

Then there are others, like the authors of The Joy of Cooking, who claim that île flottante should be made with a meringue molded and baked in a ramekin set in a water bath. Seeing these versions of île flottante is rare, though. More often than not, the dessert comes out resembling oeufs à la neige: a poached meringue nestled into crème anglaise topped with praline or a spun caramel. 

“For purposes of clarity,” Richard Sax wrote in his book Classic Home Desserts, “oeufs à la neige are generally considered to be individual egg-shaped meringues—’snow eggs’—while floating island is a single large meringue afloat in a custard sea.” According to Sax, the sponge version that Claiborne speaks of is an early French version, though it’s unclear when the cake in the dessert became a meringue.

The Right Meringue for the Job

The main question for île flottante is what kind of meringue to make for it. Options include cooked meringues like Italian and Swiss meringue, which are cooked as part of the egg-beating process (either with hot syrup being poured into the eggs or warming the mixture over a hot water bath before beating it), and French meringue, which is initially made without heat but then can be cooked after. Since we have to bake our meringue in order to slice it for île flottante, it seems unnecessarily fussy to have to make a cooked meringue that then gets baked a second time anyway, so French makes the most sense here.

Making a French meringue is as simple as whisking the whites at low speed until they’re frothy, then slowly streaming in a portion of the sugar before increasing the speed of the mixer and adding the remaining sugar. For a more stable meringue, it's better not to push the speed of the mixer too high. While faster beating reduces the time it takes for the meringue to whip up, the resulting meringue is more likely to deflate prematurely. 

Meringue being mixed in a stand mixer

Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Once the meringue is made, it goes into a baking dish and is then briefly baked until it reaches a tender and light marshmallow-y texture, perfect for slicing and floating on the crème anglaise. You’ve likely seen meringue cookies before, where meringue is piped into little stars or swirls and baked at a low temperature for several hours until crisp. Here, though, the goal isn't dehydration to the point of crispness, instead it's just to set the meringue until it's glossy and sliceable, which is why we bake it in a single mass at a slightly higher temperature and for a shorter time.

Treat Your île Flottante Like a Sundae—Ice Cream Included

Traditionally, île flottante is topped with a caramel drizzle or a nest of spun caramel, but there's no reason you have to stop there. Given that the crème anglaise is basically a pool of melted vanilla ice cream, I like to think of île flottante as a reconfigured sundae, open to all the topping and condiment possibilities that allows. Some great options include pantry staples like crumbled cookies, toasted nuts, and fruit in various forms from dried to macerated and candied. Though crumbled amaretti cookies, candied citrus, and even chopped praline would all be delicious, there’s no right or wrong way to go about it. And if you really feel like keeping things simple, you could even skip the crème anglaise and just melt a pint or two of good quality vanilla ice cream instead. It’ll be just as good—and no one will know, unless you want them to.

Ile flottante being drizzle with cherry syrup

Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Recipe Facts

Prep: 15 mins
Cook: 45 mins
Total: 60 mins
Serves: 6 servings

Rate & Comment


  • 6 large egg whites (210g)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar1/2 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt use half as much by volume
  • 2 cups (400g) granulated sugar
  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1 quart (1L) crème anglaise (this is double the linked recipe; see note)
  • To Garnish (optional):
  • Chopped, toasted nuts, such as pistachios, almonds, or hazelnuts
  • Chopped candied or preserved fruit
  • Crushed cookies, such as amarettiChopped almond pralineCaramel or spun sugar (see linked recipe for tips)


  1. Adjust oven rack to the middle position and preheat to 325ºF (160ºC). Line a 2-quart baking dish (see note) with parchment overhanging two sides. Spray with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, begin whipping egg whites at low speed until whites start to look wet and frothy, about 1 minute. With the mixer still running, add cream of tartar and salt and mix for 10 seconds.

    View inside mixing bowl that whipping egg whites

    Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

  3. Keeping the mixer at low speed, slowly add 1/4 of the sugar in a steady stream, then increase speed to medium and slowly add the remaining sugar. Continue mixing at medium speed until meringue is thick and glossy and holds firm peaks when you lift the whisk out of it, about 10 minutes. (While one could speed the mixer up for a faster meringue, the meringue is more stable when mixed for a longer time at slower speeds, making it less likely to deflate; the exact mixing time will depend on your mixer and other variables, so keep mixing to reach firm peaks even if longer than the estimated 10 minutes.)

    Two image collage of adding sugar into a stand mixer and an inside look into the bowl

    Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

  4. Using a silicone spatula, scrape meringue into the prepared baking dish. Using an offset spatula, spread meringue into an even layer. Bake until the meringue is still glossy, slightly firm, and bounces back when touched on one of its corners (to avoid leaving a fingerprint, wet your fingertip before lightly pressing the meringue), about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven. Place the baking dish on a cooling rack and allow to cool, about 1 hour.

    Two image collage of smoothing meringue into a baking tray an putting it into the oven

    Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

  5. When cool, lift meringue out of the baking dish and place on a work surface. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and spray with nonstick spray. Using a knife dipped in hot water, and re-dipping between cuts, portion the meringue into 2-inch squares. Using a small offset spatula, transfer each square to the prepared baking sheet. 

    Overhead view of cutting baked meringue into squares

    Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

  6. To serve, spoon 1/2 cup crème anglaise into each of 6 shallow bowls. Place a meringue square into each bowl and garnish with toppings, if desired.

    Overhead view of placing baked meringue into creme anglaise

    Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez


If you don’t feel like making crème anglaise, you can melt 2 pints of good quality, egg-free vanilla ice cream in a saucepan or microwave. 

Various dimensions of baking dish will work as long as the baking dish has a roughly 2-quart volume. 

Special Equipment

Stand mixer, offset spatula, 2-quart baking dish, nonstick cooking spray

Make-Ahead and Storage

The linked recipe for crème anglaise makes 2 cups; for 1 quart (4 cups) you will need to double that recipe, which you can easily do, though you may want to use a slightly larger 3-quart saucier to better contain the increased volume. Cooking times may also be slightly longer given the larger volume. 

The crème anglaise can be made up to 3 days in advance and kept refrigerated.

For best results, the meringue should be made no more than 1 to 2 hours before you plan to serve the dessert; as the meringue sits, it will eventually weep and beads of liquid will form on the surface.