Floating Islands

This recipe is deceptively simple but utterly delicious. Light and creamy, it was my holiday dessert of choice when Iles Flottantes were on the menu in France.

Floating Islands

Recipe by St John restaurant in LondonCourse: DessertCuisine: French


Prep time


Cooking time





Simple, sophisticated and sublime, this classic French-inspired recipe features clouds of fluffy egg white nestled in a perfect crème anglaise.


  • For the islands:

  • 4 large free-range egg whites

  • ½ tsp white wine vinegar

  • ½ tsp vanilla extract

  • 260g caster sugar

  • 1 tsp cornflour

  • 320ml whole milk, for poaching the meringues and then for the custard

  • For the custard:

  • ½ vanilla pod

  • 4 free-range egg yolks

  • 70g caster sugar


  • Using an electric whisk on a high setting, in a spotlessly clean and dry bowl, whisk the whites with the vinegar and vanilla extract until soft peaks appear. Lower the speed and continue whisking, slowly incorporating the sugar until glossy and stiff then add the cornflour, folding it through with a metal spoon until completely incorporated.
  • Heat the milk to the gentlest of simmers in a large saucepan and spoon little heaps of meringue into the simmering milk, carefully easing them off the spoon with a finger. Aim for 3 little meringues per person. Poach the clouds for 2 minutes, then gently flip them over and poach for another 2 minutes before removing with a slotted spoon. Set aside to cool, then refrigerate until needed.
  • Now for the custard sea! Scrape the vanilla seeds into the milk and follow with the pod, then bring the milk back to a decent simmer. In a bowl whisk the yolks and the sugar together until pale, then add the hot milk to the yolks a little at a time, whisking continuously. Transfer the mixture back to the pan and place over a medium heat.
  • Keep stirring the custard, making sure that you get right into the corners of the pan. It is crucial not to let it get too hot – bubbling will curdle the custard, a disaster for your seascape. It is cooked when a finger dragged through the back of a custard-coated spoon leaves a channel. At this stage, immediately transfer to a bowl, lay cling film over the surface, leave to cool, then refrigerate until needed.