Julia Child’s Floating Islands Recipe

Other kids would be playing outside during summer vacation, and I did that too, but mostly I would spend the afternoons watching cooking shows on PBS.  I paid attention and learned about new foods with names I’d never heard of.  I would experiment here and there with some basics I had learned, but it wasn’t until I was much older that I would attempt some of the more sophisticated recipes.  Like the other day when I made Julia Child’s Floating Islands recipe.

Those cooking shows coupled with a mother and grandmothers who knew their way around a kitchen instilled a love of food, cooking, and family.  I’m not that proficient in showing my love in some ways, but I sure love making food for the people I love.  Nothing brings me greater joy.

One of my favorite PBS cooking shows was Baking With Julia.  I loved it.  It might have had to do with all of the butter, cream, eggs, sugar, chocolate and flour.  It might have also had to do with the way Julia treated her guests like they were the experts and she their student.  I loved that about her.  I never knew how much of an icon she was.  I just knew I really liked her.  In my young mind I imagined what it would be like to be in her kitchen making delicious treats.  Consequently, one of my favorite gifts from my husband is the picturesque companion cookbook to the series compiled by Dorie Greenspan.  I have lost count of the many hours I’ve sat and poured over the recipes, pictures, and detailed instructions.

Julia Child’s 100th birthday is coming up next month.  In honor of her life and legacy and her 100th birthday, I wanted to make a recipe of hers to share on here.  I have a few of her cookbooks and they are very fun to read.  I can hear her distinct voice explaining to me how to cook a whole salmon en croute or the right way to fold egg whites into a sponge cake batter.

My husband and I have been wanting to try Floating Islands for a long time.  I don’t know why, but I’ve always shied away from it, thinking it was maybe too difficult or time consuming.  Wrong!  It’s very easy.  A few steps more than your average recipe, but worth the effort and extra time.

My daughters were particularly interested in the pillowy, soft white meringue “cake” floating in a puddle of rich, creamy custard, topped with caramel sauce that turns hard when it cools.  We may have even had a few tears as they waited for me take one more picture.  (One more and then you’re done, right, Mom?! sniffle, sniffle, sniffle)

So Happy Birthday Julia!  I owe a big part of my childhood and adult fascination with food and cooking to you.

Julia Child's Floating Islands Recipe
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
A classic French dessert, floating islands feature a fluffy meringue in a pool of creamy custard sauce.
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: French
Serves: 6-8
  • For creme anglaise:
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • ⅔ cup sugar
  • 1½ cups very hot milk
  • pinch salt
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 3 Tbsp. unsalted butter (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp. rum or another liqueur (optional)
  • For meringue:
  • 1 Tbsp. softened butter
  • ¼ cup sifted confectioners sugar
  • 1⅔ cups egg whites (about 12)
  • 1½ cups granulated sugar
  • ½ tsp. cream of tartar
  • large pinch salt
  • For caramel sauce:
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ⅓ cup water
  • 2-3 Tbsp. heavy cream
  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • For serving:
  • Fresh berries, optional
  1. For creme anglaise: Preliminaries. Whisk the egg yolks in a 2-quart saucepan, adding the sugar by fairly rapid spoonfuls--if it goes in all at once the yolks can turn grainy.
  2. Continue beating 2 to 3 minutes, until the mixture is pale yellow and thick. By dribbles, stir in the hot milk--stirring, not beating, because you do not want the sauce to foam.
  3. Heating the sauce. Set the saucepan over moderately low heat, stirring rather slowly with the wooden spoon, and reaching all over the bottom and sides of the pan. The sauce should gradually come near--but not to--the simmer. You must be careful not to overheat it and scramble the yolks, but you must have the courage to heat it enough so that it thickens. Indications that it is almost ready are that surface bubbles begin to subside, and almost at once you may see a whiff of steam rising. Watch out at this point, you are almost there!
  4. When is it done? The sauce is done when it coats the wooden spoon with a light creamy layer thick enough to hold when you draw your finger across it, as shown.
  5. Finishing. Beat in the vanilla, and the optional butter and rum. Serve warm, tepid, or cold.
  6. Ahead of time note: The sauce may be refrigerated in a covered container for several days.
  7. For meringue: Preliminaries. Butter a straight-sided 4-quart baking dish 3" deep and dust the inside with confectioners sugar, knocking out the excess. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.
  8. Beating the egg whites. Start beating the egg whites at moderate speed until the foam throughout, beat in the salt and cream of tartar, then gradually increase the speed to fast until soft peaks are formed.
  9. Beating in the sugar. Beat in the sugar by big spoonfuls and continue until stiff shining peaks are formed. Beat in the vanilla, and turn the meringue into the prepared baking dish.
  10. Baking. Bake for 35-40 minutes at 250 degrees F. Set in the lower middle of the oven and bake until the meringue has risen 3 to 4 inches.
  11. When is it done? A skewer or straw plunged through it comes out clean.
  12. Cooling. Set the casserole on a rack. The meringue will sink down to about its original height as it cools.
  13. Ahead of time note: covered airtight, it will keep several days in the refrigerator or several weeks in the freezer.
  14. For caramel sauce: Preliminaries to boiling. Blend the sugar and water in the saucepan and bring to the simmer. Remove from heat, and swirl the pan by its handle to be sure that the sugar has dissolved completely and the liquid is perfectly clear.
  15. Caramelizing the syrup. Cover the pan tightly and boil the syrup for several minutes over moderately high heat--keep peeking, after a minute or so, and boil until the bubbles are thick. Uncover the pan and continue boiling, swirling the pan slowly by its handle. In a number of seconds the syrup will begin to color. Continue boiling and swirling a few seconds more, until it is a light caramel brown, then remove from heat. Stir in the butter and cream. Put back on the heat and cook over a low heat and stir with a fork until any hardened caramel melts and the sauce is smooth. Set the bottom of the pan in the cold water to cool it and stop the cooking.
  16. To serve: Pour the custard sauce into a serving platter (or individual dessert plates). Run a knife around the edge of the meringue dish and push with a rubber spatula to loosen. Unmold the meringue onto a cookie sheet. Cut it into 6-8 chunks and arrange them over the sauce.
  17. Just before serving, reheat the caramel until you can lift the syrup with a fork and dribble thick strands over meringue. Add a few fresh berries on the side, if desired.


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14 Responses to “Julia Child’s Floating Islands Recipe”

  1. Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar July 17, 2012 at 11:39 am #

    This looks fabulous! Yum!

  2. Anonymous July 17, 2012 at 1:11 pm #

    Your observation about how Julia Child always treated her guests like the expert is so true. It hadn’t occured to me before but I realize it’s true. She was so popular BECAUSE she didn’t have a big ego, she only loved to cook (and eat)!!!. I sure do miss her shows.

  3. Deborah July 17, 2012 at 2:26 pm #

    These are seriously so beautiful!! I want to jump right in!

  4. Aggie July 17, 2012 at 8:56 pm #

    Absolutely gorgeous photos. I was so happy to meet you in person last year. I’m in awe of where you live :)

  5. Aggie July 17, 2012 at 8:57 pm #

    Haha, oops. That comment was meant for Evo post ;)

  6. Deeba PAB August 15, 2012 at 2:16 pm #

    This is just so beautiful.Love the recipe and love the photography too. Your china is beautiful and goes so well with the elegant dessert! Happy 100th JC!

  7. Mal August 15, 2012 at 2:17 pm #

    This looks beautiful and so delicious!

    I adore Julia :-)

    Mal @ The Chic Geek

  8. Chauncey September 30, 2013 at 5:05 am #

    This is great!

  9. Dianne Schuch Lindsey November 30, 2013 at 5:28 pm #

    Take what I say with a grain of salt (and of course throw some over your shoulder) but Julia would not consider this her recipe because you called for butter OPTIONAL.

    Just saying…

  10. Lindsey Johnson November 30, 2013 at 6:22 pm #

    Dianne, I agree! However, Julia’s recipe lists the butter and liqueur as optional (pg. 446 of The Way To Cook), though I assume she probably always added the butter and the booze. :)

  11. christophersmom January 7, 2014 at 5:53 pm #

    My Mom used to make this dessert all the time. We called it “Egg white pudding”. The yellow custard is the best part!

  12. MaryAlice July 27, 2014 at 8:13 pm #

    You are using my mom’s china! I haven’t seen it in ages.

  13. Nancy August 10, 2014 at 4:21 pm #

    At 15 I had my first job as a waitress in a tiny cottage restaurant owned by a French cook. He would sneak and give the staff floating island when his cranky wife wasn’t in the restaurant. I have been looking for a recipe off and on for over 20 years. Can’t wait to try this! Thanks

  14. Kat August 31, 2014 at 8:50 pm #

    I too love Julia Child, back then there weren’t many tv cooking shows. Even though I couldn’t eat all the butter I loved to watch her when I was growing up. Thank you for posting this dish, with a few modifications for allergies I know I can make it. Just wanted to mention that you have my dishes! My mother-in-law had pink dishes and to be polite I complimented them. So as a wedding gift we got a set of the above dishes. They sure didn’t go with our fall colored dining room theme. I used them for years for holidays but finally put them in storage, seeing yours makes me know it’s time to get them back out and use them again.

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