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Floating Islands

by Trevor Gulliver, Fergus Henderson from The Book of St John: Still a Kind of British Cooking

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

From the book

Fergus Henderson, Trevor Gulliver


Fergus found his calling with Floating Islands, ‘The first thing that I ever cooked from a book, when I was about seven years old, was Îles Flottantes. I was knocked out by it. Those celestial fluffy egg whites! The yellow pool of custard! By merely following words on a page I had created this miracle. A finger had descended from the clouds and pointed to my destiny.’

It’s a controversial view, but Floating Islands should be unadorned by heavy nuts or a constrictive caramel cage. These bind the ethereal clouds with earthly elements, which is the very opposite of your intention.

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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

Essential kit

You will need: an electric whisk.


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.

Serve each bowl as an archipelago of three islands in a shallow sea.

More Recipes from The Book of St John

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Blackberry Pavlova

by Trevor Gulliver, Fergus Henderson from The Book of St John

Smoked Cod’s Roe, Egg and Potato Cake

by Trevor Gulliver, Fergus Henderson from The Book of St John


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