Chamomile and Vanilla Bean Ile Flotante

As you might have heard me say before, I really do not have a green thumb. I love flowers and plants, but I seem to have a hard time keeping them alive. However, against all odds, my herbs are still growing and looking healthy. My chamomile plant has grown about four times the size of when I planted it and the lemon verbena is about two feet tall. I was really afraid the summer heat would dry them out, but that has not been the case. I keep my fingers crossed that they will survive the rest of the summer and fall months.

As you might know, Île flotante is a traditional dessert composed of baked meringue served over crème anglaise. This time, I infused the anglaise with some chamomile leaves and also added extra vanilla bean to the meringue for a very fragrant dessert.

The meringues in the photos were baked in individual ramekins in a water bath, but I also tried to steam some in a bamboo steamer with similar results. I piped these free hand, placed them in the bamboo steamer and steamed them for about 2 minutes. They are topped with spun sugar, which I do not recommend making in humid climates like ours. It only lasted an hour on my counter. By the time I plated the dessert and took all the necessary photos, the sugar had fallen and looked rather sad. If you live in a dry climate though, you will be able to keep it in an airtight container for a couple of days.

Chamomile and Vanilla Bean Creme Anglaise

500 ml half and half
6 egg yolks
100 grams sugar
1 vanilla bean
bunch of chamomile leaves

In a medium saucepan, heat the half and half with half of the sugar, the vanilla bean and the chamomile leaves. Let it steep for 5 minutes. In a separate bowl, whisk together the yolks with the half of the sugar. Bring the liquid back to a boil and strain over the egg yolks while whisking so the yolks do not curdle. Return this mixture to the pan and cook to 84C or until the custard coats the back of the spoon, which will take a minute. Strain the custard through a fine sieve and chill over an ice bath. Refrigerate.

Baked Meringue

75 grams egg whites
150 grams sugar
1 Tbs vanilla bean paste or 1 vanilla bean

Place the egg whites and the sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Place this bowl over a water bath and whisk until the sugar starts to melt and the egg whites start to turn shiny and white.

Place the bowl in the electric mixer and whip until a stiff meringue forms. Add the vanilla paste. Continue whipping until the bowl feels cool to the touch.

Place the meringue in a piping bag and pipe into ramekins that we have previously coated with cooking spray. Place the ramekins in a deep baking dish and pour hot water in it. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 250F for 25 to 30 minutes.

To test for doneness, touch the meringue. If it feels sticky, it needs more time. It should barely stick to the fingers. Of course, the larger the ramekin, the longer it will take to bake.

Let them cool before trying to unmold them. Run a knife on the sides (although they should be separating from the ramekin) and flip them over onto a plate.

Spun Sugar

60 grams water
225 grams sugar
1 Tbs glucose

Place the water and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the glucose. Skim any impurities and make sure to brush the sides of the pan with water to avoid any crystallization. Cook the sugar to 310F. Immediately, shock the pan in an ice bath and wait until the bubbles are gone. Wait a couple of minutes for the sugar to cool.

Line your floor with parchment paper. Hold a wooden spoon in one hand and with the other hand, dip two forks in the cooked sugar and run them back and forth over the spoon. Move quickly. The sugar will start to form threads and fall towards the floor. Stop for a minute and gather the spun sugar forming a nest-type. Store this in an airtight container. Keep going and work quickly. If you live in a humid climate like I do, the sugar will start to melt and shrink and lose its volume, so it really should be used right after it is made.

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56 Responses to “Chamomile and Vanilla Bean Ile Flotante”

  1. Oh my … Almost too beautiful to eat (almost!) I’ve never had luck with meringues before, but you’ve inspired me to give it a try again. But not until I stare at your photos for a while longer. Gorgeous!! :)

  2. Y says:


    I love chamomile flowers as tea but didn’t realise their leaves had flavour too. By the way, what is that sprinkled on top of the meringue? Pistachios?

  3. cindy* says:

    what an ethereal dish helen. so pretty!

  4. ChichaJo says:

    That looks simply magical! A fairy tale dessert! :)

    I am not much of a green thumb either…though I really do want to be one!

  5. Roberto N. says:

    funny, I learned Ile flottante as poached meringue in France. I do like the baked idea much better though.

    Also I am AWFUL at plants. That’s what’ been keeping me from getting a puppy.

  6. Tartelette says:

    Ok…I am seriously laughing at the bloggin brain wave now. No chocolate post after the eclair from me either, Cindy who called you Helen and another blogger called me Aran yesterday (I so want your hair btw!!) and now Roberto who did not get a puppy because of the plant and that is exactly what I just wrote!
    Dare I sing “The Twilight Zone” theme song?!!!
    Aran, what a gorgeous sight to go to bed with…perfect pillow for my dreams :)

  7. Elra says:

    Beautiful as always!
    This must be just a coincidence, I was just browsing at my “French Laundry” cookbook and saw his recipe for “Ile Flottante”. I thought I would try to make it this week. I should try to combine your recipe and his (Thomas Keller). Must be very good, what do you think?

  8. Christy says:

    Helen’s comment about the mixed up calls cracks me up. But only because that could so easily have been me!!

    Anyway, what an interesting way to cook the meringue in a bamboo steamer!! I’ve never heard of that before. What did you pipe the meringue onto?

    Beautiful photos!! They look so ethereal!

  9. Peabody says:

    Yes, moving from dry AZ to humid WA I don’t spin much sugar anymore.
    Looks beautiful.
    Oh and I have a black thumb as well.

  10. Aran says:

    y- yes, the leaves actually are wonderful. they smell like apples, sweet and mild. Give them a try if you ever see them. I had to order a plant online because I could not find a nursery around here that carried them.

    roberto- yes, you are right, the meringue is traditionally poached so I should have mentioned that, but i have been making mine for a while so that’s why I said that, but they are poached.

    elra- i have thomas keller’s book and i know that there is an ile flotante recipe in there but to be honest, i have never looked at the method. i will now to see how they did it.

    christy- helen is always hilarious. i am known to do that too. for the steaming of the meringue, i piped the meringue directly on the steaming basket. once the meringue is cooked, it comes off easily and actually, that’s when you know that is done. if it sticks to the bottom, then it needs a bit more time. a thin layer will stick but they can be wiped off easily.

    thank you everyone for your comments… i love them!

  11. Aran says:

    y- i forgot, yes, those are pistachios. have you noticed i have an addiction to pistachios?

  12. Vida says:

    Absolutely stunning!!! Vida

  13. angelica says:

    That’s funny, I’ve never thought of using chamomile in anything other than tea, but your Ile Flotante looked really delicious!

  14. Bridget says:

    That spun sugar is amazing!!!

  15. Candace says:

    Gorgeous! Yes… spun sugar and South Florida do not go well together!

  16. nadia says:

    I think this is one of the most beautiful foods i have ever seen. i am in love with these photographs. I am in love with the colors and could not imagine how wonderful it would be to stare at something so special and then taste it only to find out it is better than you can have ever have dreamt of.

    you are a true artist.

  17. C.L. says:

    Oh Aran,
    Those are beautiful! I have a black thumb too. I try and I try, I would LOVE to be able to nurture nature…that sounds funny…but I will have to stick with baking. I guess your black thumb has turned forest green now…congrats!

  18. Just a lovely combination. I hope it does survive for you. But at least you got this dessert out of it. Your presentations always amaze me.

  19. Bria says:

    Absolutely stunning! I really must give spun sugar a go one day… when I feel brave enough!

  20. wow – you piped cubes free hand? I’m impressed!

  21. Elizabeth says:

    I saw these photos on flickr too. WOW! Too bad the spun sugar fell so fast, but it looked fabulous for the photo shoot!

  22. This a beautiful flavor combination. I can only imagine how well it goes with the textures of the dish. Well I suppose I could do more than imagine. :)

  23. Aran says:

    thank you everyone!

    Dana- no, i didn’t pipe those freehand. Those were piped into ramekins and baked in ramekins. But i did pipe some freehand and steamed them. They were rounds.

  24. PheMom says:

    I can’t believe how incredibly beautiful everything you make is. I would almost have a hard time eating that because it is too pretty – almost. I would feel bad about destroying a masterpiece, but hey, you have photographic proof, right!?

  25. Anita says:

    It sounds so delicate and lovely. I always learn so much from your blog!

  26. these look like little clouds floating by…such a beautiful delicate dessert….if we get married all over again, can you make these for me…they are angelic…

  27. Mobula says:

    De nuevos nos ofreces una maravilla visual y supongo que también gustativa!!! Cuanto me gustaría tenerte más cerca y poder saborear tus creaciones!!!!



  28. I’m addicted to this blog!!! It’s so beautiful… And I feel so honored to get a comment from you because I really think you’re amazing!!

    Thank you for giving us so much perfection…


  29. Vera says:

    Aran, absolutely beautiful!

  30. nicisme says:

    I love that you can photograph a white dessert and it looks so beautiful!
    Did you use square ramekins and I’ve not seen glucose in spun sugar recipes before, what does that do?

  31. jillian says:

    Absolutely gorgeous! I was just writing about my love of meringue, and these seriously look like a dream.

  32. Mrs.French says:

    yet another thing I had not seen before…you always introduce me to the most wonderful things!

  33. Aran says:

    Thank you everyone!

    Nic- The glucose inhibits the crystallization of the sugar which can easily happen.

  34. Maya says:

    Aran -
    The spun sugar looks ethereal

  35. pea & pear says:

    I can just taste this. I absolutely love chamomile in desserts and this sounds so delicate. I feel inspsired to be better when I see your site. Fancy coming to Australia and hosting a patisserie course. My hubby and I will both enrol…..please :)

  36. chefectomy says:


    Your pictures literally bring a smile to my face. What a lovely post.

    Thank you.


  37. miri says:

    Dear Aran, those ilands are so so pretty! The spun sugar looks awesome too! Here is very humid too now, so I think I’ll wait till winter to try making my own spun sugar.

  38. Y says:

    Hahaha, yes, I do believe the addicted to pistachios has been pointed out before :D Thanks for answering the questions! I need to look out for a chamomile plant. Think I saw one for sale once but didn’t get it (wish I did!), and now I have yet to stumble across them again.

  39. Linnea says:

    This is beautiful! I tried growing chamomile flowers, but they never did grow… I’m not sure what the problem was. Anyways, I’m glad yours turned out so well!!

  40. Que bonito postre Aran! Tan elegante! Aqui se llaman Farófias y se suelen cocer en leche a cucharadas, pero asi cocidas en moldes quadrados quedan mucho más bonitas.
    Que envidia de tus hierbas ;)!

  41. Jude says:

    Wow your meringues turned out perfect. I’ve tried this before but mine turned out like formless blobs :(

  42. amy says:

    aran, the spun sugar looks amazing!
    i wish i had the space to grow stuff, i would grow chamomile for sure. i love to have a nice big cup before bed time.

  43. At what oven temperature do you bake the meringues?

  44. Aran says:

    oh yes, i forgot the temperature didn’t i? Thanks for pointing it out! I corrected it in the recipe. It’s at 250F. Thank you!

  45. Millie says:

    If you happen to write a cookbook i will be the first to buy it! Your pictures are incredible. I could look at them all day long.
    I hope you will keep on blogging and sharing them for ever!

  46. Lori says:

    That looks so awesome. I love your art work and Tartelette. I admire both of you so much!

  47. Kelly says:

    My best friend recently returned from Italy raving about a dessert he described as “a homemade marshmallow in creme anglais.” I saw this recipe on Tastespotting and immediately brought it to him–was this it??? It was.

    We made your recipe tonight (minus the chamomile and spun sugar, as we had no glucose) and it was DELICIOUS–ethereal. I will make it again and again. Thanks so much for sharing this recipe!

  48. chris says:

    Wow. That looks and sounds simply stunning. I went to a restaurant a while ago, where they had a dessert that seemed to me like a sweet cloud floating in an almond and citrus syrup, I wonder if I can replicate that using your recipe. I think I’ll have to wait until it stops raining to do the spun sugar though…

  49. linda says:

    Have been wanting to use chamomile in dessert.
    Love the way you made square ile flotantes, very pretty!

  50. Comme toujours, c’est trop beau ! Une amie vient de me donner de la camomille, c’est le moment d’essayer.

  51. Angela says:

    What a beautiful dessert, Aran. I’ve never seen such clear spun sugar before–it reminds me of The White Queen’s palace in Narnia. Very magical.

  52. Claudia says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  53. Anonymous says:

    I tried this but the egg whites leaked out of the bottom. A Pastry Chef friend of mine said this was due to the grease of the spray in the ramekin? Not sure what’s up.

  54. Aran says:

    anonymous- i don’t understand what you mean. did the egg white leak out? do you mean the meringue puffed out and fell out of the ramekin? if you use ceramic ramekins like i did, you have to slightly grease it (even if it’s with your finger) otherwise you will have a hard time getting it out of the ramekin. Give it another try if you can. Did you like the texture?

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