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Long ago, I ate at someone's house and was served pieces of meringue on chilled crème anglaise.* The hostess called it îles flottantes, but I have since heard it called oeufs à la neige. Meanwhile, I've seen île flottante used to refer to a single meringue atop crème anglaise. So are these same dish, except for the size of the meringue? Are the two terms interchangeable? Or are there other differences?

*I didn't know at the time that that's what it was, because I was a kid; I've learned it since.

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The short answer appears to be: îles flottantes and oeufs à la neige are two different names for one dish.

First of all, you can find some recipes, in English and in French, using the names interchangeably:
"Floating Islands (Oeufs a la Neige)", Saveur
"Recette de Ile flottante, le classique...POUR LES OEUFS EN NEIGE", L'Atelier des Chef

So clearly, to some people, they are the same thing.

However, in reading through recipes I noticed something that may suggest some difference: in recipes for oeufs à la neige, the meringues always seem to be poached in hot milk (BBC, New York Times, Le Journal des Femmes, L'atelier des Chefs), while îles flottantes meringues are sometimes poached (Saveur, BBC, New York Times), and sometimes baked (Food Network, L'atelier des Chefs). Those poached meringues are supposed to be made into an egg shape (thus, "oeufs") - although more often the egg-shape is only hinted at (e.g. "oval-shaped" rather than "ovum-shaped"), but the baked meringues are generally not formed into any particular shape (unless a dollop is a shape).

I don't think this difference is that significant. Mostly because it's only occasionally a difference. It's possible that one dish was originally poached and one baked, but it seems to me that these baked meringues could probably be classified as "not totally traditional."

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    And of course the same dish is called "bird's milk" in Hungarian. – Marti Jan 28 at 18:17
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    Coincidentally, I just looked that up in a Hungarian cook book. My guess is that the bird in the name has something to do with the eggs in the dish. Or maybe the meringue is supposed to look like a bird's nest. @Marti do you know where that Hungarian name might have come from? – Juhasz Jan 28 at 18:40
  • And, for what it's worth, the recipe I have for madártej involves poaching the meringue. – Juhasz Jan 28 at 18:42
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    My best guess for the origin of madártej is that it's "eggs" floating in "milk", and eggs are clearly made by birds, so therefore the milk must be too. Or something. :) – Marti Jan 28 at 18:48
  • And yes, all proper madártej recipes call for poaching the eggs in milk. (And then using that same milk to make the custard.) – Marti Jan 28 at 18:51

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