This was very often served as a side dish at feasts and great dinners in the seventeenth century and was still made for Victorian dinner parties, though it is scarcely ever seen today. It is a kind of floating trifle. Many variants exist; most recipes build one large island to float in its lake of cream, but some suggest small individual islands. In either case, the dish used must be large and fairly flat.
Mix the fruit purée with half the cream, beat well together or blend, and pour on to a large rather flat dish. Cut the sponge cake through into three thin layers, spread each with a little apricot jam, and sprinkle with almonds. Lay the first layer lightly on the pureée in the centre. Put the other layers, always lightly, one above the other. It should be floating, supported on the pureée. Pour into the cake a little sherry. Whip the remaining cream with the sugar and vanilla and pile high on the island cake.
Chill for an hour if possible, and serve. If the island does not float the dish is still delicious, but it should move freely on its pureée.
Early recipes floated the island on a whipped syllabub, using the foam to top it, instead of whipped cream, and French bread instead of cake. A thin egg custard can also be used instead of the fruit purée.
©1975 The Estate of Elizabeth Ayrton