Friday, December 23, 2016

Making trifle

My, what a lot of stuff goes into a trifle! My recipe involves pouring a mixture of raspberry juice and sherry over successive layers of sponge cake, fruit and custard. John photographed me halfway through the process.

The top of the finished trifle is custard and thawed raspberries. Whipped cream will be added just before serving. 

In the Victorian era, trifle was a way of using up leftovers. Stale sponge cake? Custard the kids didn't eat? Soak the cake in wine, pour custard over the top, throw on some whipped cream, and -- ta dah! -- a dessert that has survived into modern times. A New York Times story on trifle quotes novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard -- also a foodie -- as saying men in particular love trifle "because it's a perfect mixture of alcohol and the nursery."

Even though mom's parents were English, I never remember her making this quintessentially English dessert on the farm. It's possible that dad, who liked things recognizable, did not appreciate the mix-up of ingredients that trifle entailed.

I began making it in 1980, when two events converged. One was that I inherited John's mother's cut-glass punchbowl -- perfect for showing off the beautiful colours trifle brings together. The other was that I found a recipe for "Sherry Trifle" in the December 1980 Western Living magazine. I cut it out, taped it into the back of my Purity Cookbook, and there it lives to this day, the tape around it so ancient that it has passed yellow and is heading for brown.

My trifle was a big hit, and I made it for many Christmases. But as mom declined and the size of our family get-togethers decreased, I switched to simpler desserts. When I returned to the recipe this week, I remembered how much effort it took. Everything is made from scratch -- the custard, the sponge cake, the raspberry-sherry mixture, the fruit salad centre and the whipped cream topping. It's a very fine dessert, but all those ingredients and all that work got me thinking: What if the Victorian version -- with the stale cake and leftover custard, slapped together in a few minutes -- was just as good?

The first step: Eggs, lots of eggs, frozen raspberries, and a bottle of sherry. I used a very small amount of the latter, as a two-year-old may be trying out this trifle. 

Sponge cakes made; raspberries thawing.

Custard made, raspberries still thawing. 

Traditional trifles didn't include anywhere near the fresh fruit I put in mine; here is some of  what went into that bowl.

All chopped up: pineapple, grapes, mango and a grapefruit-orange mix.

The base of the trifle is a sponge cake smeared with raspberry jam.

The sponge is followed by the juice-sherry mixture, followed by the custard. 

The cake and custard layers are interspersed with fruit.

The final fruit layer before the last cake layer goes on. 

At the top, a layer of cake, juice, custard and thawed raspberries. The good thing about this dessert is that it actually gets better as it ages. I expect John and I will be eating it for quite awhile after Christmas.

1 comment:

  1. Wow....that looks absolutely fabulous! We might just have to stay home for Christmas to get a taste of it. Jim's mother didn't like to cook or bake but she did make trifle which I'm sure was from bought sponge cake and not so fancy. I always enjoyed it. Merry Christmas to you and John and your family....looks like it will be a gastronomic feast!