What a stunning dessert
the Trifle makes with its multiple layers that have so many
colors, textures and flavors. The English have enjoyed this dessert for
over three centuries now. Although the dictionary defines 'Trifle'
as being something insignificant, this dessert is anything but. Its
beginnings were humble as the first Trifles simply consisted of a
mixture of boiled cream and a few other ingredients. It wasn't until the
mid 18th century that the Trifle started to evolve into what we have
today. This is an example of a Trifle recipe from 1852 by Frederick Bishop from "The Wife's Own
Book of Cookery" (quoted from Elizabeth David's 'An Omelette
and a Glass of Wine')
the bottom of the dish with Naples biscuits, and macaroons broken in
halves, wet with brandy and white wine poured over them, cover them with
patches of raspberry jam, fill the dish with a good custard, then whip
up a syllabub, drain the froth on a sieve, put it on the custard and
strew comfits over all.'
(Naples biscuits was
the name given to sponge fingers at the time.) (Syllabub being a milk or
cream that is whipped with sugar, spirits, spices and sometimes egg
whites.) (Comfits are sugar-coated coriander or caraway seeds.)
are traditionally made in a large deep bowl so you can see all the
layers. Many Trifle recipes exist and there are very
definite opinions as to what should and should not be used in a Trifle. There does seem to be a consensus that a layer of cake
should be on the bottom of a Trifle, followed by spirits, fruit or jam, custard, whipped cream, and
decorations. The disagreements begin when you discuss what type of
cake, spirits (wine, sherry, or liqueur), fruit (jam), custard, cream,
and what decorations should be used. If you do not have a favorite
Trifle recipe than you have lots of choices as to how you want your
Trifle to look and taste.
To begin with, various types of cake can be used
for the bottom layer. Most commonly a
sponge cake, pound cake, ladyfingers, or macaroons are used. Sometimes the
cake is split in half and a layer of jam, preserves, or
puree is used to sandwich the two
pieces of cake
together. Once the cake layer is placed on the bottom of the bowl,
alcohol is poured or brushed over the cake. Feel free to use
whatever spirits you like but it is best if the spirit used complements
the other flavors in the Trifle. Sherry, white wine, rum,
liqueurs (Grand Marnier,
Amaretto, Framboise, Frangelico, Kirsch) are some favorites. The
amount of alcohol is dependent on how much liquid the cake will absorb and how strong an
alcohol taste you want. (Cakes that are a few days old will absorb
more alcohol than a freshly made cake.) Oftentimes I leave the
alcohol out (the purist
would balk at this) as my children do not like the taste
(no matter how little I use). Next comes the fruit layer. Here again you have choices. You can use cut up fruit (like
berries, peaches, pears, kiwi, etc.), a puree
(raspberry, strawberry, blackberry), jam or preserves, or a combination
of these. If you are using fresh fruit it is nice to have a layer of
like-flavored jam or puree to intensify the fruit flavor.
Next comes the custard layer. The classic English
Trifle usually contains custard followed by a
layer of whipped cream. However, an alternative is to use a
pastry cream instead of the custard. Other recipes
replace the custard altogether with a cream filling that can
include things like lemon curd,
mascarpone cheese, eggs,
whipping cream, spirits, lemon juice, or chocolate. Depending on what ingredients are used
for the cream filling layer, you may not
want or need to top this with a layer of whipped cream.
The size of your Trifle bowl and
the thickness of the layers will determine whether you need a second layer of cake, spirits,
fruit, custard, and cream to fill the bowl. Don't
worry if the layers mix together as this is the way Trifles are supposed
to look (i.e. the lines between the layers can be uneven and even mix
finishing touch is to decorate the Trifle with toppings such as;
fruit, crushed Amaretti cookies, toasted nuts,
candied fruits, shaved chocolate, to name a few. (Note:
Crushed Amaretti cookies are sometimes used as a layer in the trifle, as
well as for decorating the top.)
The assembled Trifle is covered and
placed in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours to
allow the flavors to mingle. This dessert is usually served at
large gatherings as the typical Trifle serves upwards of ten people.
The recipes I have included here are
for individual Trifles. This is obviously breaking from
traditional but I wanted a recipe that could be made at any time, not
just for large gatherings. Don't be afraid to make up your own
Trifle recipe, using whatever cake, fruit, jam, and cream you have
around. A simple Trifle may be made from a layer of sponge cake,
followed by a layer of raspberry preserves, maybe some fresh
raspberries, that is topped off with heavy whipping cream (maybe whipped with a
little mascarpone cheese). Don't be afraid to use your imagination
and improvise. Use individual glasses or, for larger groups, a
pretty glass bowl, as you want to see all those beautiful layers.
TIP: If pressed for time use a
store baked cake (sponge, pound, or ladyfingers) or cookies.
Desserts and Confections. London: A Dorling Kindersley Book, 1991.
Elizabeth. An Omelette and a Glass of Wine. New York: Elisabeth
Sifton Books Viking, Viking Penguin Inc. First American Edition 1985.
The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford: Oxford University Press,
and Saberi, Helen. The Wilder Shores of Gastronomy. Berkeley: Ten
Speed Press, 2002.
Deseine, Trish. Trifles. Hachette
Illustrated UK. London, 2004.
The Professional Pastry Chef (Third Edition). New York: Van Nostrand
How to be a Domestic Goddess. New York: Hyperion, 2001.
and Davidson, Alan. Trifle. Devon: Prospect Books. 2001.