If all this talk about Jubilees and Diamonds and Union Jacks spilling all over the place has you Yanks feeling left out, why not indulge a bit of Anglo culture in a way Brits understand best: add liberal amounts of alcohol. And if you are in the UK feeling bloody sick of all the bunting, flag waving and endless hats parading across your telly, why not smother your bitterness in the American fashion by using your last day off to stuff your face with sugar? Better yet, why not achieve both objectives in a trans-Atlantic, special relationship, shoulder to shoulder bonding activity? Let’s all make trifle!
Trifle is my favourite pudding/dessert to make because it skips all the boring parts of cooking and gets straight to the fun bit. You can make the cake and custard and even the jam from scratch if you feel you have something to prove, but it’s entirely unnecessary. Trifle also has the creative benefit of being infinitely diverse so you can let your creativity go mad. I have never made trifle the same way twice but I have never made a bad trifle. That’s the third and most important benefit to this dish: it is pretty much un-f**k-up-able.
So, how do you actually make a trifle?
- The Cake. The cake element for trifle needs a dense texture because of what you have to do to it. It has to be a cake which can take some serious gastronomic punishment and still come out swinging. Angel or sponge will not do the trick. In the US this generally means pound cake or something else with a brick of butter in it. In the UK we call it Madeira. I have also made Trifle with brownies, Jamaican ginger cake, my Granny’s ginger cake recipe and my mother’s Pumpkin Bread recipe (I had something to prove on both those occasions).
- The Jam. Once you have selected your cake, you need to cut it into small cubes. Small is the only description you’re going to get from me there because it doesn’t really matter. Once you have your cubes, slice each cube in half, smear each end with jam and sandwich the halves back together. The choice of jam depends very much on your choice of cake. I have used strawberry, apricot, rhubarb and ginger, raspberry and even apple butter. After jamming your cake, jam the pieces in the bottom of a large, pretty glass bowl which has been greased lightly with butter (yes, butter—man up for god’s sake). Glass is crucial so everyone can be impressed with the layers.
- The booze. Aha! The fun bit! After placing your jammed-up cake bits in the bottom of your best, buttered, glass bowl, use a lightly buttered spoon to press the layer down slightly. Then sprinkle about two or three (four might make it too soggy but it depends on how big a trifle you are making) shots of alcohol over the cake. Traditionally it should be sherry but I don’t actually like sherry so I have used pretty much everything else possible: brandy, whiskey, mulled wine (that was at Christmas), amaretto, rum…whatever you got basically. I would not recommend Bailey’s because there are two creamy layers to go and that might be over-kill. If you are making this for a young audience, you can use juice, depending on how difficult your children are at bedtime. Just kidding social services—I would never…illegal…immoral. Moving on.
- Fruit and or Jelly. The next layer is controversial, but since the cake needs to soak you have time to ponder. The first several times I made trifle, I topped my boozy cake layer with a sloppy fruit layer. Soft fruits such as raspberries, strawberries or otherberries stewed in some kind of (preferably alcoholic) liquid are most common, but it is open to interpretation. I have used roasted rhubarb, baked apple and even cherry pie filling straight from the can. After about the third time I made trifle, my husband whined about the lack of jelly/gelatine/Jello. So you can mix your fruit with a pack of gelatine, pour that over the cake layer and let the whole thing sit in the fridge until its set.
- Custard. This layer is not up for compromise…much. After your fruit has cooled and/or gelatine set, cover your creation with a generous layer of custard. In the UK they sell pre-made custard in every form and size imaginable. In the US you basically just need to get your hands on some vanilla pudding. Or do you… I have made trifle successfully with chocolate custard, so presumably chocolate pudding would work too. Or butterscotch or white chocolate or cheesecake or possibly even pistachio. It’s risky though. Custard in the UK has a slightly thicker consistency than American pudding, if I am remembering accurately. I have it on good authority that Anglophilia in the US has led to wider availability of British products. You might be able to find Bird’s Custard Powder or pre-made Ambrosia Custard. Again, if you have something to prove you can make it yourself. I have never attempted this but I am told it’s simple.
- Cream. Your fabulous creation is nearly complete. The second to the last layer is whipped cream. This can be tricky because custard lacks a firm stable base for cream smearing, so if you are whipping your cream from scratch (which I always do) be sure not to make it too stiff. I generally add a bit of whatever alcohol I poured over the cake layer to the cream before whipping, but it’s not necessary. You could pipe the whipped cream on or use whipped cream from a spray can if you are in a rush or just can be bothered.
- Big Finish. Decorating the top of your trifle is essential for your final statement of artistic gluttony. Also, if your whipped cream layer went on badly the topping can cover your smearing sins. Toasted almonds, sliced fruit, crumbled shortbread, crushed amoretti biscuits, mini chocolate chips…it’s all good.
Trifle is best if made the night before up until step five or six. The cream should ideally be added just before serving. Above all, be creative and have fun because with these ingredients it’s hard to go wrong.