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Monday, December 5, 2011

Wintertime Trifle

One of the most quintessentially British of desserts, Trifles have allegedly existed since the end of the 16th century. In the Complete Traditional Recipe Book, Sarah Edington says,
Trifle is one of those dishes for which no one can agree on the correct recipe. Grown men remember with affection the trifle made by their mothers and grandmothers and come to blows over whether or not jelly and/or jam should be ingredients.
I won't make any claim to one version of a trifle that's any more correct than any other, but I will present you a short history of the Trifle as I can assemble it from some of the cookbooks in my collection.

From American Cookery (1796,)
Fill a dish with biscuit finely broken, rusk, and spiced cake, wet with wine, then pour a good boil'd custard, (not too thick) over the rusk, and put a syllabub over that; garnish with jelly and flowers.
The boiled custard recipe is as follows:
One pint of cream, two ounces of almonds, two spoons of rose-water, or orange flower water, some mace; boil thick, then stir in sweetning, and lade off into china cups, and serve up.
A syllabub is a sort of thickened cream dish. Depending on the recipe, it either resembles crème fraiche or a soft meringue. According to The Food Lover's Companion,
This thick, frothy drink or dessert originated in old England. It's traditionally made by beating milk with wine or ale, sugar, spices, and sometimes beaten egg whites. A richer version made with cream can be used as a topping for cakes, cookies, fruit, etc.
Two recipes from American Cookery describe two different ways to produce it:
To make a fine Syllabub from the Cow.
Sweeten a quart of cyder with double refined sugar, grate nutmeg into it, then milk your cow into your liquor, when you have thus added what quantity of milk you think proper, pour half a pint or more, in proportion to the quantity of syllabub you make, of the sweetest cream you can get all over it.
A Whipt Syllabub.
Take two porringers of cream and one of white wine, grate in the skin of a lemon, take the whites of three eggs, sweeten it to your taste, then whip it with a whisk, take off the froth as it rises and put it into your syllabub glasses or pots, and they are fit for use.
A development from that leads to Mrs. Beeton's two recipes for trifles:
Gooseberry Trifle
Ingredients.—1 quart of gooseberries, sugar to taste, 1 pint of custard (No. 491), a plateful whipped cream.
Mode.—Put the gooseberries into a jar, with moist sugar to sweeten, and boil them until reduced to a pulp. Put this pulp at the bottom of a trifle-dish; pour over a pint of custard (recipe No. 491), and, when cold, cover with whipped cream. The cream should be whipped the day before it is wanted for table, as it will then be so much firmer and more solid. Garnish as fancy dictates.
Indian Trifle
Ingredients.—1 quart milk, the rind of 1/2 large lemon, sugar to taste, 5 heaped tablespoons rice-flour, 1 oz sweet almonds, 1/2 pint custard.
Mode.—Boil the milk and lemon-rind together until the former is well flavoured; take out the lemon-rind and stir in the rice-flour, first moistened with the cold milk, and add sufficient loaf sugar to sweeten. Boil gently for 5 minutes, and keep the mixture stirred; take it off the fire, let it cool a little, and pour it into a glass dish. When cold, cut the rice out in the form of a star, or any other shape that may be preferred; take out the spare rice, and fill the space with boiled custard. Blanch and cut the almonds into strips, stick them over the trifle, and garnish it with pieces of jelly, or preserved fruits, or candied citron.
Interesting to note is that the trifle described initially in American Cookery has bread (rusk being a hard/dried bread item, similar to biscotti) covered with custard, and then a whipped cream-type dish. The fruit as a bottom layer replaces the cake in Mrs. Beeton, and the cake becomes a part of a similar custard-topped dessert.
Modern trifles usually resemble a combination of the Gooseberry trifle from Mrs. Beeton with the trifle from American Cookery. The National Trust's Complete Traditional Recipe Book has two recipes for Trifle, one that is closer to the original, and one that is a more modern riff on the same concept.

The traditional recipe is made of sponge cake soaked in sherry or white wine, topped with custard, and those both topped with sweetened whipped cream, and then decorated with jelly and citrus zest. The second recipe has sponge cake, once again soaked with sherry or whiskey, topped with a mixture of fruits and crumbled bitter almond (ratafia) cookies. This is then topped with a custard, and then with whipped cream, decorated with toasted slivered almonds.

All of this, has led to a synthesis. A final, more modern version. It's a lot of recipes. Don't be overwhelmed, you can make this.

Wintertime Trifle

Spiced Sponge Cake
2 eggs (large)
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole milk
2 Tablespoons butter (unsalted)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground clove
1/8 teaspoon salt

  1. In a saucepan, heat milk and butter on low heat just until the butter melts. While this is being done, continue with the remainder of the recipe.

  2. Beat eggs in mixer bowl on medium-low speed with paddle attachment until well mixed, about 4-5 minutes.

  1. Add sugar, and continue beating for another 4-5 minutes until the mixture becomes light and fluffy, increasing in volume. Add vanilla and stir on low until just combined.

  1. In a separate bowl, sift the dry ingredients. Add, in stages, to eggs and sugar on low speed until just combined. Slowly add the milk and butter to batter, and beat just until combined.

  1. Pour into 1 greased and floured 8" round cake pan.

  1. Bake at 325° until the middle springs back when touched, or a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let stand in pan for 10 minutes. Then turn out onto a wire cooling rack and cool completely.

Kirsch Simple Syrup
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 fl. oz Kirsch

  1. Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and heat over moderate heat until the sugar has completely dissolved. Cook for a few minutes further, and set aside to cool.

Cranberry Compote
1/2 lb fresh cranberries
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups water
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 lemon, zest
3 Tablespoons corn starch

  1. Combine cranberries, sugar, water, lemon juice, and lemon zest in a non-reactive saucepan. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook until the cranberries have all split.

  1. Mix the corn starch with just enough water to moisten it completely (a slightly thick slurry is okay.) Add to the compote, stir well, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 5-10 minutes, or until thickened appropriately.

Custard (Thickened Crème Anglaise)
12 egg yolks
8 oz granulated sugar
1 qt whole milk
1 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
6 Tablespoons corn starch
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract

  1. Scald milk (bring it to just below a simmer) in a saucepan with the nutmeg, making sure that it does not scorch. Hold back about 1/2 cup of the milk for a later step.

  1. Place a saucepan with 1-2 inches of water in it on the stove, to use as a double-boiler with the bowl for your custard. Bring to a simmer.

  1. While the milk is warming, mix the egg yolks with sugar. Whisk together immediately, do not allow to sit. (The sugar will cause the egg to dry out and make it lumpy, and that’s no good.) Whisk until they are thickened and lightened.

  2. Slowly add the warmed milk to the egg yolk/sugar mixture, and mix well as you do so. Whisk the cornstarch with just enough milk to moisten it, and add this slurry to the mix as well. Place the whole thing over the simmering water, and cook slowly, mixing constantly, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, and hold the shape of a finger pulled through it. This happens around 165°F. Do not over-cook the mixture.

  1. When the crème anglaise has thickened, immediately take it off the double boiler and add the vanilla extract. Mix well, and place in an ice bath or directly into the refrigerator to cool. Cover with plastic wrap, one layer touching the top of the cream. (This will allow you to easily remove any skin that forms.)
Sous Chef Jason piping rosettes of whipped cream on trifles.
To construct the trifle, begin with the Sponge Cake at the bottom of the trifle dish. Wet it well with the Kirsch Simple Syrup, then pour over a layer of the Cranberry Compote. Cover that with about 1 quart of Custard, and chill, covered, until service. At the time of service, fill the remaining space in the trifle dish with Whipped Cream (start with about 1 1/2 pints of cream.) Decorate the top with some dried cranberries or  dollops of Cranberry Compote.

Photographs by Lance, of Blue Dragon Media, LLC.

1 comment:

  1. Best of all, when you bring out a trifle and everyone goes, "oooooooh!" you can say, "Ah, it is but a trifle."


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