IMBB #8 rule: use wine or spirits as a central component of your recipe.
Oh the possibilities! As I contemplated this pleasant prospect, my husband Joe said, "You're making the trifle, of course." Uh, no. The thought had crossed my mine, but I had thought I'd do a Bolognese meat sauce cooked with white wine. Or maybe that wonderful tomato, red wine, and bacon sauce. "K's birthday party is tomorrow," he added. Yeah..? "And think of the pictures you can post for IMBB."
Ten years ago I attended a cooking class on custards. Custards, you see, are my favorite food. If it's got eggs, sugar, and milk or cream, I'm all for it. Creme brulee, flans, custards, bread puddings — bring it on, baby! The piece de resistance of the class was this trifle. I was so impressed that I immediately bought the glass bowl and 8" round cake pans. I wanted to make it as the center piece of our Holiday Party dessert table. In fact, I didn't buy just any glass trifle bowl. I bought the glass bowl used for the class. It came with half a trifle, after all. (the other half having been served out to the attendees) How could I resist?
So yes, I bought a glass bowl for the sole purpose of making a trifle exactly once a year. (Okay, this year it gets used twice.) For the last ten years, I've been making this trifle for our annual Holiday Party. In this glass bowl.
(I also own a lot of kitchenware that hasn't been used in many years, but that's a different issue.)
This trife takes two days to make. And it's worth it! I promise. Don't be scared off! I always make it from scratch. I never buy pre-made cakes or curds or custards. Never. You can, if you like, but if you do, then don't claim that you made this trifle.
Trifle Attack Plan
Day 1: cook the various parts: cake, custard, lemon curd. Assemble trifle if you can so it can chill overnight.
Day 2: Assemble trifle, if not done the previous day. Chill it for 6-12 hours. Finish the top layer and garnish.
I will start with the assembling instructions first followed by the recipes for the individual parts.
Assembling the Trifle
1 recipe Basic Stirred Custard (around 3 cups)
1 recipe lemon curd (around 2 cups)
pound cake or sponge cake in 8" rounds
6 Cups mixed berries (raspberries, strawberries, blueberries)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup sherry
1/4 cup brandy or cognac
fresh berries and mint for garnish
1 trifle bowl (mine is 8" wide) or a 2.5 quart bowl or 6-8 individual bowls
My trifle has up to six layers. The one I did for IMBB has four layers because I used rather thick layers of berries.
1) Lightly season the berries with the sugar. Frozen berries thawed out will make for a "wetter" trifle; fresh berries will make for a "drier" trifle.
2) Cut cake into 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick slices. (See cake recipe for additional tips.)
3) Combine sherry and brandy.
4) Bottom layer: Spoon a thin layer (1/4 inch) of lemon curd on the bottom. Top with a thin layer of custard (1/4 to 1/2 inch). Add a cake layer. Douse the cake with the alcohol. (Don't be too stingy with the spirits. The more the merrier! If you want a strong alcohol taste, you may need more than the 3/4 C.)
5) Subsequent layers: Spread a thin layer of lemon curd over the cake. Add a layer of berries. Add a layer of custard. Top with a layer of cake. "Sprinkle" with alcohol. Repeat until bowl is full. End with an alcohol-soaked cake layer on top.
6) Cover and refrigerate for 6-12 hours (or overnight). The longer the better!
7) To serve: You should have at least some curd and/or custard leftove. Add a layer of lemon curd and/or a layer of custard on top. Top with fresh berries and whipped cream. Garnish with mint if desired. Stand back and admire. Then dig in!
Custard, Lemon Curd, and Pound Cake recipes in extended post.
Okay, it's cheap alcohol, but hey, the alcohol is being eaten, not drunk. I like the fruit-flavored brandy for the trifle, but ordinary brandy is just fine too.
All the parts assembled and ready to go: trifle bowl, baster, spoons, spatula, lemon curd, custard, fruit, and cake.
Trifle layer number one — adding the fruit:
A spot of sunlight lights up the bowl as I douse the cake with the brandy and sherry.
All three recipes for the Custard, Lemon Curd, and Pound cake rounds are included here.
Basic Stirred Custard based on a recipe by Martha Split
2 3/4 C. whole milk (separate out 3/4 C of the milk)
1 C heavy cream (or half-n-half)
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
3/4 C sugar
1/4 C corn starch
1 pinch salt
4 egg yolks
2 Tbs unsalted butter
2 tsp vanilla
Combine 2 cups of milk, the heavy cream, and vanilla bean in a double boiler. (Don't have a double boiler? See the notes.) Heat until warm/hot, but do NOT boil. Remove vanilla bean and scrap the seeds out of the bean pod. Add the seeds back to the milk and stir. You can strain the liquid through a seive if needed/desired.
Mix sugar, salt, and cornstarch. Whisk in the 3/4 C milk. Whisk in the egg yolks. Slowly whisk this mixture into the hot milk. (i.e. pour it in slowly in a thin stream while whisking so that the eggs don't curdle.)
Cook in the double boiler over low or medium-low heat (see notes), stirring constantly until thickened. The custard should cling to a spoon. This takes approximately 10 minutes. DO NOT BOIL. Once thickened, cover and cook 8 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Then whisk vigorously for about 2 minutes (or use a hand mixer) to get rid of any lumps.
Remove from heat. Add the butter and vanilla extract, stirring until the butter melts.
When chilling for future use, cover with plastic wrap. Have the wrap laying directly on top of the custard so prevent a skin from forming.
Notes: You may need to play with the heat. The original recipe called for "low heat", but when I use low heat, it takes more than 20 minutes to thicken. I've also used salted butter and had no problems with the final taste. Just leave out the pinch of salt.
Double boiler notes: You could do this without a double boiler, but I don't recommend it. It requires extra vigillence on your part to make sure that the milk and custard don't burn. You can make your own double boiler by putting a smaller pot or heat-resistant glass or metal bowl (i.e. stainless steel bowl) in a larger pot. The smaller bowl should fit at least half-way into the pot. Add an inch or two of water to the larger pot. It is important that the water does not touch the bottom of the smaller bowl — the point is to make a cushion of really hot air between the water and the bowl holding the custard. Heat to a simmer or low boil. Et voila! A make-shift double boiler. If the bowls aren't a good fit, be careful of escaping steam, especially if you use a make-shift double-boilder for melting chocolate because the steam can condense and get into the cooking liquid (in the case of chocolate, the introduced water can cause it to seize).
Lemon Curd by Martha Split
2 C sugar
1 pinch salt
5 egg yolks
3 eggs whole
1 C lemon juice
1 Tbs lemon rind
5 Tbs unsalted butter
Mix sugar and salt in bowl. Add egg yolks and eggs one at a time, beating well. Stir in lemon juise and rind.
Place mixture in double boiler and simmer for a few minutes, stirring regularly. Add butter one tablespoon at at time, stirring constantly until nape (thickened). Remove from heat.
Cool completely. To prevent a skin formation, lay plastic wrap directly on top of the curd.
Refrigerate until ready to use.
Notes: I've used salted butter with no problems. The recipe also tastes fine without lemon zest. But if you're using zest, make sure to use fresh zest grated very finely. Reconstituted zest from dried bits (like the lemon zest sold at Penzeys Spices) does not have the right texture for this recipe.
from the 1986 edition of the Betty Crocker's Cookbook
This recipe fills a 12 cup bundt cake pan or tube pan. I use it to make two 8" round cakes (plus leftover batter).
2 3/4 C sugar
1 1/4 C butter softened (salted is fine and good!)
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 C evaporated milk
Heat oven to 350 F.
Butter and flour your pan(s). Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together.
Beat sugar and butter together, add eggs and vanilla. Beat on low speed, scraping bowl constantly, for 30 seconds. Beat on high speed for 5 minutes. It should be nicely fluffy.
Return to low speed and beat in flour alternately with the evaporated milk. Pour into pans.
Do NOT filled 8" rounds to the top of the pan. Leave a bit of space just below the rim, otherwise the cakes will over flow the pans.
Bake until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean: 70-80 minutes. Cool and remove from pan.
Then comes the fun part of cutting the cakes into slices only 1/4 to 1/2" thick. My 8" rounds can be sliced into four parts: the top gets sliced off and the remaining body of the cake can be sliced into 3 rounds. Be firm and bold with your knife, and cut with courage!
It's not that hard. Really. Practice makes perfect! Click on the photos for larger versions.
2) Turn the cake over. If, like mine, it got a little too dark, you can take a micro-slice off the bottom to remove the dark coating.
3) Eyeball 1/3 marks on the cake.
The second photo shows the cake flipped over and all of its components: the removed top, the darkened bottom scraped off (paper-thin scraps in upper left corner), first round cut off, and the knife inserted to make the second cut through the cake.
5) Lift the cake round gently and set aside. Repeat.
If your cake rounds fall apart, it's okay. Once you've layered them in the trifle bowl and covered them with custard, berries, and lemon curd, no one is going to notice that the cake was broken in pieces.
Or cheat: cut your rounds in half instead of thirds, making for thicker cake layers. Or even cut your cake into chunks and build your trifle cake layers out of the chunks.