Sunday, 13 July 2008

A mere trifle ...

At our party yesterday, Dr B. produced four different kinds of "trifle" for the guests, and by special request he has contributed the following post:

For the uninitiated, a "trifle" is a dessert of cream, fruit, and that most English of ingredients, custard (of which more below). There's a recipe at the bottom of the post for the classic raspberry trifle and ideas on some trifle variations. The Italians have a recipe for a trifle-like dessert called "Zuppa Inglesa", but calling a trifle "English soup" seems to lose something in translation. "Trifle" means something of little consequence, a bagatelle, but on the other hand, to warn someone not to trifle with something, is suggesting they keep out.

Trifle making, despite its name, is a serious business, the first recipe apparently appearing in 1596, and almost since the beginning there has been a fierce argument as to whether trifle should also also have "jelly" (jell-o) - it's a kind of English North-South divide (northerners tend to have jelly, and southerners not), but that might also be a class thing as traditionally the lower middle class has jelly, while the upper middle class certainly does not.

The key ingredient, however, is custard. Custard is a peculiarly British fabrication, being made out a a strange powder that magically transforms milk into a sort of light yellow vanilla sauce, a little like (surprise, surprise) a French creme anglaise, though somewhat thicker in consistency. The British when making trifle will almost invariably make their custard from Bird's Custard Powder, where the skill lies in juggling the proportion of custard powder to milk to ensure that the resulting custard has a firm enough consistency to hold the trifle together, but without becoming a yellow coloured sweet brick (The recipe on the tin says to use two tablespoons of custard powder to 580 ml milk, but Dr B would add an extra half tablespoon or so to thicken it up). A number of supermarkets in the Geneva region stock Bird's Custard Power (such as Champion in Ferney) . For a quick trifle, or if it is not possible to track down the custard powder), a pack of ready-made French Creme Anglaise can be used in its place, though the resulting trifle with have a softer texture than a classic English trifle. Alternatively, a custard can be made from scratch using milk. eggs, vanilla, and cornflour (Maizena).

Anyway, enough about custard, here's Dr B.'s recipe for the classic English raspberry trifle:

The recipe

* About 300 gr sponge or pound cake (Quatre quarts) (but cakes such as Madeleines (Magdalenas), or raspberry Swiss roll (roulade) from Migros are fine too)
* 300 gr raspberries (frozen raspberries are fine)
* 4-6 tablespoons of spirits (sherry is traditional, but crème de framboise make an excellent variation with this recipe - can also be substituted if no sherry is available)
* 580 ml "custard" (see above, a ready-made Creme Anglaise can be used instead, but the trifle will have a softer consistency)
* 500 ml whipping cream
* a handful of flaked almonds
* a little sugar
* a little raspberry jam

If using plain sponge, then cut the cake into slices, or halve the Madeleines, and spread with a little raspberry jam - no need to do this, though, if using the Swiss roll. Sprinkle a little sherry or Crème de Framboise over the sponge cake. Place raspberries on top, and sprinkle a little sugar on top according to taste to sweeten. (If you were to include jelly, now would be the time to add it) . Next pour the custard on top (if using frozen raspberries, wait until the raspberries have defrosted before doing this). If using hot custard, then wait, after pouring the custard on the raspberries, for the trifle to cool down until proceeding to the next step. Chill the trifle in the refrigerator. Meanwhile whip the cream until it is firm, fold in sugar to taste, and spoon on top of the custard. Sprinkle the sliced almonds on top to decorate.

Some variations:

Blackforest Trifle: Replace the sponge cake with plain chocolate cake, spread with Black Cherry Jam, or a chocolate roulade from Migros, and use tinned or frozen black cherries instead of the raspberries. Decorate the cream with chocolate chips, instead of the sliced almonds, and a few cherries.

Summer Trifle: Use mixed berries instead of the raspberries.

Peach or apricot trifle: Replace the raspberries with peaches or apricots, apricots are good because they have a slight kick, and replace the raspberry jam on the sponge cake with apricot jam.

As they say in the trade, don't trifle with a trifle.


Lac19 said...

Thank you (and Dr B.) for a wonderful party, excellent food, terrific desserts (I think I tried all the three versions of the trifle thing) and as usual the best wines. But the wonderful people you are able to gather is always the best part of it. The stories we heard accompanied us until we reached home and will be with us for a long time.


Jane said...

Ah yes JJB is probably one of the best raconteurs in the Pays de Gex.
Great you could make it anyway we enjoyed ourselves and thanks for the fabulous book it' is lovely!

Anonymous said...

Hello, Nice research item here on the yellow creamy stuff. and the recipe for trifles will be tested :) I personally make custard here in france by doubling the paquet of creme anglais and adding a bit of corn flour. Richard paris

Jane said...

Oui mon cher I think you may have mentioned this to me before - good tip!
Bon voyage à REdditch