When the house is helter-skelter, the list is too long, and my energy is flagging, the best thing I can do for myself is to invite friends for a meal. The cleaning and the cooking have to be done anyhow, I figure, so why not have the happy reward of their company at the end? Step one for a summer supper: make trifle. If you’re unfamiliar with trifle, it’s a quintessentially English dessert: layers of sturdy sponge cake soaked with sherry, lush custard, bright jam, and fresh fruit, all topped with a crown of softly whipped cream. This one is the epitome of an English summer afternoon. In fact, when I moved to England the first time, I arrived at the end of summer, to hot afternoons, sherry in the garden as the sun waned, and strawberries with a pour of cream. I’ve made dozens of trifles, but it’s never occurred to me to translate those afternoons. I’m so happy I finally did.
English Summer Strawberry Trifle
Yield: about 12 servings (plus delicious leftover custard and jam)
One recipe génoise (below)
1/3 c. good sherry
A double recipe of vanilla custard (recipe here)
One recipe of strawberry lemon verbena refrigerator jam with candied lemon slices (recipe here)
Two pounds fresh strawberries, washed, hulled, and sliced
One cup heavy cream, softly whipped with 2 T. sugar
- Make the jam first and get it chilling in the refrigerator.
- Make the custard and chill it.
- Make the sponge cakes and allow them to cool.
- Take a little break. Trifle is a bit of a project, but you’ll be so happy you made each element when you’re tucking in later with gusto.
- With a long serrated knife, trim the edges from your cakes and slice off a thin layer of the top. This will pretty them up and allow the sherry to soak in.
- Place one cake layer in the bottom of your trifle bowl, trimming the cake if necessary to snuggle in nicely.
- Pour half of the sherry onto the cake, distributing it evenly.
- Spread the cake layer with jam, a fairly generous smear.
- Top it with a pour of custard, perhaps about ¼ “ deep.
- Top it with half of the strawberries.
- Repeat the process once again: cake, sherry, jam, custard, berries.
- Cover the trifle with cellophane and keep it in the refrigerator until it is time to serve.
- Whip the cream, spoon it over the top, and serve.
Adapted from Larousse Gastronomique
Yield: two 8-inch cake layers
½ c. unsalted butter
1 1/3 c. superfine sugar
¼ t. salt
1 t. vanilla extract
2 ¼ c. all purpose flour
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F and butter two 8-inch cake tins.
- In a small saucepan over the lowest possible heat, melt the butter and set it aside.
- Bring a large pan or the base of a double boiler filled with water to a simmer over high heat. Lower the heat so that the water is not actively simmering.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, the top of a double boiler, or a medium heatproof bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, salt, and vanilla.
- With a glove-style hot pad on one hand, place the bowl over the barely simmering water. If you are using a double boiler, the hot pad is unnecessary.
- Whisk the egg mixture vigorously, taking care not to tip the bowl, until it is voluminous, pale, and thick, about 30 minutes. You may need to wrap your whisk handle with a towel or hot pad as it heats up, so keep one nearby.
- Wipe the bottom of the bowl with a towel.
- If you are using the bowl of an electric mixer, hook it up and continue to beat it using the wire whip.
- If you are using a double boiler or other bowl, transfer the egg mixture to a bowl in which you can continue to beat air into it with an electric mixer or handheld mixer.
- Beat the egg mixture continuously until it reaches room temperature, about 15 minutes.
- Ever so gently, fold in the flour using a spatula.
- Pour the tepid butter gently into the side of the bowl, and ever so gently fold it in.
- Divide the batter into your cake tins and give the tops a bit of a smooth if necessary.
- Bake until they are golden and they spring back when pressed lightly in the center, about 10 to 15 minutes.