I make an excellent trifle…though I do say so myself…
Four years ago I bought a beautiful LSA crystal trifle bowl at the John Lewis on Oxford Street. The first reaction of my then boyfriend, was that I would never use the trifle bowl and it was a waste of £40 and precious storage space. At that time, we lived in a one bedroom flat in Bermondsey; a beautifully designed home that by all rights should have been the perfect pied a terre for city professionals with a large country home in Norfolk or Wiltshire. Just like us…minus the large country home in Norfolk or Wiltshire. With the absence of any storage whatsoever, it was absolutely essential that each item we owned had to serve a purpose, if not several purposes.
So in order that I would always have the moral upper ground, as least as far as my frivolous purchase was concerned, my trifle bowl spent much of the year, serving as an urn for displaying leafy Spanish mandarins, bright knobbly Sicilian lemons, shiny and jewel-toned pink pomegranates or really whatever happened to be in season. And once a year, at the great family gathering in Sussex on Christmas or Boxing Day, my trifle bowl would display its true splendour and serve its intended use.
As, I have discovered, trifles are surprisingly sturdy. I have preassembled and carried them across the home counties on trains, in the boot of my car (bumping wildly over country lanes), and I have jostled them along London streets, wedged into a hemp Whole Foods carrier bag. It always survives and always looks a masterpiece when displayed on the table or the sideboard.
Eventually the time came to prepare to sell our flat and my boyfriend took great pleasure in placing my beloved trifle bowl in storage. In fact, last Christmas I never even had an opportunity to use it, as it was locked away over the holiday period. (While I describe him like a pantomime villain, he really is very nice, and I did in fact eventually marry him, despite his general disrespect for my trifle-related paraphernalia.)
So this year, when friends invited us to their home for Boxing Day dinner…their large country home in Wiltshire, I might add…I didn’t hesitate to shamelessly offer to bring the trifle. Through politeness, or perhaps a lack of opportunity to refuse, our hosts appeared grateful and accepted.
After feasting on gravadlax on rye toasts, spatchcocked poussin and creamy dauphinoise, my trifle made its appearance. No one usually holds very high hopes for trifle. (I’ve seen many a layered Jell-O, pineapple and Cool Whip creation lurking on British supermarket shelves, claiming trifle status. I can appreciate the general cool attitude towards it.) I was offered by my host to be mother, and I took the opportunity, assertively spooning equal proportions of the deep layers into each of the dessert bowls.
“Oh, Kelly” my host gasped, in what I think was genuine surprise, “from now on, you are in charge of all things sugar.” And I blushed with much false modesty.
So, with some hesitation, I share my precious, yet simple, trifle recipe with you:
12 trifle sponges (around 300 g)
1 medium (100 g) sponge flan base (optional)
1 litre of custard (homeade or store bought)
1 litre of whipping cream, whipped to soft peaks
1 x 400 g bag frozen raspberries
200 g fresh blueberries, raspberries or blackberries
1 small jar (around 300 g) raspberry conserve
A quantity of Amontillado sherry, to taste
Fresh raspberries or red currants, to decorate
Step One: Cut all the sponge fingers in half and make small jam sandwiches with them. Arrange these in the base of the trifle bowl and drizzle liberally with a good glug of Amontillado sherry – around 4-5 tablespoons. (You don’t want the sponge fingers to become too wet, though, as the raspberry juices will need to be soaked up later.) You can do this step the night before, should you wish.
Step Two: Create an even layer of frozen raspberries on top of the sherried sponges. This is where I pause if I am taking this dish to someone else’s house. Placing the raspberries on the sponges around lunchtime will mean that the raspberries will have thawed by dessert, later that evening, and the juices will have soaked into the sponge.
Step Three: If you have a medium sponge flan case, place it on top of the now thawed raspberries, and fill it with the remainder of the jar of raspberry conserve and the 200 g of fresh berries. It should help contain the custard and create a layer of sponge which isn’t as soggy as the bottom layer.
Step Four: I wouldn’t do this step until probably an hour or two before serving. Pour the custard over the sponge flan & berries and spread the softly (unsweetened) whipped cream in an even layer atop the custard. I usually finish mine with a small crown of fresh raspberries, cape gooseberries or red currants (as shown).