Finally, Easter weekend has come and gone, and with it so has Lent, hooray! Back I joyously skip into the arms of temptation and bury my face in the next cream tea or jar of jam I see. Although, I have to confess, my absconding from sugar took a dramatic nose dive these final few weeks, eventually throwing caution to the winds these last three days and eating a cream tea every – single – day. In my defence it was my lovely friend, Joelle’s, hen party and who wants to be that stick in the mud on a hen weekend refusing all sugar, junk food, fun etc. I took one for the team and thickly spread that jam on my scone. And tucked into a couple chocolates, slices of cake, fruit tarts and eclairs for good measure. Now, as a consequence I am enduring dull and lingering toothache from my long suffering wisdom teeth, which is no doubt the wrath of God smiting me for sinning.
So, after a heavy weekend full of sugary goodness, not to mention pizza, homemade hot cross buns (finally!), pain au chocolat, and, naturally, big bottles of prosecco while punting around Cambridge, I’ve gratefully stumbled back to my parents’ for TLC and Easter weekend. Easter Sunday doesn’t quite gain the same excitement as Christmas Day so lunch tends to be more low key – usually roast lamb scented with rosemary served with all the usual trimmings; roast potatoes, parsnips and carrots, cauliflower cheese, redcurrant jelly and dark rich gravy. Likewise, dessert doesn’t fit into the regimented boxes as they do at Christmas; their pudding is even named after the holiday. If there was an Easter pudding though, I think it would be trifle.
For such a majestic dessert it is quite unassuming. These days it takes a back seat to the chocolate monstrosities, the warm stodgy puddings, and the remarkably similar Eton mess, and is seemingly forgotten about unless served at your Granny’s or in a drinking glass at a fancy restaurant. Traditionally it contains four layers – lady fingers (sponge-like biscuits to soak up the sherry and fruit juices), jam or fruit, custard and cream, thus quite clearly decadent with it’s striking colour contrasts and the sprinkling of various garnishes on top, such as slivered almonds, pomegranate seeds, crushed amaretti biscuits or just hundreds and thousands, in the style of my Granny. The trifle undeservedly gained a poor reputation due to it’s mushy consistency, the fruit layer coming from a tin, and the custard thick enough to hold your spoon upright, but that’s thanks to lazy trifle-makers, and at the end of the day the Christmas pudding is infamous for its unpopularity and look how well that’s doing.
Now, to business – how to make one. Select your bowl and fill the base with broken lady fingers, also known as boudoir biscuits (possibly named because they don’t leave crumbs on your sheets?) which snap satisfactorily. Soak these with either a sprinkling of sherry or Madeira, or, if you want to keep the dessert alcohol-free, orange juice or poaching syrup from the fruit. Next top with fruit – sliced banana, pineapple, fresh berries, although poach or roast apples, pears, plums and rhubarb slightly so they break down and are easily dolloped into the bowls. Frozen fruits emit more juice than fresh and soak the sponge base with flavour. I poached some pears in cinnamon and cardamom-spiced sugar syrup, warmed frozen raspberries and layered the two fruits on top of the sponge base.
Pour over the custard, homemade or from a packet, anything goes, and leave to set in the fridge covered in cling film. The consistency of the custard is a balancing act as it needs to support the thick layer of cream but we don’t want jelly. Finally, the cream. Gently whip it into soft peaks so it can be easily piled on top, then scatter with almonds and grated chocolate. Serve it to your guests and make sure each portion contains every layer which is half the pleasure – the sharpness of the fruit, and velvety sweetness from the custard, meanwhile the sponge base melts on your tongue.
Spring isn’t complete without this dessert on your table – but it might have to be dragged it’s so modest. Give it some love, the trifle needs its turn in the spotlight.
Adapted from Delia Smith’s recipe
As trifles are so easy to make and take next to no time I thought I’d leave a recipe for the most complicated part – the custard. Delia’s instructive cookbooks are every home cook’s Bible so you can’t go wrong here. She is renown for her love of cream which can be too heavy in custard so I’ve swapped it for full-fat milk.
425ml whole milk
4 large egg yolks
25g caster sugar
1 desertspoon cornflour – slightly smaller than a tablespoon
1 tsp vanilla extract
- Pour the milk into a saucepan and gently warm until it is close to simmering and steaming heavily.
- Meanwhile, separate the eggs and add the yolks to a bowl with the sugar and cornflour. Beat with a whisk until well combined.
- Once the milk is ready slowly pour a thin stream over the beaten eggs while whisking so they don’t cook and scramble. Pour in all the milk and stir to make sure it is all mixed.
- Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and set over low heat. Stir with a spatula so you can get into the corners. Be patient, this will take a while but if you wander off the eggs could suddenly scramble.
- When it starts to steam it will gradually begin to thicken. Keep stirring until it is thickly coats the back of the spatula but don’t let the mixture simmer.
- Place a sieve over a bowl and pour the custard through it to catch any overcooked egg. Stir in the vanilla extract. Gently cover the surface of the custard with cling film to stop a skin from forming and chill in the fridge.