North Coast Journal

FOOD - JUNE 1996

Just a trifle

by Betty Thompson
Photo by Cheryle Easter

Dear Betty,

"Would these recipes for trifles be of any use? I got them out of a book that my mother was given as a present some years ago: It was called 'Tory Treats,' and my mother, as a good old-fashioned Scottish Liberal, was so ashamed of the title that she encouraged the cover to fall off.

"However, the collection of recipes, compiled from country-dwellers in N.E. Scotland, is rather good in a solid sort of way. The first recipe is the classic trifle that I know, without jelly (gelatin). The second is rather simpler and uses jelly. ...

All Best Wishes, Eleanor"


THIS LETTER AND THE following advice from British friends certainly give a glimpse into the variability in recipes for trifle: "You just put together whatever you like," "Well, never add sherry for the children!" "Whatever I have in the house," "Oh dear, I make mine up as I go along."

The most memorable trifles I have tasted came from a British friend who offered to bring trifle to dinner one evening. Knowing we were anxious to taste trifle made by a native, she arrived with not one but three: a traditional mixed berry with vanilla custard; a chocolate sponge and custard with mandarin oranges; a light Bavarian cream type made with Harvey's Bristol Cream and topped with shaved chocolate.

Although the structure remains basically the same, the contents can vary greatly, depending on what is available and what one likes. First, layer sponge cake, and/or almond cookies, in a deep clear glass bowl so one can see the layers. Soak the cake thoroughly with fruit juice, wine or spirits or any combination of these. Sherry, madeira, port, muscatel, rum, brandy or liqueurs are all popular. (It is possible to make a delicious trifle without any alcohol. Use fruit juices and some of the flavored sugar syrups for heightened flavor.)

On top of this is a layer of jam, usually raspberry, strawberry, apricot or orange marmalade. Sometimes this is spread on or between the cake slices. A layer of fruit, fresh and or canned, follows. A mixture of berries, peaches, mandarin oranges, bananas, fruit cocktail are all good; let the fruit of the season be a guide.

At this point adding gelatin is optional. For example, one small box of strawberry gelatin made with two cups water is cooled and poured over the fruit and cake of a berry trifle. Let this set before adding custard and cream.

The third layer is a vanilla custard, topped by the fourth layer of whipped cream.

The top is decorated with toasted almonds, candied cherries, angelica, crystallized violets, fresh edible flowers or fruit corresponding to the contents of the trifle. Refrigerate and let ripen (the flavors mix and mingle) for several hours.

Use this formula as a guide and let your imagination run wild. Create, for example, a hazelnut sponge topped with Frangelico, chocolate custard and mocha cream; or coconut macaroons, soaked in rum topped with sliced kiwi, crushed pineapple, coconut cream custard and whipped cream with zest of fresh lime.

The quality of the trifle is only as good as the quality of the components. Purchased angel food cake works well but cooked custard is infinitely better than instant. The microwave version for custard eliminates scorching and constant stirring.



1 sponge cake

1/2 pint sherry (not cooking sherry)

Raspberry jam

1 medium-size tin (can) pears

2 bananas

Custard made with 2-3 eggs, 2 cups milk, 2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 pint cream

Cherries and angelica for decoration

Line a crystal dish with cake which has been split and spread with jam. Soak with sherry and slightly sweetened with 1/2 teaspoon of sugar in 1/4 cup hot water. Add also a little pear juice.

Slice bananas and one or two segments of pear sufficient to cover sponges. Cover dish for an hour or two. Make a pouring custard and chill before putting on top of mixture in a dish. NEVER use packet custard.

Whip double cream and decorate.



1 sponge cake or a 10-inch angel food cake cut into 1-inch slices

1/3 cup orange marmalade

2-3 tablespoons Triple Sec (optional)

2-3 tablespoons apricot brandy (optional)

1 can fruit cocktail including juice

1 box fresh strawberries, sliced and sweetened with 2-3 tablespoons sugar

1 box fresh raspberries (or frozen, thawed)

2 cups vanilla custard

1 cup cream, whipped

1/4 cup toasted sliced almonds

Choose a three-quart, straight-sided, clear glass bowl. Spread cake slices with orange marmalade. They do not all have to be completely covered.

Layer one half of the slices in the bowl. Sprinkle with half of the orange liqueur and peach brandy. Top with half of the fruit cocktail and berries. Repeat a second layer of cake and fruit.

Pour over the custard. If this is warm, chill before topping with the whipped cream. Garnish with sliced almonds and reserved berries. Serve in glass dishes.



1 sponge cake

25 ginger snaps (about)

4 fresh peaches, diced

1 pear, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons candied ginger, slivered

1/2 cup sugar (more or less depending on the peaches)

5-6 tablespoons orange juice

2 cups vanilla custard

1/2 pint cream, whipped

Mix diced peaches and pears with sugar first and allow to soften slightly before using. Layer half of cake, half of cookies, half of fruit. Repeat. Sprinkle with juice. Top with custard and cream.



1 chocolate sponge cake

1/2 cup raspberry jam

2 cans mandarin oranges, including juice, and or bananas and raspberries

2-3 tablespoons Triple Sec

2 cups chocolate custard

1/2 pint cream, whipped

Layer, cake, jam, fruit, custard and cream as in berry trifle.



This is a very fast cake. Since the eggs are not separated, it is imperative that the eggs and sugar be beaten until pale yellow and form a ribbon.

3 eggs

1/2 cup sugar

2/3 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

Beat eggs and add sugar gradually, beating until thick and pale yellow. This can take several minutes.

Sift together flour and baking powder. Fold gently into the egg mixture. Spread evenly on a greased and floured waxpaper-lined 9-by-13 inch jelly roll pan.

Bake at 425° for 10 minutes. Remove immediately to a rack and carefully peel off the wax paper. Let Cool.

Variation Chocolate Sponge: 4 eggs, 1/2 cup sugar, 2/3 cup flour and 1/3 cup cocoa sifted together.




A quick custard, easily made in about seven minutes, is adapted from "Microwave Gourmet" by Barbara Kafka.

2 cups milk

6 tablespoons granulated sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

2 egg yolks

2 tablespoons water

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Heat milk in a 4-cup glass measure, uncovered, at 100 percent for 4 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

Combine sugar and cornstarch in a bowl. Whisk in egg yolks and 2 tablespoons water. Gradually whisk in hot milk. Return to 4-cup measure and cook, uncovered at 100 percent for 2 minutes. Remove from oven and whisk vigorously.

Return to oven and cook for one minute longer. Remove from oven and whisk in vanilla.

Chocolate Custard: When whisking in vanilla, also whisk in 3 ounces of chopped bittersweet chocolate.

Betty Thompson teaches cooking classes locally.

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