The Microwave: Christmas Spoon Food: Raspberry Trifle with Cream Sherry

Sunday December 19, 2010

Trifle is the quintessential winter holiday dessert and positively addicting. It might as well be the official state dessert in Great Britain. Every home, school lunchroom, tea parlor, and restaurant have a version it is so beloved.

My mom is known for her trifle, which is a cold dessert with layers of dense-textured plain cake soaked with cream sherry and a vanilla English custard, which she has made every Christmas for decades ever since she got her first microwave in the early 1980s. We thought it kinda so-so made with jam, but it went stellar when she used frozen raspberries in place of the jam. Since it is dead of winter, you can pick up a bag since raspberries are pretty standard these days, or if you were thinking ahead, some of your own frozen berries left over from the summer bounty when they were cheap by the basket. We all thought it was an extra step making the custard in the microwave instead of stove top, but she swore the appliance made the best, most silky custard.

Trifle takes pudding from comfort food to the level of the sublime in this composed dessert suitable for a buffet banquet table. The word “trifle” comes from the Old French “trufle,” and literally means something whimsical or of little consequence, so this means its easy and quick to make by pouring leftover custard over stale cake. While most people opt for a package of Bird’s original custard mix because the custard is too time-consuming, here is the microwave version that will have you perfect custard in minutes made in your over sized measuring cup in about one-quarter the time. Be sure to check for doneness at the minimum time as seconds can make a difference.

For serving, you layer it in a glass trifle bowl so that it is as much a centerpiece as the dessert, and from the side, its layers can be seen. The bowl should have a flat bottom and straight sides, and not too deep. Special trifle bowls are often with a short pedestal. Or else compose each one in individual footed glass bowls, which is certainly a delight. This is a showy dessert despite being so homespun.The entire concept is to have equal amounts of each ingredient: cake soaked in sherry, custard, fruit or jam (there are pro-jam and anti-jam camps), whipped cream. There are lots of variations today…chocolate cake, pumpkin bread, exotic fruits like pineapple, different liqueurs like Amaretto, even canned fruit. But for me, a devout lover of white food, this version is the essence of a great trifle.

Every age dotes on a bit of trifle: non-alcoholic versions for the kid’s birthday party, the festive sherry-soaked version, and who could have known it is a standard in serious British men’s clubs, most probably “because it’s a perfect mixture of alcohol and the nursery.”

Raspberry Trifle with Cream Sherry

Overview

Cookware: 2-quart Pyrex measuring cup or batter bowl

Microwave Wattage: 1,100 to 1,300

Total Cook Time: 5 to 7 minutes

Standing Time: About 2 hours

Serves 8 to 10

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 room temperature pound cake (store-bought or homemade), cut into 1/2-inch slices and air-dried at room temperature a few hours
  • 1/2 cup cream sherry
  • 2 cups fresh raspberries, or one 12-ounce packages unsweetened frozen raspberries

For serving

  • 1 cup cold heavy cream whipped to soft peaks with 3 tablespoons of sugar
  • 1/2 cup coarsely broken amaretti cookies
  • 1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds

Instructions

1. In the 2-quart measuring cup, combine the sugar, salt, and cornstarch. Whisk in the cold milk in a stream to prevent lumps. Microcook on MEDIUM, uncovered, for 4 to 6 minutes, stirring with a whisk every 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, until very hot, smooth, thickened, and clear. Do not boil and do not hurry.

2. Beat the egg yolks in a small bowl and quickly stir a small amount of the hot custard. Pour the tempered egg yolks back into the glass measure, whisking constantly.

3. Microcook on MEDIUM, uncovered, 1 to 2 minutes, stirring once after 30 seconds, until smooth and thick. Custard will have a soft center area about the size of a quarter; it will set upon standing. Remove from oven and whisk in the vanilla. Whisk briskly to cool down. Pour into a bowl; place plastic wrap directly on surface of sauce so that it is in contact with the custard (this will prevent it getting a skin) and refrigerate until cool, about 2 hours. Makes about 3 1/2 cups.

4. Cut cake into thick 1 1/4-inch thick fingers and completely line a deep glass bowl, fitting the pound cake in a single layer so there are no large spaces.  Drizzle with the sherry and spoon in a layer of berries.  Repeat a second layer of cake, sherry, berries, and ending with a layer of cake. Press down gently over the top.

5. Pour all of the cooled custard over the cake layers; it will soak into the cake and down the sides of the bowl.  Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, 6 hours or as long as overnight.

6. Before serving, cover the top with a thick layer of the whipped cream and sprinkle with the amaretti crumbs and toasted almonds. Simply cover the dish with clear plastic wrap and refrigerate up to a few hours, to overnight, until serving.

winter's symbolic goddess/poster reproduction by art nouveau artist alphonse mucha

Variation

Egg-Free English Custard

For those who do not eat eggs, here is a version of English custard to use making trifles. Because there are no eggs, the mixture can boil and cook at a higher temperature. For a chocolate custard, add 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder with the cornstarch.

Cookware: 2-quart Pyrex measuring cup or batter bowl

Total Cook Time: 6 to 8 minutes

Standing Time: About 2 hours

Makes about 3 1/2 cups

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3 1/2 cups whole milk or half and half
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. In the 2-quart measuring cup, combine the sugar, salt, and cornstarch. Whisk in the cold milk in a stream to prevent lumps. Microcook on HIGH, uncovered, for 3 minutes, stirring with a whisk every 1 1/2 minutes, until very hot.

2. Microcook on HIGH, uncovered, 3 to 5 minutes, stirring every 60 seconds, until boiling, smooth, and thickened. Remove from oven and whisk in the vanilla. Whisk briskly 5 seconds. Pour into a bowl; place plastic wrap directly on surface of sauce so that it is in contact with the custard (this will prevent it getting a skin) and refrigerate until cool, about 2 hours.

Excerpted from Not Your Mother’s Microwave Cooking, by Beth Hensperger. (c) 2010, used by permission from the Harvard Common Press.


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