Don’t trifle with taste

In this house, trifle comes in two varieties: with dop or without dop. The low-octane version, sadly, lacks one of the central flavour dimensions of this classic pudding but, for all that, still hits the spot with small children and/or visiting clergy, regardless of denomination. Another built-in alternative, which can be accessed, depending on your relative level of skill, lies in the custard. Note that this recipe is, in fact, a collection of ideas and alternatives, all or any of which you can select yourself.

Photo: David Basckin

To make a rich trifle for six, you will need:

  • Two boxes of Boudoir biscuits or Woolworth’s Madeira cake
  • Old Brown Sherry
  • 500ml whipping cream
  • Most of a bottle of strawberry jam<
  • 1l Ultramel custard Or, for the custard,make a crème anglaise with these ingredients:
  • 150g castor sugar
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • 900ml milk
  • 6 egg yolks

Right, let’s get moving. The small moment of complexity here lies in the crème anglaise. Heat the milk to near boil then add the vanilla pod which has been split vertically. Let the milk boil briefly, lower the heat and let it stand for four minutes. Mix the yolks and sugar until creamy.
Remove the vanilla pod from the hot milk and slowly and carefully pour the egg mixture into the hot milk. Stir like hell with a whisk to avoid curdling. Bring up the heat gently and stir until the crème anglaise thickens. This delicious confection is ready when the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Decant and chill in the fridge. That’s all folks, and what a taste it is.
Alternatively, if time is short and confidence lacking, Ultramel custard always hits the spot.
Meanwhile, back on the assembly line, select a suitable serving dish and line it with slices of Madeira cake or Boudoir biscuits or what the hell, alternative layers of both. And why not? What is a trifle if it is not a monument to excess?
Drench the cake or biscuits with a liberal dash of Old Brown, or not at all, if you’re making the dop-free version. Spoon the chilled, freshly made totally marvellous crème anglaise or Ultramel custard over the sherry-drenched biscuits/cake, and then add a generous layer of strawberry (if you like red) or apricot (if you prefer golden yellow) jam over the crème anglaise, taking some care to preserve the integrity of each layer. Now for the whipped cream. A pause to gather one’s strength and concentration. In unskilled hands, cream whipping can go horribly wrong. One minute you’ve got cream and then, in the blinking of an eye, it’s a curdled mess suitable only for Little Miss Muffet, who may or may not be on your guest list.
Whipping, for this dude, is a manual process involving a ball whisk, God’s gift to cream whippers. As soon as the cream begins to thicken, take it easy and whip only until peaks can be formed. When done, spread a generous layer over the jam.
Return the now completed trifle to the fridge and let it chill for a hour or two before serving. If you have made both high- and low-octane versions, label them carefully. We don’t want any post-pudding consequences.