Cooking, Food and Drink, Recipes

Friday Food and Drink Post: Just Desserts

We all know what they are. They are what we want for ourselves and for everyone we know, friend and foe alike, right? When we get ours, we expect them to come trailing clouds of goodness, mercy, and grace, and to bestrew puppies, butterflies, rainbows and joy throughout our lives forever. When our enemies, and those who “done us wrong” get theirs, we rejoice that they are visited with misery and pain, and we assure ourselves that they richly deserve it. I am kidding. Of course. Perhaps.

I’m not sure I ever met a dessert I didn’t like, or one that I thought I didn’t deserve. To get things started, I’m offering up “Trifle,” a very British “pudding” (which is what the Brits call dessert), and a favorite family recipe. There are many variations, as to fruit (raspberries, strawberries, apricots, peaches, etc), whether one uses fresh fruits or preserved, or jam, whether one uses sherry or brandy, and whether one uses ladyfingers, or a plain cake cut into small squares as the base (it’s a great way to use up leftover, slightly stale, pound cake). One can cheat on the custard sauce by using vanilla pudding mix (not the instant), but it’s not as soft and delicate, and not nearly as good. This is how we make “Trifle” in the She household:

1 package ladyfingers (look in the Italian section of your local supermarket)
1 package raspberries, rinsed and well drained. The 6oz package can be stretched, but it’s nice to have a few more, and you can always eat the rest, privately as it were. If you use a different fruit, you may need to slice/chop it into smaller pieces, about raspberry size.
About 1/4 cup of decent sherry (not cooking sherry). A little more is acceptable. Quite a bit more might be even better. In addition, you can pour yourself a glass and drink it as you go. The correct amount of sherry should be just enough to nicely moisten the cake and drench the raspberries; it shouldn’t make things runny. If you like, you can soak the raspberries in the sherry for a bit before assembling the trifle, then spoon in the sherry alternately with the raspberries for each layer
Small package of slivered almonds. You can do it the old fashioned way, blanching some raw almonds for a minute or two in boiling water, “popping” them out of their skins individually, and then slivering them yourself. My experience with this generally leaves me with scalded “prune” fingers from the hot water, and one or two gaping wounds. I deem it not worth the effort, unless the bottle of sherry was full before starting, then all bets are off
Whipped cream (you can cheat with Reddi Wip, but it won’t hold up well if you make it too long before you serve it, so add the whipped cream at the very end if you do this)
Custard (I think this recipe is the best), or cheat with vanilla pudding (not instant). Put a piece of plastic wrap on top while it cools to prevent skin forming. Use cornstarch where the custard recipe says “cornflour,” and if you’ve never made it before, keep the heat low and don’t stop gently stirring. You don’t want it to stick to the bottom of the pan. If the worst happens, and it curdles, just keep going, and then at the end, take your hand mixer, and beat it till it assumes a less “scrambled egg” consistency. In my estimation, this recipe is one of the easier ones, and reliably successful.

It really works best if you have a pretty, translucent bowl, or even just a plain glass bowl, as the look of the thing is part of its charm.

  1.  Make the custard, or pudding if you’re using that. Allow to cool, with plastic wrap on top to prevent skin formation.
  2. Arrange the ladyfingers prettily around the inside of the bowl. Sometimes, getting them to stand up can be a challenge, but that’s the traditional way to do it. Make it easier by putting several tablespoons of custard in the bottom of the bowl, and then “sticking” the ladyfingers in that, to help stand them up. You want to have a few ladyfingers left over, as you’ll layer them between the raspberries and custard, but there are no hard and fast rules about how many. (I usually break those extra ladyfingers into two or three pieces each.)
  3. Add a little more custard (you want to use about 1/3 of the total)
  4. Sprinkle a layer of raspberries on the custard, and some pieces of lady fingers on the raspberries. Slurp a couple of tablespoons of sherry overall, with the idea that it will be absorbed by the ladyfingers, and will flavor the raspberries. (I slurp straight out of the bottle, although it’s easier to get some of the sherry onto the upright ladyfingers with a spoon.)
  5. Another layer of custard
  6. More raspberries (reserve a few for the top), more broken-up ladyfingers, more sherry
  7. Another layer of custard
  8. For serving, you’ll smother the whole thing with whipped cream, and then decorate with slivered almonds and the remaining raspberries. So, given that whipped cream can be a bit unstable, time that to coincide with serving so that it looks and tastes its best. (I could eat pretty much the whole thing at one go, if left to my own devices, which, unfortunately, I’m usually not.)

A quick look around the Internet will show you many variations. Enjoy!

And please share your own thoughts on desserts, and perhaps a recipe or two if you have a favorite.

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