Trifle – it’s the most honest of puddings

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“Because it lets you know how you’re going to look after eating it,”

Wobbly, expansive, slothful and self satisfied.

So said our lunch guest Mr Ben Frichot as he contemplated the perfect English Trifle I set on the perfect English Sunday Lunch Table (even though it was in Australia). And he was right.
There he is on the left, saying it.
My guests begged not to have the recipe such was the temptation to create an endless supply and abandon themselves to middle aged spread. However, I am not such a gracious hostess.
This is an adaptation of the trifle my mother serves for Boxing Day Tea.

You will need:
A very nice cut glass bowl because you have to let the dogs see the rabbit. Otherwise it’s just whipped cream and glace cherries and even after a main course of glazed English Gammon, cauliflower cheese, peas, carrots and roast potatoes and a canapes of miniature Yorkshire Puddings with steak and kidney gravy, that won’t produce the adulation I am so blatantly craving.

I bought this one at a charity shop for six bucks. When I married Mr Wong we did not have a wedding list: We were unmaterialistic, about to take a month’s honeymoon backpacking round SE Asia before heading back to London and we flouted convention – foolishly it now appears. If I’d done the right thing I would already own a trifle bowl. And a gravy jug. And a decanter. And possibly a set of ironing board covers and a toby jug so on reflection….

Back to the trifle, which you must make the day before.
1 pack of sponge fingers *
100mls of sweet sherry
1 large tin of fruit salad – it MUST contain green grapes and startlingly pink cherries
seedless raspberry jam
raspberry jelly – I used a cold-water version made with agar agar, it was all I could get, but I don’t think anyone noticed the absence of reconstituted connective tissue.
One and a half pints of confectioners custard.
400ml of double cream
Glace cherries
Flaked almonds
Angelica if you can get it. I could not.

1. place the sponge fingers in a single layer in a square container and soak in the sherry and the juice from the tinned fruit salad.
2. Although no one is going to examine this foundation it is in your interests to get it as neat as possible, just as a counterpoint of decency and decorum to the way you will end up licking your bowl the next day. Fit the soaked sponge fingers into the bottom of the bowl, nipping and tucking if you have to.
3. Spread carefully with the raspberry jam, cover and place in the fridge while you make the jelly. You know how to do that. When it is room temperature pour it on the base and spoon on the fruit. Do try and distribute the cherry pieces evenly. Cover it again and put it back in the fridge while you make the confectioners custard.

Let’s take a break from the text to see the roast potatoes. N.B. the only potatoes that will roast properly in Western Australia are the purple skinned Royal Blues. What I wouldn’t do for an illegal stash of Desiree seed potatoes.
So back to the confectioners custard.
4. Put 3 tablespoons of cornflour and 3 tablespoons of sugar in a mixing jug and break in 3 eggs. Mix until smooth, like toothpaste. Lumps will ruin it.
5. In a nonstick saucepan bring 850ml of milk, full fat please, to just below boiling point with 2 teaspoons of vanilla essence.
6. Pour a cup of the hot milk onto the egg and cornflour mixture and blend well. Return in to the pan and stir constantly while you bring it just to boiling point.
7. The custard will thicken alarmingly but keep stirring and moving it around the pan and letting it bubble and blow like a geyser for 4 or 5 minutes – the cornflour taste must cook out.
8. Transfer to a bowl. Cover with clingfilm and let it cool to room temp.

Now let me show off my table setting, something I rarely do as I am an habitual slattern. But it paid off.
A table cloth and a floral centre piece are just detectable amidst the glasswear. The table itself is a $55 trestle from the hardware store as I don’t have an indoor table big enough to seat 8. No one noticed. My usual 6 seater dining table I got from an old catering client in Hampstead. He was a Hungarian Diplomat and was just about to chuck it in the skip when I rocked up in my volvo wagon and he said I could take it away. Turns out it was a Fritz Hansen 1984 design classic. Not something I would ever have had the wit to put on my wedding list. Swings and roundabouts, eh?

So the custard is cold, the bottom 2 layers are set and it is time for the last step of the day.
9. Spoon the custard on evenly, cover with perhaps a new piece of clingfilm by this stage and stash it in the fridge until tomorrow.

I also made two other desserts. Ostensibly to give a balance of flavours and textures and a healthier option for my guests. The real reason is because I Am Greedy.

One was a winter fruit compote: Simmer one of those dried fruit salad packs in a light sugar syrup, I added orange peel and lemon peel, cardomon, cinnamon and vanilla to mine and a pack of pruriently plump semi dried figs.

The third dessert was sticky date pudding which I wrote about 12 months ago (do keep up).
And when it came to coffee and cigars my good friend and artisinal Patissieress Angie Mariani brought a sample of her new range of meringues. How fortunate they matched the camelia centre piece. There is a hazelnut hidden in the centre of each meringue.

1o. Before your guests arrive whip the cream adding a little more vanilla and spoon it in to a piping bag with a star nozzle. Find a tall container and stand the bag up in this and stash it in the fridge.
11. Work out where you keep your glace cherries and almonds because when the time comes to decorate and you have had a glass of wine or shandy, your choice, you will need all your wits to pipe the cream on the trifle top layer let alone fuel a panic to find the sweet garnishes.

Et voila. Le Trifle Anglais, un peut deshabille.

*Many years ago when I was cooking at The Church Studios in Crouchy for a band called Motor Ace I had my ingredients laid out for tiramisu and all of a sudden a short, bald old man appeared at my elbow, dressed in a green tracksuit. “Ah would they be sponge fingers, them’s me faves. Can I have one, aw g’wan,” he asked. “Of course, just one.” I replied kindly. It was Sinead O’Connor pre-costume and makeup. Sheesh.

It is something of a blessing (for my figure) and yet a curse that all the trifle is now gone. Mr Wong is, as I type, having dinner with the stupendous Swedish Rock Band The Hives
in our favourite restaurant in town while I host a sleepover for assorted small boys in the suburbs. I am very bitter at the moment and I could do with some sweetness. Hey Ho.

And for the sake of balance, test your brain power here!/WorldFoodProgramme

  • Kate Frichot | Jul 22, 2011 at 01:38

    Great post Suzy. That trifle was outstanding, and it occurred to me that it’s honest for another reason – the traditional serving of it in a glass bowl. You can see its many layers, there are no hidden surprises. Bloomin’ lovely. XX

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