Time to take a break from the savory revolting recipes and unlock some of my own childhood memories and love of vintage desserts. I grew up in 1970s Australia heavily influenced by English food traditions (I hesitate to call it cuisine). For instance, we would have a traditional hot English Christmas Lunch with roasted meats and vegetables and all the trappings followed by brandy-soaked steamed plum pudding drowned in egg custard for dessert all in the middle of a stinking hot Australian summer. Of all of those imported (and often anachronistic) traditions, rituals and recipes the one that I have the fondest memories of, that you may well find revolting, is the classic Trifle. We can discuss vegemite and marmite another time!
‘Trifle is not the same as a Parfait though both words are French in origin. The former meaning something of little importance and the latter is French for perfect.’
A classic trifle is a layered dessert that consists of sponge cake soaked in a fortified wine (typically sherry), custard, fruit, Jell-O and whipping cream. It appears to have evolved from a 16th Century dessert known as a Fruit Foole which mixed fruit (often gooseberry) with clotted cream. For a time trifle and foole were used interchangeably. Gelatin was included in the 18th Century and by the 19th Century, with the inclusion of alcohol and cake/biscuits, recipes started to resemble the dessert that we recognize today.
Parallels have been drawn between trifle and the Italian dish Zuppa Inglese (English Soup) and well as Punschtorte from Germany and Austria. There is also the Tipsy Laird with Drambuie or Whiskey from Scotland, and the Tipsy Parson/Tipsy Squire which may be familiar to some in the United States. Trifle is not the same as a Parfait though both words are French in origin. The former meaning something of little importance and the latter is French for perfect. The French Parfait is essentially a frozen custard-like dessert whereas the American and Canadian variations use ice cream and often includes fruit, nuts and granola frequently served in individual glasses.
As a long time vegan, without significant substitutions, these desserts are no longer for me. They do however take me back to my childhood and whether you find them revolting or delicious these recipes definitely helped define Mid-Century cuisine. The classic Trifle is undergoing a revival and there are numerous contemporary recipes that update traditional ingredients. The featured Trifle recipe this month is from the classically Australian publication Women’s Weekly with the addition of imperial measurements in case you want to try it. Every home had a variation of this recipe – my family used a combination of fresh and canned fruits as well as being heavy on the sherry. Making custard from scratch takes this dish to another level but it was typically a dessert that took advantage of ingredients people had on hand in their pantry.
Traditional Sherry Trifle
This classic trifle goes from my childhood memories to the star of your next dinner party.
85 gram raspberry jelly crystals (Jell-O)
250 gram sponge cake, cut into 2.5cm pieces
1/4 cup custard powder
1/4 cup caster sugar (superfine)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup milk
825 gram canned sliced peaches, drained
2 1/3 cup thickened (heavy) cream
- Make jelly according to directions on packet; pour into shallow container. Refrigerate 20 minutes or until jelly is almost set.
- Arrange cake in 3-litre (12-cup) bowl; sprinkle over sherry.
- Blend custard powder, sugar and extract with a little of the milk in small saucepan; stir in remaining milk. Stir over heat until mixture boils and thickens. Cover surface of custard with plastic wrap; cool.
- Pour jelly over cake; refrigerate 15 minutes. Top with peaches. Stir 1/3 cup of the cream into custard; pour over peaches.
- Whip remaining cream; spread half over custard. Spoon remaining whipped cream into piping bag fitted with large fluted tube; pipe over top of trifle. Refrigerate 3 hours or overnight.
- Serve trifle topped with maraschino cherries, if you like.
For a non-alcoholic version you can use fruit juice in place of the sherry. We recommend peach nectar or orange juice to complement the flavours of the trifle.