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Making trifle (or how to end up with a delicious pudding without getting each stage right!)

We enjoy trifle up to a point. Traditionally it is a Christmas dessert – perfect for an influx of family and friends. This year I decided that Sunday lunch on 5th December would be a good day to have trifle, especially as we are having a ‘pretend Christmas dinner’ ie roast chicken and all the trimmings, so what better than individual trifles to follow. But I was missing two key ingredients, sponge for the base and amaretti biscuits for a layer near the top.

Before I set off to the nearby super-market I made the custard. This consisted of heating half a pint of milk with an ounce or two of sugar, then thickening it slightly with regular custard powder and bringing to the boil resulting in single cream consistency. To thicken further I decided to add two beaten eggs, after removing from the heat. At that stage all was well but further very delicate heating led to a minor disaster – thick on the bottom of the pan (is this scrambled egg? – not quite) and runny on top. However I decided to hope for the best and sieved the custard into a clean bowl expecting it to solidify firmly while I popped to the shops. Alas it didn’t. I should know better as I am a dab hand with baked egg custard but rarely succeed with pan heated egg custard. However the taste was fine – not the traditional custard powder flavour (which Patrick doesn’t like), nor raw egg.

Once back from shopping I broke up the madeleines (sponge for the base) into 6 individual bowls.

And then added sherry.

I pressed the crumbled cake well down so the sherry was thoroughly soaked up from the bottom. Then the custard went onto the top and luckily the quantity was exactly right and it looked as though it would be fairly well absorbed from the top by the madeleines.

A trifle traditionally has several layers often including fruit and/or jam. I decided this was the moment to use up one of the tins of fruit that I had bought pre Brexit when we were threatened with huge shortages of fresh fruit, salad and vegetables. The use-by was 2020 – but I have no concerns about that as tinned produce keeps incredibly well unless the tin is damaged. So I opened a tin of mangoes and chopped them up to make the next layer.

I have not used jelly (neither packet nor made with gelatine) in trifles for decades so wasn’t going to start now even though a traditional trifle is meant to have a good ‘solid’ jelly layer.

Another of my purchases was amaretti.

They went on top of the custard. There were 6 of the mini biscuits for each trifle which is generous (and bumpy) compared with the normal arrangement of crumbled amaretti making a fairly flat layer. Then I whipped about a quarter of a pint of cream for the next layer.

Because of the relatively uneven surface made by the amaretti I decided that roughly smoothing out the cream was the best I could do. But the finished effect, each trifle topped with a glace cherry, looked ok. Other decorations can be far more elaborate for example almonds, split, cut into mini sticks and toasted, are good stuck vertically into the cream, with 1 cm long spines of crystallised angelica adding a touch of colour. In the 1950s silver balls were arranged on top of trifles (must be done at the last minute) and raspberries and strawberries are also good for decoration.

Then into the fridge to wait until lunch tomorrow. By then the layers will have merged a bit more and the amaretti may not be quite as brittle (crunchy) as they are straight out of the packet.

Looking at the photo these trifles look more like Belgian buns than desserts – but I can guarantee they won’t taste like buns!

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