Monday, October 6, 2014

"It's a trifle," and The Critical Mom

Trifle, my dears is no trifle.  The bombastic British dessert with the name that remains stereotypically British in its understatement is, however, delicious.  A calorie-bomb, as the Germans would say, guaranteed to clog every artery.  But only if you eat it every day.  (Was it Ben or Jerry who had quadruple bypass?  But he was tasting this stuff hourly, not just daily).

The most fun I ever had was tasting the mascarpone when I was trying to figure out how to contrive a stand-in for the required "double cream."  As far as I know, the only place in the world where you can buy "double cream" in a supermarket (or anywhere else) is the United Kingdom.  So I considered sour cream, cream whipped until it's almost butter, and mascarpone, which tastes like the creamiest cream you ever tried, except that it's solid.  And I decided on a mix:  about 200 ml of regular old whipping cream, plus about three fourths of a 500 gram container of mascarpone.  I put the cream in the bowl first . . . . oh, but I'm getting way ahead of myself.  Here is the ordeal of making trifle, the most non-trifling labor I have ever endured in the kitchen, and believe-you-me, entirely worth it, worth it to the point where The Guardian is willing to review a British cookbook entirely devoted to recipes for "Trifle."  Five hundred of 'em.  Now this is just one:

Get a big glass pyrex dish with a cover--the kind that is good for making enough shepherd's pie to feed a family of five or six.

Line the bottom of the pan with ladyfingers (Löffelbiskuit or"spoon cookie" if you are German, and let me tell you, the Wikipedia article on names for this delicacy is entertaining)

If they are big thick ladyfingers, slice them in half first.  If they live up to their name, don't.

Spread over the ladyfingers a layer of the jam of your choice.   Often either raspberry or strawberry jam is suggested, but there are folks who use fresh fruit or jello or some mix thereof.  I used about six tablespoons of raspberry jam.

Pour over the mix about 150 ml of sweet sherry.

Repeat!  That is, another layer of ladyfingers, another layer of jam, another slosh of sherry.  Lots of sherry!  Enough to soak them, but not so much that you can hardly see them under the sherry.

Cover the concoction and let it sit there for at least an hour while you're working on the next layer, which is the custard layer.  If you're pressed for time, I supposed you can use some vanilla pudding mix, but the more interesting way is the following:

Put three eggs in a bowl and add three or four little packets of vanilla sugar. (about 25 grams of vanilla sugar) If that's not available, try sugar and McCormick's vanilla extract.  Mix well.  Pour into this 300 ml (half a pint) of milk which you've microwaved to slightly more than lukewarm, but not hot (some British recipes say "blood heat"which sounds a lot gruesomer than the 98.6ºF or 37ºC normal body temperature that it is.)

Strain this mixture (a sieve will do) into a double boiler or any contraption you've rigged that works like one; the mixture should be over simmering water and you should stir constantly "until it coats the back of a spoon," says the recipe I used.   Until it thickens a bit, that is.   When it does, pour the whole yellowy concoction on top of the ladyfinger-sherry-jam mix.   Let it cool and keep the closed container in the fridge for AT LEAST four hours.  When it's cooled its heels for that length of time, be ready with--if you have access to the British isles, that is--300 ml (or one half pint) of "double cream," which is around fortysomething percent fat instead of the usual around thirty percent that you can get in regular old whipping cream.  So here's what I did, having zero access to the British isles as I do:  I poured 200 ml (the amount in about one coffee-mug sized cup) into a bowl, added a little vanilla extract and a dollop of sugar, and beat that until it was frothy.  Then I dumped in that three-fourths of a 500 gram (around 17.6 oz. size) container in and whipped the mix to a creamy consistency.    Spread all that on top of the custard and then you get to decorate!  I washed and pushed gently into the cream mix a box of raspberries; I noticed we had a pot of Moroccan Mint in our kitchen and found a few leaves untouched by aphids which I washed thoroughly and added to the center of the masterpiece.

Yum, Yum.  And this is why I now weigh sixty kilos (I don't even want to know what that is in pounds) instead of the svelte fifty-four that allows me to easily don the lovely knife-pleat Irish tweed walking skirts that I bought back in 1985 . . . .

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