I have a great weakness for custard (crème anglaise) – I suspect about fifty per cent of desserts and cakes could be improved with some custard poured over them. This is, I have realised since moving to the United States, a rather English mentality. While I would smother apple crumble or Eve’s pudding in thick, rich custard, for example, I was surprised that apple pie is usually served alone. Indeed, even just serving apple pie with a scoop of ice cream has earned it a special name (pie à la mode) as if it were its own category of dessert.
If you are going to go with traditional English desserts, Christmas is actually one of the best times for the custard-lover, as Christmas pudding is not complete unless it is floating in a bowl of custard (traditionally brandy custard). However, as it is usually my role to do the desserts for Christmas Day, I could never just do Christmas pudding year after year – my desire to do at least two new desserts every year is too strong. So in recent years, I have solved the custard problem by making trifles – beautiful layered desserts that incorporate wonderfully large quantities of custard, cake soaked in alcohol, and fruit (and often jelly/jello, but I am not a huge jelly person).
This recipe is adapted from one on the Australian Gourmet Traveler website. It serves 16-20 people, and is one of the more delicious and successful desserts I have made.
Cinnamon-spiced sponge cake
200g (7oz) plain (all-purpose) flour
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
300g (10.5 oz) liquid glucose
200g (7oz) salted butter
200ml (1 cup) milk
200g (7oz) brown sugar
Preheat oven to 170°C (340°F). Butter two round medium-sized baking tins, and line with baking paper.
Into a large bowl, sieve the flour, cinnamon and bicarbonate of soda. Put to one side. Chop the butter into small cubes and combine with glucose syrup in a small saucepan. Heat on low and stir until the butter has melted and combined with the syrup. Stir in milk and remove from the heat. Fold the glucose mixture into the flour mixture and put to one side.
With electric beaters, beat together the eggs and brown sugar until pale and fluffy (should take about 4 minutes). Fold into the flour mixture until combined, and divide evenly between the two lined cake tins. Place in the oven and bake for 15 minutes or so until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Set to one side to cool before you remove them from the tins.
1.2 litres (5 cups) full-cream milk
12 egg yolks
200g (7oz) caster sugar (or white sugar)
Put a small saucepan with water on the stove so the water comes to a simmer while you are making the custard. With electric beaters, beat together egg yolks and sugar in a heat-proof bowl until thick and pale. Whisking continuously, slowly beat in the milk. Place the bowl over the saucepan of boiling water and stir constantly until it thickens up enough to coat the back of a spoon: 10-15 minutes (it will still be a bit runny when you are done, but should get thicker later when in the fridge). Take off the heat, allow to cool to room temperature and then store in the fridge until needed.
Assembling the trifle
200g (7oz) walnuts
800g (28oz, roughly two punnets) strawberries
600g (21oz) raspberries
600g (21oz) blueberries
6-7 tablespoons (1/2 cup) Cointreau
Sponge cake (see above)
Custard (see above)
Roughly chop the walnuts, and dry-toast in a large frying pan until they colour slightly and smell toasty. Put the nuts to one side to cool.
Wash the berries, and drain them well. Slice up the strawberries and mix them all together. Put to one side.
Scrape any chocolate off your honeycomb bars and discard (ie eat). Place honeycomb in a stable bowl and bash into little pieces with something heavy, such as the back of a rolling pin. Put the honeycomb pieces to one side.
Make up the trifle in a large glass bowl (so you can see the layers):
First layer – Rip up sponge cake and arrange to form a layer at the bottom of the bowl. Pour over two tablespoons of cointreau.
Second layer – Sprinkle the sponge cake layer with a large handful of toasted walnuts.
Third layer – Spoon custard over the walnuts.
Fourth layer – Arrange berries over the custard.
Repeat until the bowl is full, ending on a berry layer. Sprinkle the top with the crushed honeycomb.
The trifle will still taste great if you keep it in the fridge for a couple of days, though it will not look as pretty as it did when first put together, so it is worth attempting to eat it all the day that it is made. The custard and sponge cakes can be made the day before and kept in the fridge until needed.