Of course, she would also have also included in the definition a splash or five of sweet dessert wine. In our family, that equals sherry. Cream sherry. It’s cheap. It’s sweet. It’s boozy. It reminds me of childhood Christmases.
Not that our Christmases were Boozy Bacchanalias where red nosed Friends of the Family forced Christmas cheer down the gullets of toddlers. That sounds like a deleted scene from A Christmas Carol, actually. One that Ebenezer was forced to witness by the commanding bony finger of the scariest spirit of all: The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. And that has absolutely no place in our tale, so let’s just move along.
I have eaten other people’s trifles. I’ve read a bunch of different ingredient lists calling for everything from cubed brownies to mandarin orange slices to kiwi to strawberries to Jell-o all bound by boxed pudding. But this trifle, Auntie Ev’s trifle, is really the only trifle you need get to know. I’m serious. The ingredients are simple and few, but the dessert itself is one of my favorite non-chocolate combinations ever.
While lots of trifles are Constructed of many repeating layers in tall, straight-sided, footed trifle bowls and are served by scooping out a portion and serving it in a bowl, Auntie Ev’s trifle is traditionally constructed in a rather unassuming 9″x13″ Pyrex baking dish. There is no layer-jumbling scooping that occurs. Nope. Auntie Ev’s trifle is slice-able and gets served in perfectly square pieces with a maraschino cherry plopped right on top of the whipped cream. I have no idea whether this was Auntie Ev’s refinement or if that’s the way her mom made it before her, but it does look lovely on a plate, much more so than a big old scoop of multilayer-ed trifle that gets dumped in a bowl.
Auntie Ev used to make her lemon pound cake for trifle, but the cake you choose to use is up to you. Make your favorite or try a simple version of Van Halen pound cake. A frozen pound cake will even do. The sherry saves it. Let’s make some trifle, shall we?
- 4 cups whole milk
- 4 Tablespoons corn starch (or similar)
- 4 egg yolks
- 1 cup of sugar (you may need a little more–I just do it to taste)
- ½ teaspoon salt (again, to taste. You might want a bit more or less, just please don’t leave it out)
- 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
- your choice of pound cake
- cream sherry
- raspberry jam (homemade or store-bought. Do get a good quality jam)
- about ¾-1 cup heavy cream, whipped to medium-stiff peaks with a pinch of salt, a splash of vanilla and a couple of tablespoons of sugar
- I would hold off making the custard until you have the rest of the layers constructed.
- Place the vanilla in a large bowl. Set a fine mesh strainer over the top and set aside.
- In a large sauce pan, combine the milk, corn starch, yolks, sugar and salt.
- Over medium to medium-high heat, bring this to a boil, whisking constantly.
- Before it gets too hot, give it a taste and see if you need to add a bit more sugar and/or salt for your taste.
- Once the custard comes to a boil, turn the heat down to medium-low and cook another 30-45 seconds. Continue to whisk madly.
- Remove the pan from the heat and strain the custard into the bowl with the vanilla. You may need to use your spatula to force it all through.
- Stir the custard and vanilla together thoroughly.
- Cut rectangles of pound cake about ½” thick and fit them in the bottom of a 9″x13″ glass baking dish. It’s okay to leave a little space between the slices at the edges of the pan, but the rest of the slices should pretty much be touching.
- Even drizzle as much or as little sherry over the layers as you like. This is entirely dependent on who you’re feeding, so use your good judgement. I usually use about ¼-1/3 cup per layer. I don’t measure either. I just stick my thumb over the mouth of the bottle and shake on as much as seems Prudent.
- Evenly spread on a layer of raspberry jam about ⅛”-3/16″ thick.
- Add another layer of pound cake.
- Sprinkle with more sherry.
- Spread on another layer of jam.
- Pour the custard evenly over the top of the trifle, making sure that it runs down into any gaps between the cake and the sides of the pan. I usually stick a knife in in a few places to allow the custard to spread. You want about a ½” layer of custard, so if you seem to have a bit extra, save it for yourself and don’t tell anyone.
- You should still have about ½” of space between the top of the custard and the top of the pan. This is where you’ll spread your whipped cream.
- Cover the trifle with plastic wrap (don’t worry about pressing it to the surface of the custard) and chill thoroughly.
- Once chilled, spread the whipped cream evenly over the top of the trifle.
- Serve in whatever size slices you’d like, and place a completely optional maraschino cherry in the very center of each slice before serving.
I even served a version of this trifle at the restaurant. For that, we used lemon sponge cake, a sherry soaking syrup, house-made raspberry jam, vanilla pastry cream and whipped creme fraiche. I served it with a lemon sabayon and a raspberry coulis. It was rather a hit. But even all gussied up, at its heart, it was always Auntie Ev’s trifle.
Thank you so much for reading, and if I don’t see you again before Thanksgiving, I wish you the very best and tons for which to be thankful.
Have a lovely day.