#300 Trifle

Trifle (ˈtraɪf(ə)l), n.: A matter of little value or importance; ‘a thing of no moment’ (Johnson); a trivial, paltry, or insignificant affair.
                                                         Oxford English Dictionary


Dr Samuel Johnson: Trifle hater 
(but then he was a grumpy old bastard and did hate everything) 

Trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle         
                                                         Michelangelo

Michelangelo: Trifle appreciator

Is there nothing more English and impressive than a properly made trifle? I don’t think so. Indeed, it is the reason I have saved it for the landmark 300th recipe. Although its original meaning is one of ‘little value or importance‘, the trifles upon the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian banquet table had gained a great opulence becoming a splendid centerpiece lavishly layered up with brandies, sherries, wines, custard, cream, macaroons, cake, syllabub and cream, not to mention the candied fruits and comfits to decorate the top. Mrs Beeton shows off some of them in her Book of Household Management so that other cooks could emulate them in stately homes across England.

A plate from Mrs Beeton’s Book of Houshold Management,
the trifle is on the bottom left

The trifle did start out from humble beginnings and was simply a fruit fool made up of puréed fruit and whipped cream. The earliest mention of the word trifle in the sense of a dessert, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, comes from the book A worlde of wordes, or most copious, and exact dictionarie in Italian and English by John Florio published in 1598. However, as the dessert became a vehicle for shrewd cooks to use up left over biscuits and cakes, it quickly evolved into a more complex dish altogether.

So what makes a trifle? By the mid-eighteenth century, it had pretty much become the layered beast we know of today, though there was no fruit involved. It was made of macaroons soaked in wine followed by a layer of custard atopped by a syllabub and ‘different coloured sweetmeats and small shot comfits…figures and flowers‘, according to Elizabeth Raffauld’s 1769 book, The Experienced English Housekeeper. Trifle purists today insist that this sort of trifle is the classic recipe and if a trifle were to contain fruit and – heaven forbid! – no alcohol then it is simply not a trifle.

By the early nineteenth century, there were many more additions – spiced cake and fruit jams and jellies for instance, often cream was exchanged for syllabub.

Then, in the twentieth century, the trifle had its downfall. Here is what Jane Grigson says about the pud:
A pudding worth eating, not the mean travesty made with yellow, packaged sponge cakes, poor sherry and powdered custards.’

That is her entire introduction to the recipe! I have to say I used to love (and still do love) my Mum’s trifle; a layer of tinned fruit, Swiss roll and jelly, with powdered custard and then whipped cream. I remember once trying a ‘proper’, i.e. sherry, trifle and it was simply disgusting. I hoped that the trifle in here would both look and taste impressive, but all I could think of was that vile sherry trifle and the stomach-churningly rich Whim-Wham I made a couple of years back for the blog.

So, with a certain amount of trepidation, I started to construct this pudding worth eating. Hopefully everyone who was coming round to my apartment would also think it worth eating too…

The first thing you need to do before you even consider making your trifle is to get hold of a nice bowl or dish to hold it in. I went for a classic stemmed glass trifle dish, nice and big and only $15. Bargain.
Now for the trifle itself: Start off by placing eight or so large macaroons in the base of your bowl. Break up some to fill in any gaps that may be there. By macaroons, I don’t mean coconut, but the old fashioned almond, or French, macaroons. These are quite tricky to get hold of and you won’t find them in a supermarket or even most bakeries. The best thing to do is phone around some French bakeries, or do as I did and keep it real by actually make your own. I took elements from an eighteenth century recipe by Elizabeth Raffauld and a contemporary one by Martha Stewart (see it here). Next, pour ¼ of a pint of a good dessert wine over them; Griggers suggests Frontignan, Malaga or Madeira wine. I went with Frontignan – not tricky to get hold hold of, but does more often go under the pseudonym of Muscat wine. Along with the wine, add two tablespoons of brandy.

Next make the custard by boiling a pint of single cream in a saucepan (any Americans out there, use coffee cream or half and half). Whilst you wait for it come to a boil, whisk together two large eggs, two large egg yolks and tablespoon of plain flour in a bowl. When the cream comes to a boil, tip it over the eggs whisking vigorously as you go, then pour it back into your saucepan and stir over a low heat for a few minutes until it becomes nice and thick. Add sugar to taste – I went with around three tablespoons in the end. Remember to make it slightly sweeter than you prefer as cold food will not taste quite as sweet as hot. Pour the custard over the soaked macaroons and allow to cool. In fact it is best to leave it over night.

Don’t be thinking that there is time for idling though, for there is a syllabub to conjure up! The syllabub recipe has already appeared in the blog before so I won’t go through it here. Check out the recipe here and use the same wines as before to make it. Note that the syllabub requires an overnight steep as part of its prep.

When the custard has firmed up, spread a good layer of raspberry jam over it and then spoon over the Everlasting Syllabub. Lastly, decorate with ratafia biscuits and some sweetmeats such as candied peel and comfits. Jane says to avoid tacky things like angelica and glace cherries, but I went with those nice cherries in syrup that are stones but have their stalks intact.

Leave the trifle somewhere cool for a while – a larder or pantry is better than a fridge, but in Houston, the refrigerator is the only option!

Groan!

#300 Trifle. Three hundred recipes also means I am two-thirds of the way through English Food and what a recipe to choose! It took a good amount of time to make, but it was so, so worth it. The sweet wines blended perfectly with the light, fresh creams and custards in such a wonderful way, and the almond biscuits on the top and bottom layers gave it a nutty, scented quality and the sweet raspberry jam lent a subtle fruitiness. There was no hint of alcoholic acridity like I expected. In fact I had two helpings and then when everyone had left, I polished the rest off! Excellent, excellent, excellent. And worth eating! 10/10.

Don’t I look pleased with myself!?

#264 A Coronation Doucet

He was as ful of love and paramour
As is the hyve ful of hony sweete:
Wel was the wenche with hym myghte meete.
                             The Cook’s Tale, The Canterbury Tales
There are recipes in English Food that get me very excited indeed and this is one of the most exciting. This doucet – which means something sweet – is a custard tart that was served up at Henry IV’s coronation, alongside fritters, and candied quince (which I made quite a while ago, see here). Also on the banquet table were ‘curlews and partridges and quails and rabbits and small birds of many kinds’. Posh folk around this time would put pretty much anything into a sweet tart. It didn’t matter as long as there was sugar in it so they could show off how rich they were. A particular favorite was fish. Vile.
The Coronation of Henry IV
A custard tart may seem rather a plain dish, but remember this was October 1399 and this tart was laced with saffron and honey which were very prized ingredients. Indeed, it may have been sweetened with sugar too – which then would have cost a small fortune.
Henry IV spent most of his reign trying to prevent various plots against his own life – this was because the previous ruler, Richard II (some guy called Shakespeare wrote a play about him) went on a crusade and while he was away Henry began a military campaign to take Richard’s land and effectively earned the right to the crown. Richard wasn’t best pleased when he got back, but before he got the chance, he was thrown in the tower and starved to death. No curlews or partridges for old Dicky-boy. Henry IV also legalized the burning of heretics.  Read more on the lovely Henry here.
Canterbury Tales Woodcut, 1484
Not all was bad though. It was during this time that modern English was born. It was quite a strange thing – prior to these years all the texts were written in Latin and then, seemingly out of nowhere, English appeared all fully-formed. One of the key texts that shows this off is ‘The Canterbury Tales’ by Geoffrey Chaucer, who was present at the coronation. Also, Henry’s address was the first to be given in English. So this really was a key part of English history. This is why cooking food from this book can be so exciting – a chance to have a real glimpse into history. You can read books, go look at paintings, or walk around a magnificent cathedral, but EATING something that people once ate has some other connection; a personal connection that can only be achieved with food.
Anyways, I have wittered on enough. Time for the recipe…
Blind bake some shortcrust pastry in a 9 inch tart tin – about 20 minutes at 180°C (350°F) should do it. Cover with baking parchment. Use baking beans to keep the pastry supported otherwise it will collapse and be a disaster. Remove the beans and paper for a final five minutes so that it can crisp up a little (at this point I lost track of time and slightly overdid mine, oopsey. Whilst it is baking, make the filling: In a saucepan bring 12 ounces of double cream and 3 ounces of Channel Island milk alongside a decent pinch of saffron and a tablespoon of either honey or sugar to a boil. It’s important to note that the creams are measured by weight, not fluid ounces. Whilst they are coming to a boil, beat together 2 eggs and 2 egg yolks in a bowl. When the creams boil, pour them over the eggs whisking as you go. Add more sugar/honey if you want – I added about three tablespoons of honey in all. Pour through a sieve into the blind-baked pastry case and bake at 180°C (350°F) until set – around 15-20 minutes.

The slightly over-done Coronation Doucet

#264 A Coronation Doucet. O! I loved cooking this. And I loved eating it too. It wasn’t even that nice; but the experience was so exciting. The custard was not very sweet, unlike what we are used to these days, but then in ye olden times there were no proper courses so sweet and savoury were not kept separate like nowadays. The saffron came across quite strongly too. I think if the sugar or honey was piled in, it wouldn’t have seemed out of place. This was the third recipe I did from the book for Thanksgiving, so I am not sure how my American chums found it (hopefully I will find out in the comments…). Scores? Hmmm, well probably a 4/10 for actual flavour, 10/10 for geeky excitement


#221 Cherry Tarts

At the end of the summer, I bought a whole crate of cherries for just a few pounds toward the end of the season. Dutifully I stoned them all and froze them and then promptly forgot I ever had them. That was until I looked in the freezer and discovered them again, and since I am trying to use up everything in there, I thought I would make good use of them as a dessert.

Cherry season is pretty much a non-event in Britain these days, unless you live in cherry country – Kent. Almost all the cherries sold in markets and supermarkets are imported and finding home-grown cherries is nigh-on impossible. I certainly could find any here in Manchester.

Cherries have been enjoyed since the times of Ancient Greece, where they were considered only really worth eating raw, where they served as diuretic. In fact there is a detox diet that requires the poor dieter to put away a kilo of cherries a day; I like cherries, but not that much. Cherries did not become popular during – and therefore were only cultivated from – the Middle Ages. It was then that the cherry harvest became a part of European festival and a symbol of all that is good in summertime. Luckily in the day of the domestic deep freeze, we can save our cherries and enjoy them whenever we like, though they best eaten or cooked fresh really.

Anyways, that’s enough schpiel! Try these dainty little cherry tarts – they are essentially mini-clafoutis with a pastry base.

Start by making some sweet shortcrust pastry by rubbing three ounces of flour into five ounces of plain flour and two tablespoons of icing sugar. Bring the dough together with a large egg yolk and a tablespoon of lemon juice. If it is still a little dry, then add some cold water or milk. Allow to rest for at least 30 minutes in the fridge. Meanwhile, stone around a pound and a half cherries. Roll out the pastry thinly – as sweet pastry is very soft, it is worth rolling it out on some cling film of greaseproof paper – cut out 18 circles to line some small tart tins. Place a closely-packed layer of cherries in each little tart and then make the sweetened custard filling: whisk together a quarter of a pint of double cream, two eggs and three ounces of caster sugar. Pour a scant tablespoon of each of the cherry tarts and then bake for 15-20 minutes at 230⁰C until the custard browns and is set. Eat hot or warm.

#221 Cherry Tarts. A good and simple dessert to make, though the frozen cherries were perhaps not as good as fresh ones. Maybe the best to use would be morellos. Mine were a little insipid. That said you can’t go far wrong with the sweet pastry and custard elements to this pud. I’m sure you could use any fruit. I bet some lightly-stewed rhubarb pieces would be delicious. 5.5/10, though with good cherries, it would have been at least an 8/10, I reckon.

#139 Bakewell Pudding

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve got quite a lot on at the minute – the main ball-ache being that I’ve been in work almost everyday over the last few weeks including weekends. Therefore, on Saturday after a big lab sesh, I really felt the need to do some baking, so for pudding on Saturday evening I plumped for the Bakewell Pudding. Don’t be getting this confused with a Bakewell tart – they are similar, but with important differences: Bakewell tarts have a pastry base, a thin layer of cherry jam, frangipane, and then a covering of icing with a cherry on top. A Bakewell pudding, pastry, raspberry jam, then a layer of egg custard mixed with ground almonds (in fact, in days of yore, there would have been no almonds at all, so the emphasis is definitely on the egg custard). These may not seem like important differences, and they are not, but just pointing them out for any pernickety people out there who like their factoids.

Anyways, have a go at this pudding – serve it warm or cold. Griggers doesn’t mention cream when serving it or anything like that, but I can’t imagine it would do any harm!

Start by making a sweet shortcrust pastry – I made mine from 6 ounces of plain flour, 2 ounces of icing sugar, 4 ounces of butter and a little milk. Griggers says to line an 8 inch tart tin with the pastry, but I found that there was mixture left over, so make it in a 9 inch tin if you have one – alternatively make additional mini ones as I did! Once lined, spread over a thin layer of raspberry jam – not too much, a good dessert spoonful will do it.

Now make the main filling: gently melt 4 ounces of unsalted butter in a pan and leave to cool. Then beat or whisk together 4 eggs with 4 ounces of caster sugar until creamy and frothed up (use an electric whisk/beater, unless you like doing it by hand). Slowly pour in the butter and mix gently before folding in 4 ounces of ground almonds with a metal spoon. Pour the mixture into the case and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the filling has set, at 200-220⁰C.


#139 Bakewell Pudding – 7/10. A real homely comforting pudding/tart, very sweet and moist. It reminded me of the cakes my mum used to make when I was little – I think hers was coconut rather than almonds, but the effect is pretty much the same. Really nice with a cup of tea or a glass of milk.

#112 Queen of Puddings

I had people coming over for a nice Thai meal and initially thought I’d make some light fresh Thai-style dessert to go with it. Then I though, ‘Bugger that’ and went for the stodge option. I’d heard of Queen of Puddings and seen folk on telly making it, but had never eaten it before. Obviously something called Queen of Puddings must be a delicious taste sensation, mustn’t it? For those that don’t know, QoP is a dessert made of a sweet lemony custard base thickened with breadcrumbs and egg yolks, a layer of jelly, and then topped with meringue. According to Wikipedia, it goes back to the Seventeenth Century.

Begin by making the custard base:

Place 5 ounces of fresh brown or white breadcrumbs in a bowl and stir through a tablespoon of vanilla sugar and the grated zest of one large lemon. In a pan heat a pint of milk and 2 ounces of butter until almost boiling. Pour it over the breadcrumbs, stir it, and leave to stand for 10 minutes and beat in 4 large egg yolks (reserve the whites for the meringue). Grease a shallow dish with a 2 ½-ish pint capacity with butter and pour in the custard mixture. Bake at 180ºC for up to 30 minutes, though it could be much less; dependent upon the dimensions of your dish. Take out the dish when the custard is still slightly wobbly.

Warm up 2 tablespoons of fruit jelly: raspberry, blackcurrant or bramble and spread it evenly over the custard. You could use jam here too, but sieve out any seedy bits. Whisk the egg whites until stiff and then slowly fold in 4 ounces of caster sugar. Spread the meringue over the top and sprinkle a teaspoon or two of sugar over the top. Return to the oven until browned. Serve warm with cream or custard if you like (I served it au naturale).


#112 Queen of Puddings – 6/10. A nice desert; I think I had thirds by the end of the night – was a little tipsy by the end (sorry about the quality of the pic!). It was the crispy meringue that definitely saved it from being blow average. Though good, slightly disappointed that it wasn’t some kind of phenomenal pud.

#90 Sussex Pond Pudding

The Sussex Pond Pudding. It is widely considered the best of the suet steamed puddings (or the best pudding full-stop). So good in fact, that Grigson doesn’t bother putting any other ones it; where’s Spotted Dick and jam roly-poly, please lady?? (To go off subject for a second; I’ve noticed a few glaring omissions from English Food, and am compiling a list, but it includes fish and chips, fish pie, scouse, spam fritters and stargazey pie amongst others, plus I can’t find a recipe for custard! I intend to fill in these gaps with the blog, and an unofficial Third Edition will then exist…). Anyway, Sussex Pond Pudding is essentially a suet crust filled with a whole lemon plus butter and sugar. When you turn it out, it bursts open and a moat of lemony sauce surrounds it. It’s very easy to make unless you’re Heston Blumenthal – it’s very unhealthy too, of course, but we don’t eat these everyday. I agree with Heston though – these sorts of puddings are going out of fashion in Britain, and it’s a shame. They’re easy to do and only require time to steam, so a check every 45 minutes to see if the steamer’s not boiled dry is all the work you need to do. The recipe serves 4 to 6 – it’s very rich. Serve with custard – real or packet, it don’t matter! I’ll give you the recipe I used for a proper Crème Anglaise at some point…


Start off by liberally buttering a 2 ½ pint pudding basin. Then make the suet pastry (the easiest pastry to make): Mix together 8 ounces of self-raising flour with four of chopped, fresh suet (you can, of course use the packet kind – even the vegetarian suet if you like, but fresh definitely give the best flavour, and it’s a lot cheaper!). Using a knife mix in enough half-and-half water/milk mixture to make a soft, but not tacky dough (about half a pint-ish). Roll this out into a large circle and cut-out a quarter. Pick up the dough and line the basin with it and press down the edges so that there will be no leakage. Next, cut up around three ounces of unsalted butter and place it in the bottom of the basin and pour over the same of sugar. Then, spear a large, unwaxed lemon several times with a skewer – this is very important, there will be no lemon sauce otherwise! Place the lemon on top of the butter and sugar and using equal amounts of more butter and sugar fill in any gaps around the lemon. With the remaining pastry roll out a circle and make a lid, again pressing down the edges to make a seal – use water as a glue. Steam for 3 to 4 hours. Turn it out and make sure everyone gets a bit of lemon – it should be soft enough to eat.

#90 Sussex Pond Pudding – 9.5/10. Absolutely divine! The centre turns into a sort of lemon curd, and the suet pastry goes beautifully crisp, golden and crunchy. Butters and I did chicken out of eating the lemon skin, but the lemon centre was a lovely sour-sweet mush. Is it the best suet pudding? Possibly. We should all try and make an effort and bring this sort of food back – it’s cheap, easy and gorgeous (you are what you eat, after all!). It’s proper Sunday lunch fair, but goes well with the Thai food I made for Butters and me due to the lemoniness.

#89 Steamed Ginger Pudding

My new ‘mate’ Butters came round on Saturday, so an evening of scoffing food, watching crap telly and playing computer games, amongst other activities was planned. Totally un-in-keeping with this project, I decided to do a Thai meal, so earlier in the day, I went into Manchester’s China Town with my chum Stuart for supplies. As you may, or may not, know I’m an old hand at Thai, Indian and most other popular Asian cookery and the point of this blog was to teach myself English cookery, but Stuart can’t cook for toffee and since Thai food is probably the place to start – as long as you can chop and read, you can cook Thai – the trip was really to help him get going, but also Butters (same nickname as me! What’s THAT about?) likes East Asian food, so I thought I’d cook some too. I made a fragrant tofu and tomato soup for starters and then a red curry. For pudding, however, I thought I’d do a Grigson but try to pick a dessert that fit the meal, so I went for a steamed ginger pudding. It contains that spicy-sweet stem ginger, that you get in jars. Brilliant. I love steam puddings, they’re da shit…

Start off by buttering a one pint pudding bowl. Then, cream together 3 ounces of butter with two of sugar, beat in a large egg, 4 ounces of self-raising flour, 4 ounces of chopped stem ginger, along with a tablespoon of ginger syrup from the jar and ¼ teaspoon of ground ginger. The dough should be quite soft, so if not add a little milk to loosen it up slightly. Put in the pudding basin and cover well (if you don’t have a plastic one with lid, use a sheet of foil with a pleat in it, secured with an elastic band). Steam this for two hours. I put it on just before I started making the main.


Turn the pudding out onto a plate if you like – always impressive. Serve with custard, cream, or with this sherry sauce given by Griggers (leave out the sherry and you get a thin, frothy custard sauce):

Whisk together two large egg yolks, half a tablespoon of sugar and ¼ pint of sherry in a bowl or basin. Place the basin over a pan of just-simmering water and whisk until the sauce thickens and becomes frothy, adding the cream slowly as you go. Unlike custard, this can’t be made in advance so make sure your guests don’t mind you disappearing for 10 minutes between courses.

#89 Steamed Ginger Pudding – 7/10. I fooking LOVE puddings. Plus a ginger pudding really is an English classic, and now that it’s autumn, there shall be many more. Really they all score at least 9 for me, but I reckon there are better ones to come, such as – in many people’s opinion – the ultimate: Sussex Pond Pudding. I may do that one next. The sherry sauce was odd though, the strong sherry flavour didn’t drown out the ginger flavour of the pudding, but I think I would’ve preferred good old custard, so I give that a 5/10 – nice, but won’t make it again…

But, all-in-all the evening was a total success, and Butters and I had an ace evening. I am planning the next one already…