They were magical things those trifles of my youth, larger than the average preppie’s head and in a glass bowl that displayed all the different layers like that clear plastic fronted ant farm in 2C’s classroom.
Growing up, trifles were as sure a sign of celebration as the fridge being magically full of cold beer and wine, and my old man ironing a shirt. Just as sure as the ritual of stirring the Christmas pudding, were the rigid steps that took us to being confronted by that Everest of cream, custard, jelly and sponge.
Making a trifle was a labour of love back then; it still is. It was a task that could be spread out over three days and started with clearing the fridge for the large, high, glass bowl. Then the jelly; that always took too long to set. Next soaking the sponge in cheap sherry, which always felt as if it was solely done so the old man could make inappropriate jokes about tipsy maiden aunts; gags that were as old, frayed and (too often) recycled as the cracked baubles and mangy tinsel on the scrawny Christmas tree.
It was the upper layers of the trifle however that provided the most interest. Mainly in terms of the bowls to be licked clean by us small children, always circling the kitchen in search of scraps. But also, those pillowy white waves on top of the trifle were a creamy summer surf crying out to be dived into; dived down through, and deeper, down into rich custard, soggy sponge and the fruity spring of that jelly below.
Here was the was perfect marriage of soft creaminess and vivacious bounce, of tart fruity freshness and sweet dairy richness. All wrapped up with that lowbrow end-of-the-pier comedy of that sucky belch as a large metal spoon prised the first spoon of jelly out from the depths. There’s something very musical hall about a trifle, which is perhaps surprising given its posh and ancient roots.
The first recorded trifle appeared at the 1554 nuptial feast that launched the rather unhappy and imperfect diplomatic marriage between England’s “bloody” Queen Mary and Philip of Spain. It was based on a Spanish dish of “drunken cake” presented by the young king emperor’s cooks. For this recipe however I’ve married the trifle with a famous dessert from a far more romantic meal.
When Dame Nellie Melba’s lover Prince Philippe, Duke of Orléans threw a grand dinner at The Savoy in London to celebrate her triumphant new season at the Royal Opera House, chef Auguste Escoffier created the peach Melba dessert in her honour. Raspberry and peaches play beautifully here, too, with vanilla custard, a billowy white chocolate cream and a little peach schnapps on the sponge!
A Trifle Peach Melba
- 600ml thickened cream
- 180g white chocolate, finely chopped
- 2 × 85g packets raspberry jelly crystals
- 2½ cups (625ml) boiling water
- 375g raspberries
- 460g bought round double unfilled vanilla
- sponge cake
- ¼ cup (60ml) peach schnapps
- 700g can (or tub) peaches in syrup, drained
- 2 fresh peaches, cut into thick wedges
- 1½ cups (375ml) milk
- 1 vanilla bean, split lengthways, seeds scraped
- 3 egg yolks
- ½ cup (110g) caster sugar
- ¼ cup (35g) plain flour
Sugared flaked almonds
- ½ cup (40g) flaked almonds
- 2 tablespoons caster sugar
Start by making a white chocolate cream. Place the cream and chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high, stirring every minute, for 2-4 minutes or until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth. Set aside for 1 hour to cool slightly, then cover and place in the fridge for 6 hours or overnight to thicken and chill.
Place the jelly crystals in a heatproof bowl. Add the boiling water and stir until the crystals dissolve. Set aside for 1 hour to cool. Pour into a 23cm (3.75 litre) straight-sided trifle bowl. Add 250g of the raspberries. Place in the fridge for 4 hours to set.
To make the custard, combine the milk, vanilla bean and seeds in a saucepan. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes over medium heat or until mixture almost comes to a simmer. Remove from the heat, cover and set aside for 5 minutes to infuse. Discard the vanilla bean.
Whisk the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl until pale and creamy, then whisk in the flour until well combined. Gradually whisk in the milk mixture. Place the mixture in a clean saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring, for 4-5 minutes or until the mixture boils and thickens. Pour into a heatproof bowl, cover the surface with plastic wrap and place into the fridge for 2 hours to cool completely.
While the custard cools, make the sugared almonds. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Place the almonds in a frying pan. Cook over a medium heat for 2-3 minutes or until they start to toast. Sprinkle the almonds with the sugar and cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes or until the sugar dissolves and coats the almonds. Transfer to the lined tray and sprinkle with salt. Set aside to cool and harden.
Trim the top and bottom off the sponges to remove the brown crust. Cut one sponge in half to make two semicircles. Place on top of the jelly and pull apart to fit snugly against the walls of the bowl. Cut a wedge from the remaining sponge to neatly fit into the gap left over so you have an even layer. Drizzle the sponge with the peach schnapps and top with the canned peaches. Drizzle with the cooled custard.
Use electric beaters to beat the chilled white chocolate cream until firm peaks form.
Spoon on top of the trifle. Top with the fresh peaches and remaining raspberries.
Sprinkle with the sugared almonds.
Matt Preston’s New Cookbook World of Flavour is out now.