Monday, 28 December 2009

Christmas Trifle

Admittedly, the only thing truly Christmassy about this trifle is that I only make it at Christmas time, but that still makes it a Christmas trifle in my book. Our Christmas trifle was clearly meant to be, as the Matt Preston Christmas menu planned Matt's Mum's Chocolate Chestnut Cake for dessert and we had bought all the ingredients including a $10 jar of chestnut puree, but ended up with trifle all the same. I still have to make the Chocolate Chestnut Cake though, it sounds pretty good.

It was my mother's fault that we ended up with trifle for dessert, because she was watching Delia Smith's Christmas special and mentioned that she made a lovely custard using double cream and vanilla pods. Mum specifically said that when she saw it, she knew I would love it probably because she knows how much of a cream person I am. That being said, I still am not much of a custard person, unless it comes to trifle. Or when it's going to be turned into ice cream.

Still, I added the recipe to my pile of things to cook over the Christmas holidays. I still hadn't made a definite decision on trifle yet, but I was mulling over what I would do with a batch of custard. Somewhere my subconscious must have decided on trifle as I started looking at pound cake recipes.

The logic was that if I wanted trifle I needed cake. We had jelly, I had the plans for the custard, we had cream (I cleaned out the fridge on Boxing Day and found 4 500ml tubs of double cream. I have no idea how I ended up with that many tubs of cream!) but no cake. I've never made a pound cake before because I love the plain buttery cakes that you buy from the bakery or if you're desperate, the supermarket and they are perfect for things like trifles. Of course, this was on Christmas Day when there were no bakeries or supermarkets open, so I had to make my own.

There are many variations of pound cake recipes, but they only tend to differ with their weights and measurements. I ended up going with this recipe from as it had a series of handy tips at the end that I found really useful. All the recipes agree that you must beat your butter very very well in order to keep the cake from being too dense and heavy. I put my butter on top of the preheating oven to soften and then forgot about it, so when I finally went to bake I had butter that was on the verge of melting. I think that worked for the cake though as I was able to whip it up really well. My stupid oven took 1hr 15m at 190 degrees C to cook the cake through, but start checking at 45-50 mins.

This is a gorgeous cake. Lovely and buttery and full of flavour. The recipe suggests toasting slices of stale cake and then drizzling them with maple syrup and I can't wait to try that when my cake goes stale, but the challenge is making it last that long!

Basic Pound Cake
from Australian Good Taste Magazine as posted on

250g unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature (see note)
220g (1 cup) caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
4 large (59g each) eggs, at room temperature (see note)
250g (1 2/3 cups) plain flour
3 tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 170°C. Measure all your ingredients.

Beat butter in a medium bowl with an electric mixer until smooth. Add caster sugar and vanilla essence and beat until very pale (almost white) and creamy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally to make sure the ingredients are evenly combined (see note).

Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, and scraping down the sides of the bowl frequently. If the mixture starts to curdle, stand the bowl in a sink of warm water, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon so the butter doesn't melt, for 15-30 seconds, then continue beating.

Sift together the flour and baking powder. Gently fold the flour mixture into the butter mixture with a spatula or large metal spoon until combined. Be careful not to over-mix or the cake will develop a tough texture.

Spoon the cake mixture into the loaf pan and smooth the surface with the back of a spoon. Smoothing the surface will help the cake rise more evenly.

Bake in preheated oven for 50-55 minutes or until cooked through. When ready, the cake will start pulling away from the sides of the pan and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake will come out clean. Stand the cake in the pan for 5 minutes before turning onto a wire rack. Turn the cake the right way up and cool to room temperature. Cut into slices to serve. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 days.

Notes & tips

It is important to have both the butter and eggs at room temperature before you begin making the cake. The room temperature butter will transform to a light, creamy texture more readily when beaten with the sugar, and the eggs will incorporate more air and give a lighter texture. If these ingredients are chilled, the mixture will curdle when the eggs are added and can give the cake a heavy, coarse and uneven texture.

The final texture of the cake will be affected by the type of beater/s you use. It is best to use a regular beater/s as opposed to a whisk attachment. The idea of beating the butter and sugar is not only to combine the two but also to incorporate air. A whisk attachment can be used but you will find that it won't beat the butter as vigorously and the resulting texture of the cake will be more coarse and less even. Beating butter and sugar until almost white in colour also softens the butter enough to incorporate the eggs without the mixture curdling.

If the eggs are added too quickly or, as mentioned in step 1, if they are too cold, the mixture will curdle and in turn will affect the texture of the cake. Make sure you beat the mixture very well after each egg is added.

Now I had the cake, on to the custard.

I haven't made custard very often before, in fact I think I've only made custard to be custard once before in my blogging history. I've made custard as an ice cream base a few more times, though. Most of the custard recipes I have tried have been a combination of cream and milk, but this recipe was pure cream. It also was incredibly quick to make. Would that be because the cream base was thicker to start with than a milk and cream base? It was cooked and ready in less than 5 minutes.

Not only was the custard incredibly easy to make it was also very tasty too. I used vanilla bean paste in place of vanilla beans but I did not find any loss of flavour. My stove decided that it wanted to be super-hot when I heated the custard and it came to near boiling point incredibly quickly. I hadn't even had a chance to whisk my egg yolks. I took it off the heat while I whisked together the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour and then mixed the slightly cooled cream into the eggs before putting it back on the heat. It took no more than two minutes of stirring to coat the back of a spoon.

I love the heavy vanilla flavour of this custard. It was deliciously creamy. I don't think I would eat it by itself, but it was a perfect addition to our trifle.

Traditional English Custard
from Delia Smith's How to Cook Book One as posted on her website

Note: Delia recommends using golden caster sugar, however I substituted regular caster sugar and had no problems.

1 tsp vanilla bean paste
275 ml double cream
3 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon cornflour
25 g caster sugar

Place the cream and vanilla bean paste in a small saucepan. Now place the pan over a gentle heat and heat it to just below simmering point.

While the cream is heating, whisk the egg yolks, cornflour and sugar together in a medium bowl using a balloon whisk. Then, whisking the egg mixture all the time with one hand, gradually pour the hot cream into the bowl.

When it's all in, immediately return the whole lot back to the saucepan using a rubber spatula. Now back it goes on to the same gentle heat as you continue whisking until the custard is thick and smooth, which will happen as soon as it reaches simmering point. If you do overheat it and it looks grainy, don't worry, just transfer it to a jug or bowl and continue to whisk until it becomes smooth again.

Pour the custard into a jug or bowl, cover the surface with clingfilm and leave to cool. To serve it warm later, remove the clingfilm and sit the bowl over a pan of barely simmering water.

So we had our cake and our custard. While I was making the cake, D made some jelly. He had never made it before and was excited it was so easy. He loves jelly and says he is now going to make it all the time.

Since our trifle is very boring compared to the alcohol soaked, fruit filled trifles that are out there I told D that I would add some Baileys with Coffee to our whipped cream to give a little nod to the more boozy trifles. I added a tablespoon of Baileys to about 250ml cream and whipped it up, but we couldn't taste it. Oh well, it wasn't meant to be!

Trifle Checklist

Cake - check
Custard - check
Jelly - check
Cream - check

Since our cake hasn't been soaked and I want to save some for toasting later, our trifle was left deconstructed and we assembled it individually in bowls. It was fantastically decadent and we ended up eating it for Boxing Day dinner since we were still full from lunch and hadn't been able to fit dessert in earlier. D firmly believes the cake makes the trifle, but I think it's the mix of all the textures and flavours that makes it so delicious.

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