A Spring Trifle

If, like me, you have not before made a trifle, you may think it must be a breeze. And in fact, if you already have the cake, the pastry cream, the sliced up fruit and fruit puree and the whipped cream, it is. If you have to make all of that from scratch, you may find yourself, like me, doing about 3 full loads of dishes and deciding to bring in dinner from the Indian place right up the hill. Now, of course, you can make all of this much easier on yourself by using store bought cake or not painstakingly crystalizing the flower garnish, but where’s the fun in that?

My inspiration for this in between season dessert comes from a somewhat unlikely place. My neighbor’s lilac bush and a recent trip to Sooke Harbor on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. On the trip, we stayed at Sooke Harbor House, an inn and restaurant renowned for it’s seasonal cuisine. Dishes are flavored with ingredients grown on their 2 acres of organic gardens, and herbs and edible flowers are an important part of every bite. When we returned from the trip, my neighbor was in the process of trimming back their lilac bush. There was lilac by the wheelbarrow, and the bush didn’t even look like it had been touched. Each neighbor got a bouquet that was about 3 feet tall by 4 feet wide. With so much lilac (that wilts so quickly) and my imagination freshly sparked by Sooke, I started picturing some sort of fresh fruit and lilac cake, with little lilac blossoms covered in crystalized sugar. A quick flip through Prueitt and Robertson’s Tartine, and I had my dessert in sites… a take on the Trifle of Summer Fruits.

For the cake, I chose the Orange Chiffon recipe in the same book, which yielded a beautiful crumb texture, light and moist and not too orangy. The pastry cream was where I really had fun. Instead of using a standard vanilla infused cream, I infused the cream with the lilac blossoms and some orange flower water, to create a brilliant floral note to the sweet custardy flavor. For the fruit puree, I used rhubarb and strawberry, cooked down in orange juice, to tie the red fruits back to the orange. Loads of sliced strawberries tucked in between the cake and the creams, and a garnish of lilac topped it off. Yum.

The best part of this dessert is that the assembly is truly a trifle, and the big jobs can easily be done earlier. Make the crystalized flowers, the cake, the fruit puree and the pastry cream the day before. The day of, all you have to do is slice up your fruit, whip the cream, and stack it all together. Do this before you make any of the rest of the meal, and place it covered in the fridge so that the flavors have plenty of time to meld.

A Spring Trifle
Adpated from Tartine, A Trifle of Summer Fruits
Serves 8 to 10

fruit puree
1/2 cup fresh strawberries, sliced in half
6 stalks fresh rhubarb
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup sugar

whipped cream

1 2/3 heavy cream
3 T sugar

1 10-inch orange chiffon cake
3 cups fresh strawberries
2 1/2 cups infused pastry cream*
Candied flowers for garnish

To make the fruit puree, cut the rhubarb stalks into 1 inch slices and place in a heavy bottomed pot with the 1/2 cup of strawberries, orange juice and 1/4 cup sugar. Stir well over medium-high heat, until it starts to bubble some. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for about 10 minutes or until the rhubarb becomes very soft. Transfer to a food processor, or use a hand blender, to puree until smooth. Set aside to cool.

Whisk the cold cream until thickened. Then, add the 3 T of sugar, one at a time, until the cream holds soft peaks. Set aside.

Slice the cake horizontally into 3 layers, each about 1/4 to 1/3 inch thick. Then, cut each layer to fit the trifle bowl, noting that the bottom layers may be smaller than the top one. Place a layer of cake in the trifle bowl, and cover with about 2/3 of a cup of the fruit puree. Then, top with a good handful of the strawberries, dollop on some pastry cream and whipped cream. And, then repeat with the next layer of cake and so on. Try not to give into temptation too many times and eat all the strawberries with the pastry cream.

After the last layer of cake, top only with the fruit puree and more fruit. Garnish with the candied flowers.

Infused Pastry Cream
Makes 2 1/2 cups

I used lilac, but there are all kinds of flowers and herbs that would be fantastic infused into pastry cream. Rose scented geranium, pineapple sage are two I can’t wait to try.

2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup edible flowers or herbs, such as lilac or scented geranium
1/4 t salt
3 T cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
1 t orange flower water
2 T unsalted butter

Have a medium sized glass or porcelain bowl and a fine sieve ready.

Heat the milk, flowers (or herbs) and salt in a heavy bottom, non-alluminum, pot over medium-high heat, until almost boiling, stirring frequently to prevent any scorching. While the milk is heating, in a separate bowl, combine the sugar and cornstarch. Then, whisk in the egg yolks and orange flower water until smooth.

When the milk is hot enough, strain out the flowers. Slowly ladle about a third of the hot milk mixture into the egg mixture, whisking while you are adding. Then, pour the egg-milk mixture back into the remaining milk, and return to heat. Whisk constantly until the mixture thickens (about 2 minutes) and comes just to it’s boiling point. Do not overheat, or it will turn to scrambled eggs! As soon as it is nice and thick, remove it from the heat, and pour it through the sieve into the bowl you have waiting. This will help cool it down and stop the cooking process. Let the cream cool for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. When it cools to 140F, add the butter in 1 T pieces, stirring until it is well integrated. Cover with plastic wrap pressed down to the surface to avoid a skin, and refrigerate. The pastry cream will keep about 5 days refrigerated.

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