06 April 2010

"Though, wrecked on Egypt's obelisks, disaster I defied"

I was supposed to bring dessert for Easter at Maman's house. The plan was a cake, with strawberries and some whipped cream on the side.

Saturday morning, I made a cake. It came out well. I was pleased.
Then I dropped it. It was in the cake carrier, so the scraps were salvageable, but it went from being 'a cake' to being a lot of pieces of cake.

The dog, who had been hovering near the kitchen door but was not actually responsible for me dropping the cake, booked it to someplace safe, moving so fast that the Viking initially thought the dog was the cause of the cussing coming from the kitchen.

I made a second cake. I took it out of the oven, set it on the rack to cool, wandered away for several minutes, and then came back to turn it out. Rack over pan, flip it over and ... the cake came out in several large pieces.

Note to self: don't skip the line-the-pan-with-parchment step.

Now, I am not above patching a cracked cake back together with a little bit of buttercream, but this was just not going to work.

The Viking said, 'hey, you have all that cake, why not just make trifle?'


And thus it came to pass that at 10 o'clock Saturday night, I was using up the last of the eggs and sugar in the house making pastry cream. Fortunately that didn't get dropped, or clotted, or go wrong in any other way.

Trifle seems to have an enduring popularity, but egad are there a lot of abominations called trifle out there.

For example: Purchased frozen poundcake; vanilla pudding from a package; gelatine in place of actual fruit; 'whipped topping' in place of whipped cream. Sometime all in the same 'recipe.'

Is it still a 'recipe' if all you're doing is assembling things from packets and the freezer case?

Blech. I'm willing to bet the chemistry set involved therein is not actually better for you than eggs and cream and sugar.

So the lesson is, next time you drop an unfrosted cake (or two), make trifle. I promise not to say anything if you use a packet of vanilla pudding mix from the cupboard. For what it's worth, here's what I did. Note that for most purposes, one need only have one variety of cake.

Cake 1 was Almond cake with cardamom and pistachio.

Cake 2 was a basic vanilla cake. It is a fine and trustworthy recipe, but don't skip the parchment:

2 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup milk
2-1/2 cups all purpose flour
2-1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C).

In a large mixing bowl, with an electric mixer, beat the sugar and butter together until fluffy and creamy - 2 or 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then the vanilla, and continue beating just until smooth and creamy.

In a separate bowl, stir together the flour and baking powder. Add to the egg mixture, alternately with the milk, in two or three additions. Beat just until smooth.

Pour batter into two greased and parchment-lined 9-inch round cake pans, or one 9 x 13-inch rectangular pan (ditto the on the grease and parchment).

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the tops are golden and a toothpick poked into the center of the layer comes out clean. A single rectangular cake will take slightly longer than two round layers. Allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning out onto the rack and cooling completely.

Pastry cream recipe from Epicurious. I would recommend it to other late-night last-minute triflemongers.

Strawberries look great, taste like paste? Do this:

Hull the strawberries and cut into quarters. For each pint of strawberries, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon granulated sugar and 1 tablespoon lime juice. Cover and let sit for at least an hour; refrigerate if leaving them for longer than an hour. You can use lemon juice too, or balsamic vinegar, but I find lime works best when the goal is to spruce up the berries without calling attention to the fact that you've had to spruce up the berries.

Assemble the trifle in layers: cake, pastry cream, berries, repeat. Cover the top with whipped cream, and decorate with more strawberries. It's best to assemble the trifle a couple of hours before it's served so the berry juices and pastry cream have a chance to soak into the cake. If you have a footed trifle bowl, that's super, but any bowl will do.

Most trifle recipes also call for sprinkling some sherry (or other sweet wine) over the cake. I didn't do that here (lack of sherry and also knowledge that the audience included my 3.5-year-old nephew) but don't let that stop you.

William Rose Benét

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