What I’m about to do might be considered cheating. Somehow, though, I don’t think you’re going to mind.
Back at the end of May, I mentioned a triumph in trifle. It was beautiful, but we were hungry, so we skipped the photographing and went straight to the eating. It’s important to do that, sometimes. I made that trifle again a few weeks ago, and this time, I decided to snap a few shots before digging in, just in case I’d want to share it with you. The thing is, this trifle is not exactly new. Or, the trifle’s new, but the recipe is, shall we say, “gently used,” an old workhorse from the archives that I nipped and tucked into its current form. And wait. I just remembered something. I’ve cribbed from that recipe not once, but twice. C-h-e-a-t-e-r. One who keeps her eyes a little too focused on her own paper, I guess, but a cheater nonetheless.
This trifle came about in precisely the same way as the cloth from which it was cut: by the special request of my friend, Eitan, who prefers to celebrate his birthday with an abundance of strawberries, custard, and cream. (I choose the best friends.) Two years ago, that meant a cake, a strawberry custard cassata cake inspired by the version I grew up with in Cleveland. Eitan will be the first to tell you that there was nothing wrong with that cake, but this year what he really wanted was – how do I put this? – a cake with less cake. Something that you scoop instead of slice, that calls for bowls and spoons over plates and forks. He wanted trifle. It’s that same cassata cake, more or less, only soaked in berry purée and stuffed into a bowl.
Strawberries are on their way out in these parts, but if you hurry to the market, maybe you can snag a few lingering baskets. This trifle makes a fine finale.
Adapted from this recipe for Strawberry Custard Cassata Cake (or, Cleveland Cassata) and the Trifle of Summer Fruit in Tartine, by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson
You can make this trifle with any génoise, chiffon, or sponge cake. If you have a favorite, feel free to swap it in. I went with a lemony version of the sponge cake from my cassata recipe. It never gives me any trouble. I like to make the custard and bake the cakes in advance so that all I have to do is slice the berries, zhizh the purée, whip the cream, and assemble the thing on the day I want to serve it. My recipe reflects this process, but you can do it in one day, as long as you give the custard 3-4 hours to chill, and the assembled trifle at least 3-4 hours in the fridge before you serve it.
Note: You will need 2-3 pounds of strawberries, total, some for the fruit purée and some for layering between the cake and the custard.
For the cake:
2¼ c. cake flour
1¼ c. plus ¼ c. sugar, divided
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
¼ c. freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ c. cold water
½ c. vegetable oil
1 Tbsp. lemon zest
1 tsp. vanilla extract
5 large egg yolks at room temperature
8 large egg whites at room temperature
½ tsp. cream of tartar
For the custard:
6 large egg yolks
½ c. sugar
2 c. half and half
1 tsp. vanilla
3 Tbsps. cornstarch
For the fruit purée:
3 c. sliced strawberries
1/3 c. sugar (you can add up to ½ c. if you prefer a sweet purée)
You can also add a pour of Chambord, Grand Marnier, sweet sherry, white wine, or kirsch, if you’d like.
For the whipped cream:
1 2/3 c. very cold heavy cream
3 Tbsp. sugar
4-5 c. sliced strawberries for layering
Make the custard (I do this step one or two days ahead):
Whisk together all of the custard ingredients in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-low heat, whisking constantly. Turn down the heat so that the mixture just simmers. Keep whisking until thick, about 2 minutes. Transfer the custard to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a round of wax paper, and cool. Then, chill the custard, covered, for at least 3 hours.
Bake the cakes (I do this step the night before I want to serve the trifle):
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees, and line the bottoms of two 9-inch round cake pans with lightly oiled parchment paper. Otherwise, leave the pans ungreased.
Sift the flour, 1¼ c. sugar, baking powder, and salt twice into a large bowl.
In a separate bowl, use an electric mixer on high speed to beat together the yolks, lemon juice, water, oil, zest, and vanilla until smooth. Stir into the flour mixture.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Add the remaining ¼ c. sugar, and beat on high until the peaks are stiff but not dry.
Using a rubber spatula and a very light touch, fold about a quarter of the fluffy egg whites into the egg yolk mixture. Then, fold in the remaining whites. Be gentle. The goal here is to incorporate the egg whites without allowing them to deflate significantly. As soon as the egg whites are no longer visible, stop folding.
Scrape the batter into the two prepared pans and spread evenly. Bake for approximately 35 minutes, until the tops spring back when lightly pressed and a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean.
Allow the cakes to cool in their pans on a cooling rack for at least an hour. When completely cool, run a knife around the sides to release the cakes, and carefully flip them out of their pans. Wrap the cakes in wax paper, then plastic wrap, and chill until you’re ready to use them. I find that a sponge cake chilled overnight splits more easily than a just-baked room temperature cake.
Make the strawberry purée and whip the cream (I do this the morning of):
Slice the strawberries for between the cake and custard layers and set aside.
Slice the strawberries for the fruit purée, combine them in a blender with the sugar (and the wine or liqueur, if using) and blend on high speed until very smooth. Set aside.
Whip the cream until it begins to thicken, then add the 3 Tbsps. sugar and whisk until the cream holds soft peaks. (I use my stand mixer, but you can also do it by hand. It will just take longer.) Set aside.
Assemble the trifle!
Remove the chilled cakes from the fridge, unwrap, and carefully saw them in two using a long serrated bread knife. I typically use just three of the four resulting layers for this trifle. (You can freeze the remaining layer, double wrapped in plastic.) Trim your cake rounds so that they will fit inside of the trifle bowl (or whatever glass bowl you’re using). I do this by placing my trifle bowl upside down over each layer and slicing off the excess cake that sticks out from underneath.
Press one cake layer into the trifle bowl. Pour 2/3 c. of the strawberry purée over top and spread evenly across the cake with a spatula. It may look like a lot of purée, but it will soak into the cake over time. Top the purée with a third of the berries. Place some of the berries with their cut sides up against the glass for a presentation's sake, if you want.
Give the chilled custard a good stir. Spoon half of it over the fruit, then half of the whipped cream over the custard.
And repeat: a second cake layer, 1 c. of strawberry purée, half of the remaining strawberries, the rest of the custard, then the rest of the whipped cream.
Place your last cake layer on top, and press gently. Top with the rest of the purée, then the last of the sliced strawberries.
Chill for at least 3 hours, up to 1 day, before serving. Serve cold, straight from the refrigerator.