Trifle

Clara and Myrna had had a simple dinner of reheated stew and a salad, then she’d gotten up to do the dishes, but Myrna soon joined her.

“I can do them,” said Clara, squirting the dishwashing liquid into the hot water and watching it foam. It was always strangely satisfying. It made Clara feel like a magician, or a witch, or an alchemist. Not, perhaps, as valuable as turning lead into gold, but useful all the same.

Clara Morrow was not someone who liked housework. What she liked was magic. Water into foam. Dirty dishes into clean. A blank canvas into a work of art.

It wasn’t change she liked so much as metamorphosis.

Olivier called Gamache and gave him the agreed-upon phrase—Gabri asked me to call to make sure you still want your room for tonight— that would tell Gamache he could have Emilie’s home.

Then Olivier had rounded up others in the village to help. The result was this.

Sheets had been pulled off the furniture, beds were made and clean towels put out, the home was vacuumed and dusted and polished. A fire was laid in the grate, and judging by the aroma, dinner was warming in the oven.

It was as though he and the Brunels had just stepped out for a few hours and were returning home.

Two of Sarah’s fresh-baked baguettes sat in a basket on the marble kitchen counter, and Monsieur Béliveau had stocked the pantry and fridge with milk and cheese and butter. With homemade jams. Fruit sat in a wooden bowl on the harvest table.

There was even a Christmas tree, decorated and lit.

* * *

Everyone, except Ruth, cleared the table while Gabri took Olivier’s trifle out of the fridge, with its layers of ladyfingers, custard, fresh whipped cream, and brandy-infused jam.

“The love that dares not speak its name,” Gabri whispered as he cradled it in his arms.

“How many calories, do you think?” asked Clara.

“Don’t ask,” said Olivier.

“Don’t tell,” said Myrna.

—How the Light Gets In

trifle

Makes 8 servings

For the Custard

  • 5 egg yolks
  • 2½ cups (600 ml) whole milk
  • ⅓ cup (67 g) sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

To Assemble the Trifle

  • 1 cup (250 ml) very cold heavy (whipping) cream
  • 1½ cups (432 g) raspberry jam
  • 1 tablespoon brandy, Cointreau, or other orange liqueur
  • 2½ to 3 packages (3.5 oz/100 g each) ladyfingers (see Notes)

1. Make the custard: Put the egg yolks in a heatproof bowl. Heat the milk and sugar in a 2-quart/2-liter heavy saucepan, stirring to dissolve the sugar, until bubbles form around the edge. Gently and gradually, whisk the hot milk into the egg yolks, then pour everything back into the saucepan. Cook over medium heat, scraping the bottom and sides with a heatproof spatula to prevent sticking until the custard is steaming and thick enough to lightly coat the spatula. If you have an instant-read thermometer, the custard is ready when the temperature registers 185°F/85°C. Strain the custard into a bowl and stir in the vanilla. Cover with a piece of plastic wrap pressed directly on the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until cool or thoroughly chilled, 2 to 4 hours.

2. Assemble the trifle: With a whisk or electric hand mixer, beat the heavy cream until it forms soft peaks. Set aside. In a wide, shallow bowl, stir together the jam and brandy. Have at hand an 8 x 11-inch (20 x 82-cm), or other more decorative glass 2-quart (2-liter) dish. This will be a little messy: working with your hands, turn each ladyfinger in the jam mixture and line the bottom of the dish. The ladyfingers may have to run in different directions or you may have to snap them in half to get the right fit to cover the bottom of the dish snugly. Pour about half the custard over the ladyfingers. Spoon about half the whipped cream over the ladyfingers and spread it out into a more or less even layer. (This is a rustic dish, don’t worry if some of the jam gets mixed in with the custard or whipped cream or is smeared against the inside of the glass dish—that is part of the charm.) Repeat with another layer of jam-dipped ladyfingers, custard, and whipped cream.

3. Cover and refrigerate: Cover the dish tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the ladyfingers have soaked up all the custard and the trifle is soft but spoonable, 12 to 24 hours. Serve chilled, spooning the trifle into coupes or onto dessert plates.

Notes:

  1. The ladyfingers should be very dry, (not the spongy type of cookie), typically packed about 20 per box. If you find your ladyfingers are soft rather than dry, simply spread them out on a cooling rack or baking sheet and let them dry out overnight.
  2. The trifle needs at least 12 hours and up to a full day for the ladyfingers to soak up the custard and for the trifle to firm up. That will give you a trifle with a spoonable yet still soft texture.
  3. While the above recipe calls for an 8 x 11-inch (20 x 82-cm) dish, any shape dish with close to a 2-quart (2-liter) capacity will do. Glass is better—you can see the pretty layers and jam from the sides.

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Discussion on “Trifle

  1. I love this aspect of the these amazing books! Thank you so much for the recipe

  2. Miam!!! It seems so delicious! Can’t wait to make this trifle!

  3. Beverly Williams says:

    Thinking this is just what I will make for this Christmas dinner!

  4. Karen I Ford says:

    You an put sponge cake that has been cubed on a cookie sheet and dried in the oven. I have seen some use simple syrup, often flavored with vanilla or orange juice, instead of a liqueur, especially if it is for a children’s party.
    It is a delightful dessert and a great way to serve fruits that are in season.

  5. Dolly Prenzel says:

    The custard recipe is the same as what we in Nashville, TN call “boiled custard.” Although popular in the northeast in Revoluntionary times, and the first half of the 19th century. It is seldom made, except in Nashville. Thank you for this recipe. The custard recipe is almost identical to that served here.

  6. Claudia Kaufmann says:

    I was told by my Irish friends that the Trifle made by their Mom was lethal! I tried to copy it and am now to almost a bottle of Sherry. Looks like I am getting there, finally. But Thanks for sharing your recipe, I will try that next time……

    • Jim Katz says:

      I also use large amounts of sherry. Sometimes I even put some in the trifle, but only if I happen to spill it as I pass my glass over the dish.

  7. Elina Mavromatis says:

    This is about as perfect a dish as it gets! And oh, the kiss of homemade custard!

  8. Barbara Plumb says:

    Trifle is a bit of a family tradition for me as I remember well the trifles my Nanna used to make. Here in Australia my heritage trifle recipe includes, as well as the above recipe, jelly, sliced tinned peaches and a sprinkling of toasted flaked almonds. Mmmmm I’m salivating just thinking about it

  9. Shelagh says:

    Barbara’s Oz trifle recipe is the same as my English one. But I do use sherry to bathe the lady fingers after splitting & spreading them with raspberry jam. Hoping you have a super turnout for your talk in Burlington, sadly I can’t be there. :(

  10. Tina Zoellinger-Weeber says:

    I cannot wait to try this trifle for my son’s birthday next week. My whole family knows that I adore Louise’s books and they know what to expect on long car rides: Penny tapes, Gamache stories. Now I will surprise them with a Three Pines recipe next week
    Thanks sooooo much for sharing, dear writer and poet.

  11. Simone Guenette says:

    Where does one find “The Nature of the Feast “?

    Is there a list of all of the recipes?

  12. Jim Katz says:

    Wonderful recipe. The photo, though, seems to show something else. Are those strawberries in there?

  13. Serafina Gagliardi says:

    I will share this delicious recipe with my family and friends.
    It reminds me of my grandmother’s italian custard with genoise cake along with berries.

  14. Margaret Jensen says:

    How this recipe got its name … Oh it’s just a trifle. Another (18th century) name for it was a “whim wham”.

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