Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Homemade Raspberry Jam & a Trifle for Purists
Even though trifle is usually the stuff of cooler months, I've been in a bit of a jam-making frenzy these past few weeks. I think I'm ready to pack up summer, hunker down a bit, put on a sweater and watch the days grow short. As I recently told someone, I'm ready to make the switch from Kirs to Communists. Plus I've been spending quite a bit of time this summer with some childhood friends from Scotland. There's nothing like old friends, or jam season for that matter, to bring on a wave of nostalgia. Here then is a piece I wrote on trifle, complete with plenty of my mother's raspberry jam, as part of a feature on British food for my friends Kelly and Katie over at PixiesDidIt!:
Though it’s essentially a dessert constructed of layers of various creams and confections, the subtleties of trifle have changed dramatically over the years and differ wildly from chef to chef, and house to house, even now. While many of the variations out there today are delectable, the truth is that trifle has suffered much over time. It started life quite humbly in the 18th century as sponge dipped into custard, covered with jam, and topped with various sweetmeats. But trifle enjoyed its real heyday in the mid 19th century, by which point it had evolved into a dessert constructed out of layers of sponge or macaroons, soaked in sherry or white wine, covered with custard and then citrus-flecked syllabub, and topped with whipped cream. So far, so good.
It wasn’t until the 50s and 60s that things began to unravel. Suddenly instant custard, texturally troubling layers of Jell-o, insipid, weeping canned pears, peaches, and apricots, and shamelessly camp garnishes like multi-colored sprinkles, maraschino cherries, and silver dragées entered the mix. As Nigel Slater noted in Eating for England, “Once gracing our tables like a favourite and slightly tiddly old aunt, our cherished party dessert now resembled nothing more than an old tart in a leopardskin coat.”
In other words, embrace your inner purist. In my family’s case the dish has always meant a simple construction — one layer per ingredient. First comes freshly baked sponge cake, bright with lemon and sandwiched with homemade, barely-set raspberry jam. The cake with its jam is cut into narrow wedges, which are arranged in the bottom of a deep trifle dish. Orange liqueur or sherry is sprinkled over the cake, and then a layer of fresh raspberries is added. Fresh custard, fragrant with vanilla, is poured over the top and left to set before being topped by whipped cream. The result is so indulgent, so pillowy, that it feels vaguely unchaste. We have trifle at Christmas, we have it for Easter, we even have it on Thanksgiving, though I’m sure that’s quite sacrilegious of us. But really, trifle — proper, honestly constructed trifle — is too sublime a treat to waste your time pondering any moral implications.
Getting a good custard together for trifle can be tricky. You want it to be thin enough to soak down into the sponge cake, but then it needs to set well enough that the trifle has at least a little structural integrity. I’ll admit I add a little cornstarch here. Consider it a safety net of sorts. You can make this custard a couple of days ahead of time in a pinch, and store it in the fridge with a layer of saran wrap covering the surface, but I far prefer to pour the custard over the berries and cake while it’s hot. It amalgamates with the cake so much better, and I love how it releases the juices from the raspberries and stains the sponge a deep, crimson red.
And feel free to improvise. With the jam, the liqueur, the berries, the flavor of the cake or the custard. Just no jello or silver balls, please.
My mother and grandmother's raspberry jam:
Up to 2lbs of raspberries - no more
Equal weight granulated sugar
Preheat oven to 250 F (130 C, gas mark 1/2)
Put clean jars into the oven for 10 minutes to sterilize. Put the raspberries in a medium pot over low heat until they start to give up their juice. Add the sugar and stir continuously until it dissolves.
Turn up the heat and boil for 2 - 3 minutes until the bubbles get a little smaller - almost foamy (or the surface goes "skittery" as Granny used to say). Place a drop of jam on a plate and put it in the freezer for 30 - 60 seconds. Push the blob of jam with your finger. Keep checking every minute or so. As soon as the surface wrinkles when pushed, the jam is ready. This is a very runny jam, which is how we like it.
Pour the jam into jars. Let it cool with the lids on to form a seal, tighten the rims, and store in a cool, dark place.
My mother and grandmother's trifle:
4 oz unsalted butter, plus extra for baking
4 oz granulated sugar
juice of 1 lemon
pinch of salt
4 oz all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
¾ cup raspberry jam (see recipe above if you prefer to make your own)
¼ cup Grand Marnier or orange liqueur
4 - 5 cups (about 16 - 20 oz.) raspberries (quantity depends on the width of your trifle bowl)
10 egg yolks
¾ cup granulated sugar
3 tbsp cornstarch
pinch of kosher salt
4 cups whole milk
1 vanilla bean
1 pint heavy cream
For the sponge cake:
Preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C, gas mark 4)
Butter an 8 inch cake pan. Cream together the butter and the sugar with an electric mixer until slightly lightened in color. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well until combined. Add the lemon juice and salt and mix again. Add the flour and the baking powder and gently stir until just combined. Do not over mix. Spread the batter into the pan and bake in the center of the oven for 25 – 30 minutes until a wooden toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 15 minutes before turning the cake out of its pan.
Use a long, serrated knife to cut the cake in half across its equator. Spread the jam over one half and then sandwich the cake back together. Slice the cake into 1 inch wide strips. Then slice the cake in half the other way, to divide the strips in half lengthwise.
Line the bottom of the trifle bowl with these strips and then drizzle over the Grand Marnier. Next tumble over the raspberries and arrange in an even layer.
For the vanilla custard:
In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and ½ cup of the sugar and set aside.
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk together the remaining ¼ cup of sugar, the cornstarch, and the salt. Whisk in ¼ cup of the milk until smooth. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise with a sharp knife and scrape out the seeds. Add the seeds and the vanilla pod to the saucepan and whisk in the rest of the milk. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring quite often to prevent the mixture from scalding.
Whisking the whole time, slowly drizzle some of the hot milk mixture into the egg yolks, gradually add a little more at a time until it’s completely incorporated. Transfer immediately back to the pot and cook, stirring constantly now, and being careful not to let the mixture boil, for 3 – 4 minutes until quite thick. You can take its temperature if you’re feeling precise – you’re looking for 170 F (76 C).
Immediately pour the custard through a sieve into a clean bowl. You may reserve it at this point, or do as I like to and pour it straight over the raspberries. Allow to cool completely, undisturbed.
Just before serving, whip the cream. You want it to barely hold a soft, lazy peak. Top the custard with the cream and serve immediately.