Sometimes a dessert comes together that you know is a keeper. If you’re lucky, you know it will be good beforehand, and get all the benefit of the anticipation as well. And sometimes, just the name is enough.
I needed a dessert for lunch on New Year’s Day. It had to suit both adults and kids, and be prepared ahead, to make it easy on the day. Browsing through Nigella for ideas, I hit on trifle. Trifle is a very Christmassy dish – all that custard and cream fits with the excesses of late December. And because it’s best served in a single bowl, it really needs a decent sized group before it’s worth making. It is indeed something to feast upon.
The original plan was to make Nigella’s Chocolate cherry trifle, but this version really started with the arrival of a bottle of Chambord (black raspberry liqueur) as a Christmas present. I had never tasted it before (and, like all fruit liqueurs, it does have a hint of Benilyn cough syrup about it), but it sparked the idea of a chocolate raspberry trifle, instead of a chocolate cherry one. And I love the combination of chocolate and raspberries – the sharpness of the raspberries is a great match for chocolate.
I had frozen raspberries, and also some shreds of flourless chocolate cake bagged up in the freezer. It did not carry good karma with it – it crumbled as I tried to unroll it as a roulade on one of those days when a bad work day, and a dropped carton of double cream make that the final straw. But I knew it tasted good.
All that was needed to make was the chocolate custard. Although Nigella suggested you make sandwiches of chocolate cake and jam, that wasn’t going to be an option with the delicate flourless cake I had (not least because it was in so many fragments). So instead I thinned the jam with a splash of water into a syrup that could be used to douse the cake.
This was an example of the ‘capsule wardrobe’ approach to dessert making: if you have great components, then you can assemble them in many combinations, and be confident about the result. This is the exception to the rule that you shouldn’t make something for the first time for guests. If you’ve made all the component recipes before, then you can be much more confident that the final result will work.
I’ve stolen this idea from Alice Medrich, who has a section in her book ‘Bittersweet‘ called ‘Basic Wardrobe for Designing Desserts’. This includes recipes for basic cake layers, mouses, fillings, frostings, glazes and decorations that can be put together in different combinations.
In making this trifle, I did what I so seldom do, and tasted everything, every component. When I am following someone else’s recipe, I sometimes assume that if I follow everything to the letter, I don’t need to taste as I go. And if it doesn’t work out, I can just shrug and blame the recipe writer. But recipes don’t work like that, and we can’t help ourselves get it right unless we taste things.
Some of this dish’s success was serendipity, but there was also a set of learned and ingrained thoughts at work. I knew that the flourless cake was light and moussy, so would match the density of the custard and whipped cream well. Having tasted the custard and syrup, they were both sweet, so I knew I needed the raspberries to be quite densely packed to provide contrast.
I’m really pleased with the result, and I’ll even go to the trouble of crumbling that cake deliberately now I know how good it can be in a new incarnation.
Recipe: Chocolate raspberry trifle
For the cake (this is Smitten Kitchen’s Heavenly Chocolate Cake Roll):
- 170g dark chocolate, chopped
- 3 tablespoons strong coffee
- 6 large eggs, at room temperature
- 150g caster sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons cocoa
For the chocolate custard (adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Chocolate Cherry Trifle recipe in ‘Feast‘):
- 50g dark chocolate (64% Chocolate by Trish buttons)
- 175ml semi-skimmed milk
- 175ml double cream
- 4 egg yolks
- 65g caster sugar
- 20g cocoa
- 300 ml double cream
- 350g frozen or fresh raspberries
- approximately 100g seedless raspberry jam
- 3 tablespoons Chambord raspberry liqueur (optional)
- Silver balls, stars, chocolate curls or other decorations
Make the Heavenly Chocolate Cake Roll as directed on Smitten Kitchen. You can use another sort of chocolate cake, although this one proved perfect for trifle – partly because I was unable to make it roll up (I left it to cool for too long), and so it crumbled to shreds and ended up in the freezer. But the soft, light texture made a good base for the trifle, without being heavy.
For the custard:
Melt the chocolate gently over a pan of hot water or in the microwave. Set aside. Whisk the yolks, sugar and cocoa together in a large bowl with a pinch of salt.
Heat the milk and cream together until little bubbles appear at the edge of the saucepan. Pour the hot milk and cream over the egg yolk mixture while whisking. Once everything is mixed together, scrape it all back into the saucepan. Heat gently to thicken the custard, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom with a wooden spoon. You need to take it until a thick, shiny layer appears on the back of the spoon. Once it has thickened, scrape into a bowl, cover with clingfilm in touch with the surface and chill for several hours.
Make the syrup: Warm the raspberry jam with a splash of water and about 8 frozen raspberries until the jam melts and the raspberries collapse. Remove from the heat and stir in about 3 tablespoons of Chambord (black raspberry liqueur).
Finally, assemble the trifle:
Line a dish with the chocolate roll cake, pushing the pieces together to make a single layer. Soak with the raspberry syrup. Cover the surface with the remaining raspberries, partially pressing them into the cake. Cover with the chilled chocolate custard and smooth into a single layer. Cover with clingfilm and chill for several hours or overnight.
An hour or two before serving, whip the rest of the double cream (about 300ml) to very soft peaks, and spread over the custard (whipped cream thickens more and more every time you spread it, so whip it very softly, and spread it out with as few movements as possible). Decorate with silver balls, gold stars or chocolate shavings. I used edible gold stars from here.