The stars aligned when our forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence right in the middle of berry season. And while maybe that wasn’t part of Thomas Jefferson’s agenda, we really ought to take advantage of it.
This Summer Berry Trifle from The Culinary Institute of America is perfect for your Fourth of July barbecue. Showing off the summer’s fresh berries — layering strawberries and blueberries (or whatever you like best) with a sweet diplomat cream and tender yellow cake — it’s everything you could ever want in a summer dessert.
A trifle is a layered dessert made from cake or ladyfinger cookies, sweet custard, and some whipped cream to lighten things up. Trifles are basically the apple pie of England, where they often include sherry wine, brandy and jam, and, like many things we love today, they were created as a way to use up leftovers.
Diplomat cream combines two of the best things in the world: pastry cream and fresh whipped cream. Pastry cream is basically just vanilla pudding, so imagine that plus whipped cream. Then imagine that layered with fruit and cake. It’s all too exciting!
Because it is part of so many classic recipes, like profiteroles, fruit tarts and eclairs, pastry cream is one of the fundamentals every serious baker should master. Don’t let that intimidate you, though. With some patience and a strong whisking arm, preparing pastry cream is a walk in the park.
The flavors in this trifle are simple and classic, but there are so many opportunities to experiment. You can flavor your pastry cream by steeping ingredients like coffee, cardamom or cinnamon in the milk mixture. You can add layers of chocolate fudge, dulce de leche or baked streusel, or brush flavored simple syrup or liqueur onto the cake layers. Take this recipe straight through farm-stand season, experimenting with ripe fruits like plums, peaches and, eventually, poached apples and pears.
When planning a party, make-ahead items are key, and this dessert is one of them. All of the components for your trifle can be made a few days ahead (the cake can even be prepared weeks before and frozen), and then assembled the night before. It will only get better as the cake soaks in some of the cream and juice of the berries, so you can put it out of your mind until it’s time to serve dessert.
We’ve made the trifles in individual jars for serving, but you can use these ingredients to make one large trifle to serve family-style. Any vessel will work, but a clear glass serving dish will show off the layers, and the vibrant colors of the berries are like a centerpiece all on their own.
SUMMER BERRY TRIFLE
Yield: 12 individual trifles | Start to finish: 2 hours 50 minutes (Inactive: 2 hours)
Yellow Butter Cake (recipe follows)
Pastry Cream (recipe follows)
1 cup heavy cream
1 quart strawberries, stemmed and diced
2 pints blueberries
Place the cake, bottom parchment still intact, on a clean work surface. Place a second piece of parchment over the cake. Holding both pieces of parchment taut, carefully flip the cake so that the fresh parchment is now on the bottom. Carefully peel the parchment paper from the cake, then return it to loosely cover the cake.
Use a rolling pin to gently roll the cake into an even layer. Remove the parchment and use a 2 1/2-inch circle cutter (or whichever size best fits your serving vessels) to cut 24 circles from the cake.
Meanwhile, transfer the chilled pastry cream to a clean bowl and gently beat with a rubber spatula until it is smooth. Set aside.
Whip the heavy cream in a chilled bowl until it holds a medium peak when the whisk is turned upright. Working by hand with a spatula, fold the whipped cream into the pastry cream in 2 or 3 additions, folding just until evenly blended.
Place one circle of cake at the bottom of a small jar. Top with about 2 tablespoons strawberries, followed by 2 tablespoons of the pastry cream mixture. Add another cake circle, pressing down lightly to compact the layers, followed by about 1 1/2 tablespoons of blueberries, and another 2 tablespoons of pastry cream mixture. Repeat the steps with the remaining jars, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving.
YELLOW BUTTER CAKE
Yield: 12 servings (one 18-by 13-inch cake)
1 3/4 cups cake flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1?4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, diced, at room temperature
1/2 cup milk (divided use)
2 large eggs
1 large egg white
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Coat a rimmed baking sheet (about 18-by-13 inches) with spray oil and line with parchment paper. Set aside.
Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or in a large mixing bowl. Add the butter and 1/4 cup of the milk. Mix on medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.
Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, blend the eggs, egg white, the remaining 1/4 cup milk, and the vanilla extract. Add to the batter in three additions, mixing for 2 minutes on medium speed after each addition. Scrape down the bowl between additions.
Pour the batter into the baking sheet and spread into an even layer. Bake until the cake is golden brown and springs back when touched lightly in the center, about 24 minutes.
Let cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then use the parchment paper to carefully lift the cake from the pan and transfer to a cooling rack. Cool completely before using.
Yield: 12 servings (about 2 cups)
1/4 cup cornstarch
3/4 cup sugar (divided use)
2 cups whole milk (divided use)
4 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 pinch salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Combine the cornstarch with ¼ cup of the sugar in a mixing bowl, then stir in 1/2 cup of the milk. Blend the yolks into the cornstarch mixture, stirring with a wooden spoon until completely smooth.
Prepare an ice bath. Combine the remaining 1 1/2 cups milk with the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and the salt in a nonreactive saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat.
Temper the egg mixture by gradually adding about one-third of the hot milk mixture, whisking constantly. Add the remaining milk mixture to the eggs. Return the mixture to the saucepan and continue cooking over medium heat, vigorously stirring with a whisk, until the mixture comes to a boil and the whisk leaves a trail in the pastry cream, 5 to 7 minutes. As soon as the pastry cream reaches this stage, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract and the butter.
Transfer the pan to the ice bath. Stir occasionally until the pastry cream is cool, about 30 minutes.
Transfer the pastry cream to a storage container and place parchment or waxed paper directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Cover the storage container tightly and refrigerate until needed, up to 3 days.