• Brett Harris

'Tis the season to make trifle!



As we head into the holiday season, the cooks and bakers among us might be wondering: What sorts of desserts might Jane Austen have enjoyed on a merry December eve?


The short answer? Biscuits, puddings, and perhaps a fruit-flavored ice, if one were lucky. Or, a nice combination of the three: trifle! Comprising alternating layers of soaked sponge cake, custard, jam, and whipped cream, this rich and fluffy sweet treat is so much more than its parts.


So, if you’re looking for a fun kitchen adventure this season, grab your chef’s hat, an Austen novel or two, and be prepared for a dessert that is anything but trifling!


The Sponge



First, you’ll want to make your sponge cake. We used this recipe from Natasha’s Kitchen, with a few adaptations, but feel free to try your own, or save yourself the hassle and get a store-bought sponge, or lady fingers.


If you’re making the sponge from scratch, you’ll want to start by beating your eggs into a nice foam. After that, you’ll add your sugar, and beat the eggs some more. While whisking, you might also ponder: What are men to rocks and mountains of egg fluff, but trifles?




After sufficient contemplation, add in your flour and baking powder and whisk until you have a smooth batter, and then pour into a pre-greased pan. We used a muffin tin, for individual servings, but you could also use rounds for a larger dessert. After that, it’s into the oven, and onward to the custard.


The Custard


As with the sponge, you could always use a store-bought custard if you aren’t feeling up to minding the stove. We used a custard recipe from The Kitchn.


There are several steps, but mainly they boil down to these:

  1. Assemble ingredients

  2. Combine the ingredients (we mixed the egg and sugar separately, and then proofed with the milk) over hot water, or in a small pot, on medium/low heat.

  3. Stir...

  4. And stir…

  5. Grab a novel to amuse yourself while stirring...

  6. And stir a little more!

  7. Finally remove from the heat, let cool, and chill until you need it next.


The Jam



For the jam, the steps are quite similar: Simply throw your chosen fruit(s) into the pot with about a half-cup of sugar, a quarter cup fruit juice of your choice, and maybe a dash of brown sugar if you’re feeling adventurous. Cook on about medium heat until the fruit cooks down, and the contents of your pot resemble a syrup or sauce. As with the custard, chill to let set.







Assembly


After a culinary journey longer than Darcy’s redemption arc, we come to the most exciting part of trifle-making: the assembly! We took our inspiration for this portion from Lavender and Lovage’s recipe for Whim Wham.




Essentially, soak your sponges in a tincture of your choice (typically some mixture of fruit juice and liquor), then coat them with your jam, add in a layer of custard, followed by a layer of whipped cream, and repeat as many times as you like.


Once your dessert is assembled, grab a spoon and dig into this delightful dessert!






For more about food from Jane Austen’s time and for recipes, check out Jane Austen & Co.’s webinar on food with food historian KC Hysmith.



Winner of the North Carolina Humanities Council’s Joel Gradin Award for Excellence in Public Humanities

JANE AUSTEN
SUMMER PROGRAM

 

JANE AUSTEN SUMMER PROGRAM

The Jane Austen Summer Program is a non-profit organization. All donations are tax-deductible.