We Australasians don’t always adhere to the Christmas traditions of our British forebears. Mulled wine, hot roast and boiled Christmas pud aren’t always the obvious choices when it’s 25 degrees Celsius outside. So, over time, we’ve adapted our Christmas meals to suit the climate, preferring sparkling wine or beer, barbeques, and cold ham and salads instead. When it comes to dessert, our staples are usually pavlova or trifle. This year, trifle won out.
As usual, I didn’t take the easy way out (when will I ever learn?!), and decided to make most of the components myself! Yes, it was quite a mission, but it was definitely worth the effort. I was particularly glad I had a go at making a sponge – a first for me – and it’s given me the confidence to try a full-on sponge cake (think High Tea with strawberry jam and cream – my English forebears would be proud) one day soon.
Thanks to Sophie Gray from New Zealand’s Taste magazine, December 2013 for this recipe. It was a real show-stopper dessert and frankly, could have fed a small army! But, if I’m being perfectly honest, I thought it was a bit dry. For me the balance wasn’t quite right, as in it felt like there was too much sponge and not enough of the compote or custard in relation to it. Next time, I’d go with four punnets of strawberries rather than three, halve the sponge recipe (i.e. have one sponge instead of two), and add a bit more booze (at least a half cup instead of a third). I thought the sherry was okay, but I’d probably go with a ginger beer for a bit of bite, or perhaps an orange liqueur, along with some orange zest and juice. And, I’d assemble it the day before rather than 12 hours before as I did, to give the flavours more time to mature. Finally, the custard is made without cornflour (corn starch) and is not overly thick. If you wish to thicken it to look more like store-bought custard, add 2 tablespoons of cornflour in with the eggs when you beat them.
Having said all of that, I’m leaving the original recipe as is, so that readers can try it for themselves and adapt as they see fit.
Ingredients: (Click here for unit converter)
- 1 vanilla bean
- 500ml cream
- 300ml milk
- 6 egg yolks
- 2/3 cup caster (super-fine) sugar
- 1 ½ cups plain flour
- ½ cup cornflour (cornstarch)
- 6 eggs, room temperature
- 1 cup caster sugar
- 2 Tbsp butter melted in 90ml hot water
- 3 small punnets strawberries, rinsed, hulled and halved (reserve a few whole ones for decoration)
- 1/3 cup water
- 3 Tbsp sugar (use more or less, to taste)
- 1-2 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1 cup good quality strawberry jam
- 1/3 cup sherry
- 500ml cream, whipped
- Handful toasted sliced almonds
- Grated white chocolate (optional)
- For the custard: Slice vanilla bean in two length-wise and scoop out the seeds. Add the seeds and the bean, along with the cream and milk into a medium saucepan and heat gently until just simmering.
- In a large bowl, beat yolks and caster sugar until pale and thick*. Remove cream mixture from heat, take out vanilla bean and pour mixture in a steady, thin stream over beaten yolks, whisking continuously until evenly mixed.
- Rinse saucepan then return mixture to clean pan. Heat custard gently, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon until custard is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (170-175 degrees F or 77-80 degrees C, if you’re using a thermometer). Don’t let it get hotter than that or it will curdle. Pour immediately through a sieve into a clean jug or bowl and place in an ice bath – whisk until cool. When cool, store in fridge.
- For the sponge: Pre-heat oven to 155°C (310°F). Grease two 19cm square (or two 20cm round) cake tins and line the bases. (If you don’t have two tins the same shape, use one of each; the cakes will be broken up later so it doesn’t matter).
- Sift the flours together three times and set aside. In a large bowl, beat eggs until pale and thick, then add sugar a little at a time, beating well after each addition so sugar completely dissolves. Sift in half the flour and fold in using a rubber spatula. Working quickly, fold in remaining flour and then fold in the butter/water mixture.
- Pour batter into tins and bake for 20-25 minutes. The cakes should be golden and just pulling away from the sides when done. Remove from tins and cool on a rack.
- For the compote: Place half the strawberries in a small saucepan with the water and sugar. Simmer gently until strawberries begin to soften, then add remaining halved strawberries and cook very gently so they hold their shape. Add 1 Tbsp lemon juice and taste. Adjust adding more sugar or lemon to your taste. Set aside to cool.
- To assemble: Use a serrated knife to trim sponges, removing he side crusts, tops and bottoms (I didn’t need to do this as my sponges were lovely and soft with no crusts). Split each cake in half and spread one side of each with strawberry jam. Cut sponges into chunks about 2.5cm wide.
- Line the base of a 2.5 litre trifle bowl (or two smaller bowls) with half of the sponge chunks. Sprinkle sponge with half the sherry, letting it soak in for a minute or two. Spoon in half the compote, allowing some to dribble down the inside of the glass and fill pockets between the sponge pieces.
- Add a good layer of custard and half the cream, then repeat with a final layer of sponge, pressing it gently so you don’t have big gaps. Add remaining sherry, compote and more custard, then finish with remaining cream. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 12 hours.
- Before serving, decorate with toasted almonds, grated chocolate and reserved whole strawberries.
*Note: To make a thicker custard, add 2 Tbsp cornflour (corn starch) in with the eggs and caster sugar.
Food Photography Info: Canon 550D (EOS Rebel T2i); Canon 18-55mm lens / Natural lighting