As many of you know, I traveled to New York two weeks ago and spent some time at the legendary New York gourmet store Zabar’s. I am now a Zabar’s “Contributing Chef,” and I’ll be providing some fun, delicious recipes for their website and bi-monthly newsletter. This is my first recipe for Zabar’s – a Tipsy Trifle with Peaches and Cream.
The English word “trifle” is derived from an Old French word, “trufe” or “trufle” (not the mushroom). Trifle means “something of little importance.” In other words, “This cake is a mere trifle of a dish.” Perhaps the dessert was described this way because of its simple nature. While trifle originally referred to a spiced custard with cream, during the Victorian era the dessert evolved into layers of wine-soaked biscuits, custard, and fruit. It’s closely related to another Victorian dish, the “tipsy cake.” Traditionally both desserts are made with wine, though modern trifles may or may not contain alcohol.
The first recipe for a trifle appears in a Tudor-period British cookbook called “The Good Housewife’s Jewel” by Thomas Dawson (1596). The recipe eventually came to America via British settlers on the South East coast of the U.S. The rich and indulgent trifle became a favorite recipe in the American South, and was particularly popular amongst plantation owners and their families.
This is my modern, seasonal version of a trifle. I used peaches because we’re at the height of peach season here in California. You can use any fruit you like. The trifle does contain alcohol, but there’s an easy sub for a liquor-free cake. If you want to forgo the alcohol, replace the rum with equivalent amounts of peach nectar. To make this a no-bake dessert, buy an angel food or sponge cake at the store rather than baking it yourself. This option will cut way down on prep time.
I prefer using caster sugar in delicate dessert recipes like this, particularly desserts that involve macerating fruit. Caster sugar is a finer grain of sugar… the British dubbed it “caster” or “castor” sugar. It is usually sold under the name “superfine” or “ultrafine” here in the U.S. It’s wonderful for baking, dissolves instantly, and doesn’t have the crunch that regular granulated sugar has. Unlike powdered sugar (which is mixed with cornstarch), it is simply a finer grain of sugar, and can be used interchangeably with traditional granulated sugar. Zabar’s carries India Tree Caster Sugar, which works great. If you can’t find caster sugar you can substitute granulated, but I recommend the caster sugar if you can find it. It works well in cake recipes, too. Sub it anywhere you use regular sugar in equivalent amounts.
Zabar’s also carries a wonderful vanilla extract made by Nielsen-Massey that happens to be my favorite vanilla. I used it in this recipe. Any pure vanilla extract will do, but if you want something special with more intense vanilla flavor, try Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract. It’s pricey, but awesome.
This tipsy trifle is cold, creamy, sweet, and just a little bit naughty. Serve it at your next summer soiree for a grown-up dessert that will have guests licking their plates.
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Sponge Cake Ingredients
- 6 large eggs at room temperature
- 1 cup sugar (I prefer caster or superfine sugar)
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup cake flour
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 8 cups fresh, ripe yellow peaches cut into 3/4 inch cubes
- 1/4 cup rum, divided
- 1/4 cup peach nectar, divided
- 11 tbsp sugar (I prefer caster or superfine sugar), divided
- 1 pint heavy whipping cream, divided
- 1/2 tsp salt, divided
- 3 cups prepared vanilla pudding, soft set (about 1 1/2 packages)
- 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup marscapone cheese
- Fresh mint sprigs for garnish
- 6-8 peach slices for garnish
To Make Sponge Cake:
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Separate the room temperature eggs, placing the yolks in one bowl and the whites in another. Use an electric mixer to beat the yolks until they are creamy and light yellow.
- Beat in the sugar slowly, a quarter cupful at a time.
- Beat in the water, then the vanilla, then the flour.
- In a medium mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the egg whites on high with the salt until stiff (not dry) peaks form.
- Fold frothy whites into the flour/egg yolk batter.
- Grease the bottom only of a 9 inch tube pan or two medium (8.5 inch) loaf pans. Pour the batter into the pan(s).
- Bake cake(s) for 40 minutes - 1 hour, until top of the cake is golden brown and the edges separate from the pan. Let cake cool.
To Assemble Trifle
- Cut your cooled sponge cake or your purchased sponge or angel food cake into 1 inch cubes. Set aside.
- Place cubed peaches in a large mixing bowl and toss them with 2 tbsp rum, 2 tbsp peach nectar, and 1/3 cup sugar till peaches are evenly coated. Let the peaches macerate (marinate in the juices) at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.
- In a mixing bowl, whip 1/2 pint of heavy whipping cream with 3 tbsp sugar and 1/4 tsp of salt till soft peaks form. Beat in the soft set vanilla pudding till mixture becomes rich and creamy. Set aside.
- In a small bowl, whisk together remaining 2 tbsp of peach nectar with remaining 2 tbsp of rum.
- Place half of the cubed cake in an even layer on the bottom of the 3.5 quart trifle dish.
- Sprinkle half of the peach nectar/rum mixture across the top of the cake cubes to evenly moisten the cubes.
- Pour half of the peaches with half of their liquid in an even layer on top of the cake cubes.
- Pour half of the whipped cream/pudding mixture on top of the peaches in an even layer.
- Repeat the three remaining layers in that order-- cake, nectar/rum, peaches, and whipped cream/pudding mixture. You should now have six layers in your trifle dish.
- In a mixing bowl, whip remaining 1/2 pint of heavy whipping cream with 3 tbsp sugar, 1/4 tsp of salt, and vanilla extract till soft peaks form.Add marscapone cheese and continue to whip until stiff peaks form.
- Pour the whipped cream and marscapone cheese mixture into an icing bag with a star tip. Pipe the whipped cream decoratively onto the top of the trifle in a circular pattern. I like to make small florets with the whipped cream. Start on the outside of the trifle and work your way in.
- Continue piping until the entire surface is covered with whipped cream. Alternatively, to make things easier, you can simply spread the whipped cream across the top of the trifle.Now your trifle is assembled. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours or overnight until ready to serve.
- Just prior to serving, garnish the top of the trifle with peach slices and fresh mint. I like to place the slices in a flower pattern, with mint springing from the center of the trifle.
- Serve well chilled. Store in the refrigerator.