Trifle is a bowl of whipped cream. A very large bowl of whipped cream. A very large bowl of whipped cream, layered with cake and drizzled with syrup, swirled with custard and studded with little candied fruit bombs. Preferably laced with a strong dose of the strong stuff. All brilliantly displayed, because the trifle bowl — never to be trifled with — is mounted on a pedestal and made of glass. Like an aquarium.
Certain shortcuts, however, are forbidden. Cake and custard layered in a wine glass is not trifle. It's parfait. Parfait may be perfectly satisfactory for breakfast or even elegant after dinner. It does not measure up to the demands of trifle. Trifle sounds delicate, yet requires heft. Say, a whole gingerbread cake, a jar of lemon curd and a mountain of whipped cream. A trifle overboard. But hey, it's the holidays.
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 15 minutes
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon Cognac
1 1/2 cups cranberries
3 cups whipping cream
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 jar (11 ounces) lemon curd, or 1 ¼ cups
2 pounds gingerbread (the cake, not the cookie)
Measure 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Let boil 2 minutes. Stir in Cognac. Pour a few tablespoons of this syrup into a heat-proof measuring cup; set aside. Add cranberries to the remaining syrup. Return to heat and let bubble until fruit is very soft, about 10 minutes.
Whip cream, remaining 1/2 cup sugar and the vanilla to sturdy peaks. Whip in lemon curd.
Slice a few sheets of gingerbread 1/4-inch thin. Use 2-inch cookie cutters to punch out 12 stars, hearts or any other shape that appeals. Save the scraps. Cut remaining gingerbread into 1/2-inch thick slices.
Now comes the fun part. Brush the insides of a trifle bowl (about 8 inches across) with the reserved Cognac-flavored syrup. Firmly press the gingerbread shapes onto the sides, letting the syrup act as glue. Smooth some of the lemon cream into the center of the bowl. Cover with a layer of gingerbread scraps and slices. Spoon on some cranberries and syrup. Repeat, compiling about 4 layers and finishing with lemon cream.
Cover trifle. Chill until serving time. Enjoy.
Leah Eskin is a Tribune special contributor e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org