When a gorgeous slice of cake appears in front of you, tall and gloriously layered, which part is your fork most attracted to?
Much like preferring certain parts of a chicken over others – I’m a thigh girl, in case you’re wondering – I’ve noticed how people like to eat their cake. Some people avoid extraneous fluff, frosting or filling and zero in on their prize: the cake; while others are happy to precisely scrape away and devour only the layers of icing, leaving naked, golden cake all alone on the plate, like Beyoncè after she’s stripped off a pink satin dress at the end of the day.
It must be a trait we carry throughout our lifetime, because it’s not only children who seem to have this compulsion. I know a few adults who would gladly mutilate a harmless cake just to get at the neon-colored icing.
I place myself in the democratic camp; I get some of everything when I dig in to dessert; a bite of moist cake, the crush of sweet juicy fruit, and a lashing of vanilla-scented cream. That’s why I think trifle is such a perfect dessert: It’s cake deconstructed and put back together.
For this trifle recipe, I baked a sponge cake from pastry chef David Lebovitz’s new book Ready for Dessert. It’s super-easy to make and even better made ahead of time – like the day before assembling the trifle. But to keep things extra-simple, a store-bought angel food cake would work just as well.
And – ssshhh – maybe even better, since you can take credit for serving a simply stunning dessert for Mother’s Day (or any day) without having to turn on the oven.
5 large eggs, separated
¼ cup cold water
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ cups cake flour, sifted
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
Grated zest of a lemon or orange
¾ cup sugar
2 cups crème fraiche
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 vanilla bean, split with sharp knife and seeds scraped
Juice from one large lemon or orange
4 cups mixed hulled and sliced strawberries and raspberries
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter the bottom of a rimmed 12 x 18-inch baking sheet or a 9-inch springform pan with sides at least 2 inches high. Line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper.
- In a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment, whip the egg yolks and water on high speed for 1 minute. Decrease speed to medium, add sugar and vanilla then increase speed to high. Continue to whip until the mixture forms a ribbon when the whip is lifted, about 5 minutes. Scrape the batter into another bowl, and wash the bowl and beater.
- Sift the flour, baking powder and salt over the beaten yolks. Gently fold in the flour until completely incorporated.
- Whip the egg whites and zest in the clean bowl on high speed until they form stiff peaks. Fold one-third of the whites into the yolk batter to lighten, then fold in the remaining whites.
- Pour batter into the prepared pan and spread into an even layer. Bake until the cake is lightly browned and the center springs back when gently pressed, 15 – 18 minutes in a baking sheet or 40 – 45 minutes in a springform cake pan.
- Let cake cool in the pan. Run a knife around the sides of cake to loosen and invert onto a cutting board.
- Whisk ½ cup sugar with the crème fraiche, cream and vanilla bean seeds in a medium bowl until smooth.
- In another bowl, whisk the remaining ¼ cup sugar with lemon or orange juice to dissolve. Gently stir in the berries. Let the berries sit 10 minutes.
- To assemble the trifle, cut the cake into circles to fit into 4 wide, shallow glasses. You can use ramekins, dessert bowls or go all out and use a special trifle bowl if you have one, just cut the cake into pieces to fit.
- Layer cake, berries and cream into whatever serving container you’re using, ending with berries on top. Refrigerate 30 minutes to one hour before serving.