Monday, January 11, 2016

Berry Trifle for "Downton Abbey" Night


A professor friend of mine, a college friend's father, recently posted a photo of his wife's English trifle dessert for Downton Abbey night. I thought this was a wonderful idea. I celebrated my birthday this past weekend and thought a trifle dessert with Downton Abbey could be a part of my celebration.

I have made variations of trifle before. The last recipe I tried before this was an adapted Pampered Chef recipe, a sort of Black Forest cake variation. I remember I used a Ghiradelli brownie mix instead of Duncan Hines. It was delicious but not exactly a traditional English trifle. I've even seen variations made with Twinkies, but, obviously, great English manors in the 1920s did not serve trifle made with Twinkies. I decided to look online for a traditional recipe.

That was a trickier business than I expected. I found several trifle recipes by British TV chef Jamie Oliver. These seemed promising for being more authentic and traditional. Reading one of his recipes, I had to keep reminding myself that "jelly" meant "gelatin." (For British friends and readers, you may already know that Americans use the word "jelly" to refer to what you would call "jam." You may not know that, although gelatin is the formally correct American term for "jelly," most of us, informally, use the brand name word Jell-O in place of "gelatin.") 

Jamie Oliver's one recipe called for ready-made sponge cake or trifle sponges and blancmange, a gelatin dessert made with cornstarch and milk. It would save some steps to use ready-made products, but I didn't think I would find either of these in stores near me, at least, not easily. I would be more likely to find a ready-made angel food cake, but I didn't think angel food cake was synonymous with sponge cake. I just looked up the difference between the two, and it would seem that angel food cake is made with egg whites only and sponge cake with whole eggs.  

I then found this Williams Sonoma recipe that provides links to their recipes for both the sponge cake and crème anglaise layers and uses dried cherries and pears. That seemed both authentic and doable, if more time consuming, since it provided the recipes for components I doubted I would find in stores. In the end I used a different Williams Sonoma recipe.

I settled on making this Williams Sonoma berry trifle recipe. There were several reasons why I picked this one. 1) This one uses mixed berries, and berries are my favorite fruit. 2) This one called for ready-made pound cake, which I was more confident I could find in stores. It would also be less time consuming to use a ready-made cake. 3) Several of the recipes I reviewed and considered called for some sort of liquor, possibly a sweet sherry. This one uses orange liqueur which I already had on hand. 

I am basically a teetotaler and live in a family of teetotalers, but we do cook and bake with wine and other liquor sometimes. Occasionally, we buy liqueur for a special recipe that hangs around for ages since we don't drink it or frequently use it for a recipe. We have some kirsch that we used years ago for a Bon Appetit magazine recipe for Black Forest cake for my father's birthday. Somehow, we had some Cointreau liqueur we used for I forget what recipe, and I was glad to put it to another use and avoid buying another liquor to hang around for ages.

 This recipe calls for two pounds of mixed berries. I went over the two pounds, using a pound of strawberries, 12 ounces of blackberries and a dry pint (12 ounces) of blueberries. Here are my beautiful strawberries in their special berry basket of the lettuce spinner, ready for their bath (or maybe shower would be a better term.)

I hulled and sliced my strawberries.

I then added the other berries to the mix.

I then added quarter cup orange juice, a quarter cup Cointreau and a quarter cup superfine sugar to my berries to let them macerate. The superfine sugar was one ingredient that was slightly elusive. I looked for it in the nearest supermarket, Kings Supermarket, and did not find it on the shelves. I thought perhaps I would have to use confectioners' sugar. I'm not sure that would have worked as well, however; because the superfine sugar is a quick dissolve sugar to use with liquids. I came home, and we were out of confectioners' sugar. I then headed to Foodtown. (I realize these are store chains that are regional to me, but it may be helpful to those in my area.) I hoped to find the superfine sugar and knew, that if I failed to find it, I could, at least, pick up the confectioners' sugar. I did find the superfine sugar at Foodtown. Success! 

Each of these chains carry different products. Kings Supermarket caters to a sophisticated clientele. This is an advantage when tracking down a specialty product, but the shelves are sometimes filled with specialties and imports and have less room for more ordinary products. They also may not carry as many baking needs.

So, if you have a little trouble tracking down superfine sugar. Mine looked like this, in a tall plastic container with a flip and pour top.

I made one mistake though. I forgot I would need the confectioners' sugar also for my cream layer, so ... Almost success! Cooks, bakers, do you find yourself doing absent-minded things like this sometimes?

At home, I zested my lemon with a microplane. The zest would be mixed into the cream layer.

I found Entenmann's brand pound cake, which might be helpful to those in the Northeast U.S. I'm not sure in what states this brand is available, but I was surprised to see Entenmann's products in stores while I was in Florida. I bought two cakes, not knowing how much I would need to equal six cups of cubed cake. The recipe actually asks for lemon pound cake which I did not find in the store (but would likely be delicious!)

One loaf cubed was approximately equal to six cups. I did not open the second box.

My process was interrupted by my birthday dinner with Mom and Dad out at Olive Garden. I left my berries to macerate. After dinner, I bought my silly confectioners' sugar, so I could continue.

I then whipped my cream in the mixer: two cups of heavy cream, one and a half teaspoons of vanilla extract and a quarter cup of confectioners' sugar. I had some more obstacles here. I was using an ancient old General Electric mixer that dates back to the 1960s at least, so it took a higher speed and three times the time allotted in the recipe to get my cream whipped, but, at last, I got those nice soft peaks. The lever for changing speeds is also broken on this old mixer, but my clever dad created a wire gizmo to work in place of the old broken lever.

In a separate smaller bowl, I beat a half pound of mascarpone cheese to soften it. I then folded the mascarpone into the whipped cream and folded in the lemon zest.

I then alternated layering the ingredients in the trifle dish. It should be three layers each of the cubed pound cake, the cream and the berries. Perhaps because I added more fruit, I couldn't fit a third layer of cream in the trifle dish. I solved this by slicing up some of the second pound cake and serving that with dollops of the extra cream for that evening. 

Here is my finished product.

In spite of a few obstacles and absent-minded moments, it came out quite well. It was refrigerated overnight. By the time it was Downton Abbey time, as my mother put it, the flavors had married. As TV chef Emeril Lagasse would put it, the various layers of flavors were getting "all happy in there." I suppose it's fitting that these sweet things should happily marry. Fans of the show would like to see Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes just as happily married.

We watched Season 6, Episodes One and Two back to back. You may want to wait on reading ahead if you haven't yet seen these episodes.

The story line concerning Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson stood out to me as being the most touching. Mrs. Hughes has a little private talk with Mrs. Patmore, the cook, and expresses that she is embarrassed about her aging body. She wonders if Mr. Carson is expecting a full marriage or he expects to live with her more like brother and sister. In their extreme delicacy, the two ladies have enough difficulty discussing this matter as two female friends. In even greater awkwardness, Mrs. Hughes commissions Mrs. Patmore to speak to Carson on her behalf.

Mom and I felt so sympathetic with Mrs. Patmore, exchanging tense glances across the room. This photo captures how uncomfortable the poor woman is. At last, after a lot of  delicate hinting and euphemism, Carson begins to understand her meaning. We are rewarded with a rather touching speech.

Carson says, "Tell her this, Mrs. Patmore: That in my eyes, she is beautiful...."

"I want a real marriage, a true marriage with everything that that involves. I love her, Mrs. Patmore. I am happy, and tickled, and bursting with pride that she would agree to be my wife. And I want us to live as closely as two people can for the time that remains to us on earth." -- Mr. Carson

Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes meet together some time after that, and Mrs. Hughes herself has some sweet words.

"If you want me, you can have me, to quote Oliver Cromwell, 'warts and all.'" -- Mrs. Hughes. (Sigh) Very satisfying and sweet, right? We would hope spouses would forgive us all our imperfections.

Mr. and Mrs. Bates also have a beautiful moment. Poor Anna has had several miscarriages and is very concerned she can't give Mr. Carson children as he would wish. She seems to blame herself, but Mr. Bates says something lovely to remove some of that self-blame.

"To me, we are one person, and that person can't have children." -- Mr. Bates. "We are one person." That's exactly how married people should feel.

In another little story line, Edith's daughter Marigold temporarily goes missing with Mrs. Drewe, the wife of a tenant farmer who had been raising her. It's a complicated situation. It is practically a kidnapping, only she takes her safely back to the farm, and her husband helps to return the child. Mrs. Drewe tells her husband that nobody was paying any attention to the child at the outdoor event where Edith and family were looking over some pigs. I can understand some of Mrs. Drewe's feeling. She had grown attached to Marigold. The Grantham children only spend one hour a day with their parents and the rest of the time with nannies. It doesn't seem like an ideal way to raise children. I don't really want Lady Edith to be separated from her daughter, but I wonder what arrangement will be best for Marigold? Lady Edith is pursuing a journalism career and considering moving into a London flat. This seems to suit her talents, but how will this lifestyle fit with raising Marigold? It will be interesting to see where this story line goes.


  1. Hi Susan! Found your blog through Google +. The trifle looks delicious. Happy belated Birthday!

    xo Diane

    1. Thank you, Diane. The trifle was delicious, and there is plenty of it still. :)

  2. That's some delicious looking trifle! And I'm really excited for you that you haven't finished Downton Abbey yet, unlike us UK folk :( you've got some great episodes ahead of you!

    1. Thank you, Mike. :) Yes, I suppose it will be a bit sad when the series ends.

  3. Hi Susan! Love how your triffle looks! Will be sure to try it out during my next dinner gathering.


  4. There are a lot of sad people in the UK as the Downton finale was shown at Christmas. Celebrate each episode (well maybe series) with one of those trifles.

    1. Thank you, Richard. I have some premonitions as to where things may be heading in the finale but not with every character's story line. The finale does seem so very final. (Sigh.)

  5. That sounds yummy! My stepdad is British so one year for Christmas I made a trifle in honor of his heritage. It was delicious.

    1. Very neat. :) I have (partly) English heritage. My maternal grandmother's parents came from England and settled in Nebraska actually with the Homestead Act. Mom tells me that Grandma had a few British English expressions that she used throughout her life that she learned from her parents. I don't have any traditional recipes that were passed down through that line of the family, but I like traditions. :)

  6. Eating and watching episodes or a movie is always the best way to kick back and relax when you can't have a book on hand. I don't watch Downtown Abbey myself, but it is a show I might try at some point. I'm open to it! I also really like the looks of that trifle. Trifle usually goes down well with me <3 I have saved this recipe and hopefully at some point I'll be able to make this for myself. Thanks for sharing it, Susan!

    1. I'm glad to hear it, Olivia, and I agree with you on the first statement. :)