TRI­FLING MAT­TERS

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Stellar - - Delicious - MATT PRE­STON See our tri­fle spe­cial, start­ing op­po­site, and find more recipes at de­li­cious.com.au.

For­get deck­ing the halls, in my life it’s the prospect of the Christ­mas tri­fle that has me chortling like the ro­tund old fella in the red suit. And I’m not alone. This time of year, the num­ber of peo­ple search­ing on­line for tri­fle recipes booms – up some 1600 per cent. That’s no tri­fling in­crease.

The tri­fles they’re look­ing for are a mil­lion miles away from the first tri­fles cre­ated in Re­nais­sance Eng­land in the 16th cen­tury. They were lit­tle more than set creams flavoured with gin­ger or rose­wa­ter. Over the cen­turies the dessert evolved, with booze-splashed bis­cuits, cus­tard and an airy syl­labub join­ing the party. Fruit, first as jam or candied and then fresh or stewed, was the fi­nal ad­di­tion, with the bis­cuits of­ten re­placed with stale sponge for soak­ing up the booze.

To­day’s tri­fles are the chameleons of the dessert world, mor­ph­ing between flavour pro­files and in­gre­di­ents, and rang­ing in tone from the nurs­ery to how-posh-are-you-in-your-tiara el­e­gance. They must, how­ever, have some­thing cus­tardy, some­thing creamy and some­thing cakey or bis­cu­ity soft­ened with booze or fruit juice. They mustn’t drift into tiramisù ter­ri­tory. Here, then, are my top tips for ter­rific tri­fle.

IF IN DOUBT, GO TRA­DI­TIONAL

You’re not mak­ing a tri­fle to wow your In­sta pals. My cover star fea­tures cherries, not straw­ber­ries with cu­cum­ber, say. I knew ex­actly the look I’d get from my daugh­ter if I’d gone down that route.

MATCH THE FLAVOURS

Great tri­fles con­trast tex­ture but keep the flavours in the lay­ers har­mo­nious.

MAKE THE EL­E­MENTS IN AD­VANCE

It’s all about the plan­ning. At least make the jelly or bake the sponge the day be­fore. You can make the cus­tard on the day, but it’s best cooled be­fore us­ing; I like Shan­non Ben­nett’s tip to whisk the cus­tard un­til it’s cool, which makes it lighter and ready to use quicker.

THE BOWL

The bowl should be glass so you can see the lay­ers. A tri­fle is a cen­tre­piece and I think a large straight-sided bowl is the most dra­matic choice.

THE FRUIT

We have loads of bril­liant fruit at Christ­mas so it’s only right to plan your tri­fle around some­thing sea­sonal and then build the flavours from there. You might choose choco­late cus­tard and an al­mond cake to go with im­pec­ca­ble nec­tarines, or a dark choco­late cake splashed with kirsch to go with the sea­son’s best cherries. The fruit can be fresh, poached, mac­er­ated, used for jelly, set in jelly, or a com­bi­na­tion of all.

THE CAKEY LAY­ERS

Two things de­cide what you should use here: the tri­fle’s flavour pro­file and its mois­ture level. The wet­ter the tri­fle, the denser the cake it will ac­com­mo­date. Think sponge, pan­netone or yes­ter­day’s horse- chaff muffins (that no one wanted to eat, un­sur­pris­ingly) for drier tri­fles. For wet­ter tri­fles, Madeira cake, gin­ger­bread or bis­cuits such as sponge fingers, mac­a­roons and crushed amaretti work well. Denser stuff like brown­ies and blondies, ba­nana bread or short­bread can also work, but I use th­ese in in­di­vid­ual tri­fles that are com­posed in a glass where soft­ness is not so prized.

THE BOOZE

While sherry, dessert wine and even port are tra­di­tional, don’t write-off us­ing spir­its and liqueurs like Amaretto, Frangelico, or Cam­pari if they’re com­ple­men­tary to the other flavours used. Re­mem­ber to splash, not soak – no one wants a sludge, or a tri­fle so boozy you’ll be over the limit. You can also use fruit juice or cold teas in­stead for a tee­to­tal tri­fle.

MOUSSE OR CUS­TARD

Store-bought is fine, but mak­ing your own is so easy and far sex­ier. Ei­ther way, cus­tomise your cus­tard with any­thing from pan­dan or lemon to choco­late or cof­fee. Cus­tard can be sub­sti­tuted with crème pâtis­sière, a flavoured mousse or even, if you’re a tri­fle rad­i­cal like Matt Mo­ran, with gelato as in his trade­mark Gay­time tri­fle (see page 35).

THE CREAM

Don’t over­whip the cream – you want soft, gen­tle peaks. Flavour it with a lit­tle ic­ing sugar, rose­wa­ter or el­der­flower cor­dial, or even rip­ple it with a smooth fruit com­pote af­ter whip­ping it.

AS­SEM­BLING

It’s best to as­sem­ble the tri­fle when all the el­e­ments are cool. Some pre­fer to do it in ad­vance so flavours can min­gle and meld, but I pre­fer to go closer to when it’ll be eaten to avoid a sludgy tri­fle. I leave the gar­nish­ing un­til just be­fore serv­ing, though, to en­sure no seep­age.

THE GAR­NISH

When it comes to gar­nish there are no rules other than it must be ed­i­ble and it should fit with the theme and flavours of your tri­fle. I’d steer clear of hun­dreds and thou­sands, though – most tri­fles don’t need any more sugar. Toasted sliv­ered al­monds, pis­ta­chios tossed in a lit­tle oil to make them glis­ten greener, or per­haps more of the fruit laced with a com­ple­men­tary herb, such as mint, tar­ragon or candied rose­mary, are all a good place to start.

ASK WHO’S COM­ING

Any al­ler­gies out there? Ac­com­mo­date those guests, too, and make a gluten­free sponge, avoid gar­nishes of pepi­tas or nuts, or make a mini tri­fle just for them without the of­fend­ing el­e­ments.

BO­GAN TRI­FLE

There’s noth­ing wrong with bo­gan tri­fle. Make a stand against the tri­fle snobs and cel­e­brate Eng­land’s cash-strapped­pen­sioner tri­fle com­posed of noth­ing home­made – find my recipe for ‘one big whop­per tri­fle’ at de­li­cious.com.au. And, yes, it does use tinned peaches.

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