I am seriously beginning to wonder whether anyone really cares about the Name This Food! bit of The Food Of Jeff! So I have decided that this post will be the last Name This Food!, unless there is a mass outcry for its return.
...(sound of crickets chirping)...
I asked last time (and it was a while ago, so you've had plenty of time to think of an answer, which is why I am cancelling etc. etc) what this food was.
I received no answer, not one. Nada. Zip. Smoke. Nuthin'. A big fat goose egg. Which is disconcerting, since it's probably the easiest one I've EVER posted.
For those of you who have still no clue, it's a TRIFLE.
So what's a trifle, and why's it called a trifle?
Trifle is a dessert dish made from thick or usually solidified custard, fruit, sponge cake, fruit juice or gelatin, and whipped cream. These ingredients are usually arranged in layers with fruit and sponge on the bottom, and custard and cream on top.
The earliest known use of the name trifle was for a thick cream flavoured with sugar, ginger and rosewater, the recipe for which was published in England, 1596, in a book called "The good huswife's Jewell" by Thomas Dawson. It wasn't until sixty years later when milk was added and the custard was poured over alcohol soaked bread.
Research indicates it evolved from a similar dessert known as a fool or foole (which we covered a few months ago in this very column), and originally the two names were used interchangeably.
While some people consider the inclusion of gelatin to be a recent variation, the earliest known recipe to include jelly dates from 1747, and the poet Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote of trifles containing jelly in 1861.
Many people use a small amount of alcohol such as port, or, most commonly, sweet sherry or madeira wine in their trifles. A trifle containing sherry is sometimes called 'High Church' - apparently! Non-alcoholic versions may use sweet juices or soft drinks such as ginger ale instead, as the liquid is necessary to moisten the cake layers. If you spread a nice jam on the trifle sponges or cake layers before soaking them in booze and gelatin it adds an extra facet to the flavors. Yummmm.
Scotland has a similar dish to trifle, Tipsy Laird, made with Drambuie or whisky. In the Southern US, as well as parts of the UK, a variant of trifle is known as tipsy cake. When I worked at Sissinghurst we often served 'Sussex Tipsy Cake'.
A trifle is often used for decoration as well as taste, incorporating the bright, layered colours of the fruit, jelly, egg custard, and the contrast of the cream.
Trifles are often served at Christmas time, sometimes as a lighter alternative to the much denser Christmas pudding.
A Creole trifle (also sometimes known as a 'Russian cake') is a different but related dessert item consisting of pieces of a variety of cakes mixed together and packed firmly, moistened with alcohol (commonly red wine or rum) and a sweet syrup or fruit juice, and chilled. The resulting cake contains a variety of colour and flavour. Bakeries in New Orleans have been known to produce such cakes out of their leftover or imperfect baked goods.
In Italy, a dessert similar to trifle is known as zuppa inglese, meaning English Soup.
As to WHY it's called a trifle - who knows?
Another variant is one we invented - Gingerbread Trifle.
What we did was to make Gingerbread (the soft kind, more like a tea bread than the kind used for building houses, that you can buy packet mixes of in the Pillsbury/Betty Crocker section), and bake it like you would a jelly roll (Swiss roll) on a baking sheet, then cut this into sections.What you could do at this point is to drizzle the cake with dark rum or brandy or even whisky.
We then took the pre-prepared canned pumpkin and combined it with butterscotch Jello pudding mix or Angel Delight mix, then into your trifle bowl alternate layers of the gingerbread, the pudding, and whipped cream. Extremely decadent but a cinch to make and no need to wait for custard and jello to set!