A Tale of Two Trifles: Strawberry Vanilla and Chocolate Raspberry, for a Graduation Party

Warning: this is a pretty long post, but includes some of my favorite tricks, so hopefully it will be worth it. Maybe get a fresh cup of coffee before you sit down to read it!

My daughter Maya, who is an excellent baker, decided that she couldn’t bear to have just a cake for her high school graduation party. Nope – what she really wanted is what we traditionally serve for birthdays around here: Strawberry Trifle.  It’s cool & creamy with soft custard and whipped cream, but not overly sweet.  We all love it.

I’ve shared my trifle recipe before (see link above) and it is pretty easy to make.  But honestly the thought of a giant trough of trifle is just too unappetizing to even consider. Trifle is lovely in a clear dish – until the first spoonful is removed and then it’s a sloppy mess. Delicious – but basically dessert carnage.

Fortunately, I’ve made individual trifles before and it’s a neat and lovely way to serve them. Making 100 individual servings is a little more serious endeavor, but I thought – we can do this! To add to the fun, we added Chocolate Raspberry Trifle.

Here’s how we did it:

The day before the party, we made 2 1/2 gallons of vanilla custard, and 1 1/4 gallons of chocolate custard. In hindsight I’d do the opposite, since the chocolate was a huge hit.

A triple batch of my regular recipe yields just a little more than a gallon, and my biggest pot just held a triple batch without disaster.

First trick: when making party-size quantities, reuse containers that the original ingredients came in.

After we’d made the custard, Taylor (who was helping me, God bless her!) poured the slightly cooled custard into a pitcher, put the lid on, and then poured the custard back into the empty gallon milk jugs. I also mixed up the frozen strawberries, sugar and sherry in a bowl and returned them to the frozen strawberry bag, which then just zipped shut. (Didn’t thaw or sweeten the raspberries or add anything else to them – I like the tartness they bring.)  Both milk jug and zipper bag were way easier to store in the fridge.

Second trick: buy an unfrosted chocolate cake and angel food cakes. The bakers at Costco thought we were nuts, but it worked beautifully.

Third and most important trick: We used shiny, clear plastic drinking glasses (the shorter, wider ones) and got 7 empty strawberry “tray” cartons from Costco to hold them. Each tray held 15 cups, and let us stack them neatly.

Fourth trick: on the morning of the party, we cut the cakes into 2″ pieces and put them in the bottom of each cup. Half the cups were chocolate and half were angel food. Then we covered them all with plastic wrap (just a couple of big sheets over each layer) and stacked them.

So to recap, the day before, we made the custards and sweetened the strawberries, which we stored in the refrigerator. We also had 6 cans of whipped cream and the mini-chocolate chips ready to go.

Morning of: we prepped the cups with cake.

Just before serving we dropped a nice spoonful of  fruit onto the cake, and poured about 1/3 cup custard directly out of the milk jugs onto the cake, and topped that with a spritz  of whipped cream (and sprinkled mini chocolate chips on the chocolate ones.)

Because it was a very warm day, we served the trifle cups in aluminum catering trays, nestled on top of a second tray with ice. A couple of wooden spoons in the ice kept the tray from sinking too far down, but kept the trifles nice and cool.

We were lucky enough to have two lovely young ladies helping during the party and they assembled the trifles and refilled the trays all evening.  The trifles were a hit and I know many people couldn’t resist seconds!

So for the record, here are the layers:

Chocolate Raspberry Trifle:

First layer: chocolate cake
Second layer: frozen raspberries
Third layer: chocolate custard
Fourth layer: whipped Cream
Topping: Sprinkle of Mini chocolate chips

Strawberry Trifle:

First layer: angel food cake
Second layer: strawberries, slightly sweetened and with a splash of sherry
Third layer: vanilla custard
Fourth layer: whipped Cream

We did end up with an extra 1/2 gallon of Vanilla custard, but what with one thing and another, that  has already mysteriously disappeared! (We do love our custard.)

So if you’re hosting a party and want a really “wow” dessert, try making individual trifles.

Molasses Taffy

When I was in second or third grade we made Molasses Taffy at school and I remember being enthralled with the way the color lightened into a golden brown as we pulled it. I never saw a recipe or made it again until a couple of years ago, when I saw it in a cookbook in Florida. It is an unusual taffy, flavored with molasses.

2 cups sugar
1 cup molasses
1/4 cup water
2 tsp vinegar
2 Tbsp butter
1/2 tsp baking soda

Add sugar, molasses and water to a large pot. Bring to a boil and add vinegar. Cook until the mixture reaches 268 degrees. (Hard ball stage.)

Remove from heat, add in baking soda and butter.

Turn out onto a buttered tray and butter hands. Once taffy is cool enough to handle, start pulling and twisting it. It will get a light golden color and get quite soft. Pull it into ropes about 1/2″ thick, and snip 2″ sections. You can wrap them in little rectangles of waxed paper, twisting the ends like a hard candy.

Maple Bourbon Banana Pudding Cake

I wrote “Good!” on this recipe and it is really a little bit of heaven. The maple syrup, brown sugar and bourbon form a wonderful sort of puddingy glaze on top.

6 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 large ripe bananas
1 egg
1/2 cup milk

Blend all these until very creamy and smooth.

1 cup flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
pinch salt

Blend the dry ingredients in a little bowl and add to the banana mixture. Gently stir until smooth. Pour into a medium-sized baking dish.

1/2 cup real maple syrup
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup hot water
2 Tbsp bourbon
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Heat the syrup, brown sugar, water and bourbon in a microwave safe container for a few minutes until everything is well blended. Be careful opening the microwave as the alcohol from the bourbon can make your eyes water!

Drizzle maple glaze all over the batter. Sprinkle chopped pecans on top. Bake 40 minutes at 375.

Can double this for a larger baking pan.

Orange-Apricot Buttermilk “Pudding”

We bought fat-free half and half by accident, and had some buttermilk left over and I wondered if there might be a recipe for a buttermilk pudding where I could use both up.  I found one online from Garrett McCord, and tried it as an experiment.

I made the recipe pretty much the same as his, but at the very end, I threw in a large spoonful of Orange-Apricot Marmalade from Sarabeth.  Then it was off to the fridge.

Success!  A light, creamy gelatin-based pudding that’s slightly sweet but with tangy notes of orange, apricot and buttermilk.

2 tsp unflavored gelatin
2 Tbsp water
1 cup half n half (fat-free works if you’ve accidentally bought some!)
1/2 cup of sugar
2 cups buttermilk
1/4 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp orange-apricot marmalade (or apricot jam and orange marmalade)

Mix the gelatin and water in a bowl. Let set. It will thicken but that’s okay.

In a saucepan, heat half n half and sugar, stirring until sugar is completely dissolved and mixture is starting to bubble just a bit. Remove from heat, and pour about a 1/2 cup into the gelatin mixture. Stir well, then add back to pan.

Add buttermilk, vanilla and marmalade. Stir well and pour into a glass dish. Cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight, until the gelatin is nice and firm. There may be bits of orange zest or apricot in it, but we didn’t mind them at all.

This makes a very nice, light dessert that would even be good for company. You could dress it up by garnishing it with fresh fruit like raspberries, or diced mangoes, and a drizzle of honey.  Would be really good for a summer dinner party in the backyard.

In hindsight, I wish I’d poured the pudding into smaller bowls, which would have been prettier. Also, Garrett uses heavy cream instead of half n half.

Kir (Rice pudding)

There are so many different ways of making Kir.  It can be very soupy, or quite thick.  It can be plain, or garnished with almonds, pistachios and raisins. I learned this recipe form my mother-in-law Shamim, and it’s a great dish for many occasions, because it makes a lot. It is also called Phirni.

We took it most recently to an international dinner at my daughter Maya’s high school.  That was an amazing dinner –  her school is really diverse and the food was so good.   I also took some to a Unitarian Eid lunch one year. One of my friends who is Indian said it tasted just like her Grandmother’s recipe.

1 cup basmati rice, rinsed, dried and ground
8 green cardamoms,ground
2 Tbsp ground pistachios
Rose Essence (optional, but it gives a lovely floral scent)
7 1/2 cups milk
3/4 cup sugar

Grind dry rice and cardamoms in a food processor or mortar and pestle. I use a coffee grinder we keep for spices that gets it really finely ground.

Add ground rice and cardamoms to a large pot and add 6 3/4 cup of the milk. Stir well, and cook over a medium/low heat for 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the rest of the milk, pistachios, sugar and rosewater and cook 2 more minutes.

The kir should thicken up as it chills, but will still be quite soupy when warm. Pour into small bowls, (little clay bowls are traditional) and chill well. Before serving, garnish with more chopped pistachios, and if you want to give it the full monty; rose petals.

Note: Watch the heat carefully when you are cooking the milk. Don’t let it scorch! You may want to fish out the cardamon shells before pouring it into the bowls.

Pudding Cake

This recipe uses cake mix, and instant pudding mix.  I am not a great baker, so I never shy away from cake mixes.  When this bakes, it forms a lovely moist cake just swimming in delicious pudding sauce.  A great treat for once in a while.

1 package cake mix, mixed according to the label directions.
(May require eggs, water and oil.)

2 cups milk
1 1/4 cups water
2 4 oz. packages of instant pudding mix
1/3 cup sugar
powdered sugar for sprinkling on just before serving.

Mix the cake mix and pour it into a large baking pan. Mix the water, milk, pudding mix and sugar and pour over the cake mix.

Put the baking dish on a cookie sheet, and bake at 350 for about an hour. Let cool slightly, and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve warm and refrigerate leftovers.

The fun in this dessert is that you can do some interesting combinations. Try spice cake and pumpking pudding, or lemon cake and lemon pudding (one of our favorites.) Of course you can always do chocolate cake and chocolate pudding, or branch out into something adventurous and try white cake with pistachio pudding. It’s delish!

Maya’s Delicious Jello Dessert

A proud Midwestern gal, I know the value of having a few good jello desserts in my repertoire and this is one of the best. I think Maya and I probably made this together the first time.

1 1/2 cups crushed graham crackers
1/2 cup sugar, divided
6 Tbsp melted butter
12 oz. cream cheese
2 Tbsp milk
3 cups sweetened whipped cream or cool whip, divided
2 cups boiling water
1 large or two small packages jello (any flavor that works with the fruit)
1 1/2 cups cold water
2 cups fruit, cut into bite-sized pieces (Berries, peaches and pears work well or a combination of fruits. Strawberries are pretty traditional.)

Mix graham crackers, 1/4 cup sugar and butter and pat into a 9 x 13 pan. Bake at 375 for 7 minutes. Remove and let cool.

Beat cream cheese, 1/4 cup sugar and milk until smooth. Fold in whipped cream. Gently spread onto cooled crust.

Mix jello and boiling water, and stir well until the jello is completely dissolved. Add the 1 1/2 cups cold water and fruit and stir gently so you don’t break the fruit up too badly. Pour jello mixture onto cheese layer.

Cover the dish and refrigerate it for 2 hours. Just before serving spread 2 cups of whipped cream on top. If you have extra fruit, use it to garnish the top.