I don't think there is one definitive recipe for trifle. But here are two recipes from our deeper archives:
English trifles come in many versions, but they all include a combination of cake, cream and fruit. In this version, a variation of the Bland family's favorite, the hard part is monitoring the custard sauce; the rest of the trifle can be easily assembled. Adapted from Nigel Slater's "Appetite" (Clarkson Potter, 2000).
About 7 ounces sponge, pound cake or ladyfingers
1/4 to 1/2 cup sweet wine, such as sherry, marsala or vin santo
About 11/4 cups heavy (whipping) cream
About 1 cup Custard Sauce (recipe follows)
About 2 cup raspberries (a couple of good handfuls, plus strawberries, blueberries, etc. to scatter)
Crumble the cake into large pieces and place them in a large serving dish. Drizzle with just enough wine to soak the cake thoroughly.
Pour the cream into a cold mixing bowl and whisk or beat it slowly. You want it to be thick enough to stand in soft folds but thin enough to almost slide off a spoon unaided. Stir about half of the whipped cream into the custard sauce; set aside.
In a blender or in a bowl using a fork, process or mash the berries. They should be almost at pouring consistency; if not, add a splash of mineral water. Drizzle most of the berry puree over the wine-soaked cake. Spoon the custard mixture over cake and fruit mixture. Spoon the remaining plain whipped cream over the top of the trifle. If desired, scatter some whole berries over the top. Spoon the remaining berry puree over the top. Serve immediately.
Per serving (including custard): 421 calories, 6 gm protein, 40 gm carbohydrates, 23 gm fat, 192 mg cholesterol, 13 gm saturated fat, 112 mg sodium, 5 gm dietary fiber
(Makes about 2 1/2 cups)
The most difficult part of this trifle is the custard sauce, which can curdle easily if you turn your back on it.
2 cups whole milk
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
5 egg yolks
5 tablespoons sugar
In a saucepan, preferably nonstick, bring the milk and split vanilla bean almost to a boil. When the milk looks as if it is on the point of boiling -- it will be shuddering, bubbles will be visible and maybe a little steam -- remove it from the heat and set aside for about 20 minutes to infuse. If a skin forms on the surface of the milk, use a spoon to remove it.
Remove the vanilla bean from the milk mixture and, using the tip of a sharp knife, scrape the seeds back into the milk. Discard the bean.
Have ready a clean bowl and a large bowl of ice water.
In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until thick and thoroughly combined, about 2 minutes. Add the cooled milk mixture and stir to combine. Rinse the milk pan and dry it. Pour the custard mixture into the pan and place over low heat. Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until it thickens somewhat, about 12 to 15 minutes. (On no account let the mixture get too hot -- if it boils it will curdle.) The consistency should be that of heavy cream. Remove the custard pan from the heat and immediately pour the custard into a clean bowl. Place the bowl in the ice water and continue to stir for about 2 minutes, until the custard cools.
Use the custard immediately or cool and refrigerate for up to 2 days. If refrigerating, gently press plastic wrap against the surface of the custard so it doesn't form a skin.
Per 1/2-cup serving: 166 calories, 6 gm protein, 17 gm carbohydrates, 8 gm fat, 226 mg cholesterol, 4 gm saturated fat, 55 mg sodium, 0 gm dietary fiber
Commercial pound cake is fine for trifle. The dessert should be made at least a couple of days ahead so flavors mingle and mellow.
16-ounce pound cake
1/2 cup raspberry jam
1/2 cup medium dry sherry
2 pounds canned, sliced pears or peaches, drained
12 to 16 whole browned almonds
FOR THE VANILLA CUSTARD SAUCE:
1 quart milk
1/4 cup cornstarch
10 egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
FOR THE CHANTILLY CREAM:
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Cut cake in 1/2-inch slices. Sandwich slices with raspberry jam and cut in 1-inch cubes. Put cake in bottom of a 3-quart serving bowl, sprinkle with sherry, and press down lightly. Top with drained fruit, spreading it flat.
For the custard sauce: scald milk in a saucepan. Stir together cornstarch, egg yolks, and sugar in a bowl. Whisk in boiling milk. Return custard to the pan and bring it just to a boil, stirring constantly so it thickens smoothly. Add vanilla extract and let it cool slightly. While still warm, pour custard over fruit and leave in refrigerator to set. Cover and refrigerate trifle at least a day and up to 3 days so flavor matures.
Not more than 3 hours before serving, make the chantilly cream. Whip cream until it holds a soft peak. Add sugar and vanilla and continue beating until stiff. Using a pastry bag and a medium star tube, pipe a lattice of cream on top of the trifle so the custard shows through. Decorate the edge with rosettes of cream and top each with a browned almond. Chill the trifle until serving.