Trifle is usually a homely dessert that tastes much better than it looks. It is possible, however, to make one that’s pretty enough to serve at a dinner party. This trifle uses macerated strawberries, rich crème anglaise and home-made ladyfingers (although they’re not necessarily in the traditional ladyfinger shape) that are brushed with Cointreau or Grand Marnier syrup.

The recipe for ladyfingers (also called biscuits à la cuillère) is very easy, and it’s useful for many other desserts that call for sponge cake. For the trifle, they can be piped in the shape of flat discs that fit into the trifle bowl (trace the circle on a sheet of parchment), into a continuous undulating strip that you can pull apart as needed to fit into the bowl, or into the traditional thick “fingers” (which, while slightly more work, allows you to serve the leftovers as cookies, although they should be eaten within two days, or they’ll be too dry). Or, you can do as I did, and make all three shapes.

The trifle can be made the day before you plan to serve it.


For the crème anglaise:

500ml cream

1 vanilla pod

5 egg yolks

50 grams granulated sugar

For the ladyfingers:

4 large eggs, at room temperature

155 grams granulated sugar, divided

½ tsp baking powder

1 tsp vanilla extract

¼ tsp cream of tartar (or use ½ tsp fresh lemon juice)

¼ tsp fine sea salt

125 grams pastry flour (or 100 grams plain all-purpose
flour mixed with 25
grams sifted cake flour)

For the filling:

1kg strawberries, cored (weigh them after removing the cores)

20 grams granulated sugar

30ml Cointreau or Grand Marnier

For the syrup:

60ml boiling water

40ml granulated sugar

15ml Cointreau or Grand Marnier

To finish the trifle:

100ml cream, chilled

Strawberries, raspberries, fresh currants and mint leaves

Make the crème anglaise first, because it needs at least four hours to chill. Pour the cream into a medium-sized saucepan. Split the vanilla pod lengthwise and use a paring knife to scrape out the sticky black seeds. Put the seeds and pod into the saucepan. Place the pan over a medium flame and when the cream simmers, turn off the heat and leave for about 15 minutes. Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until smooth. Ladle about 60ml of the hot cream into the bowl holding the yolks and whisk immediately. Ladle in the cream in two more additions, whisking well each time. Pour the egg yolk mixture into the saucepan and place it over a low flame. Use a wooden spoon to stir constantly in a back and forth motion, making sure to cover the entire bottom of the pan. Do not let the mixture boil. It’s thick enough when you can leave a clean track on the back of the spoon when you draw your finger through it. Remove the pan from the heat then strain the sauce through a sieve into a clean bowl. Cool to room temperature, stirring occa­sionally. Cover the bowl with cling-film and refrigerate for several hours.

Make the ladyfingers. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. If you’re making discs, use a marker pen to trace the circle on a sheet of baking paper (you’ll need three circles), then flip the paper over so the marked side is down. Put an 8mm plain piping tip onto a piping bag.

Separate the eggs, putting the yolks in one bowl and the whites in another. To the bowl of yolks, add 90 grams of sugar, the baking powder and the vanilla extract and immediately start to whip them using an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attach­ments. Whip until the yolks are thick and pale yellow. Remove the whisk attachments from the mixer and wash them with hot, soapy water, then dry and put them back on the mixer. Whip the whites until frothy then add the cream of tartar (or lemon juice) and the salt. With the mixer running, whip in 65 grams of sugar. Turn the mixer speed to high and continue to whip until the whites form soft peaks.

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Immediately add one-third of the whites to the bowl holding the yolks and mix vigorously until well combined. Add half the remaining whites to the bowl and fold them in gently, trying to maintain as much volume as pos­sible. Carefully fold in the last of the whites then put the mixture into the piping bag. Pipe the mixture into the desired shapes on parchment-lined baking trays. Slide the trays into the oven and bake for about 12 minutes or until done: the sponge will be fragrant and pale golden, and when you touch the surface, it will spring back without leaving an indent­ation. Let the sponge cool completely.

Select about 30 evenly sized straw­berries then cut them in half. Slice the remaining strawberries, mix them with the sugar and Cointreau or Grand Marnier and leave to macerate for about 30 minutes.

Make the syrup. Mix the boiling water with the sugar and stir to dissolve. Cool to room temperature, then stir in the Cointreau or Grand Marnier.

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Line the bottom of a 1.5-litre trifle bowl with ladyfingers (if you’ve piped the mix­ture into circles, trim them to fit, if necessary). Liberally brush the sugar syrup over the lady­fingers to moisten them, but not so much that they’re falling apart. Line the edge of the bowl with the halved strawberries so the cut side is facing outwards, then add the macerated strawberries until the bowl is almost half filled. Pour in some of the crème anglaise and let it settle into the gaps. Repeat the layering: ladyfingers, brush with syrup, then add the strawberries (again, lining the edge with halved berries) and crème anglaise. Top with a final layer of ladyfingers, pressing down gently to make it as even as possible, then brush with syrup. The bowl should be almost full. You might have some leftover strawberries and crème anglaise.

Whip the chilled cream until it forms soft peaks. Spoon it over the top layer and smooth out the surface. Chill the trifle for several hours. Decorate with strawberries, raspberries, red currants and mint leaves, then serve.

Styling: Nellie Ming Lee

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