Brandy, roasted apples and chocolate custards combine to create a decadent and boozy fall dessert.
Although I celebrated Thanksgiving a bit late this year, I certainly celebrated with a bang. The turkey was beautiful and moist, the confit tomato tart was a hit, and ten of our dear friends dug in for one more round of TDay, offering sausage stuffing, carrot souffle, and homemade cranberry relish.
But instead of pie, my dessert of choice this year was a trifle. Partly inspired by Saveur‘s beautiful cover this month, and partly taken up with the notion of making something I hadn’t yet conquered, I decided to forgo the traditional Thanksgiving desserts for this fall-flavored layered treat. Although this is typically an English Christmas dessert, combining the flavors of fall–roasted apples, brandy, and apple jam–gave this version an autumn feel. And it was the perfect ending to our belated Thanksgiving Day celebration this Saturday.
But this concoction, classically made with layers of wine-soaked cake, custard, fruit or jelly, and a liquor-spiked cream called a syllabub, can be re-imagined with any flavors you have on hand, making it a great dessert to get you through the winter party season. An added bonus– the different elements can be made several days in advance, allowing more cooking time for other items on the actual day of.
Autumn Trifle (adapted from Saveur, No. 134)
For the cake:
6 oz butter, softened
14 oz sugar
3 oz white chocolate
1 cup buttermilk or milk
9.5 oz cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 cup sugar
For the custards:
3/4 cup sugar
7 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt
4 egg yolks
4 cups milk
8 oz. 70 percent dark chocolate, finely chopped
10 oz. white chocolate, finely chopped
4 tbsp unsalted butter, cubed
1/4 cup brandy
For the fruit:
4 medium sized apples
2 cups fresh or dried cherries
1 cup brandy
1 cup apple cider
2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup apple jam or applesauce
For the syllabub:
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp brandy
1 cup heavy cream
1. Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and 14 oz sugar together. In a small bowl, microwave the white chocolate, 10 seconds at a time and stirring in between, until melted completely. Be careful beacuse white chocolate burns easily. Add a small amount of the butter to the white chocolate and stir to combine. Add this mixture to the rest of butter and mix on a low speed to combine.
3. Add the egg yolks into the mixer, scraping down the sides in between each addition. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together and add one-fourth of it to the mixture. Add a small amount of milk. Continue adding flour and then milk, until all is added and batter is smooth.
4. Pour batter into a clean bowl and wash out mixing bowl. Whip the whites in the bowl until they start to froth, then slowly rain in the remaining sugar. Whisk on medium speed until shiny and at medium peeks. Add a small portion to the batter and stir to combine. Add the rest of the meringue to the batter, and gently fold together, using a spatula. Line a sheet tray with a silpat or parchment paper, and pour batter onto tray. Using a large offset spatula, evenly spread the batter on tray. Place in oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown.
5. Remove cake from oven and let cool overnight. The next day, remove the top crust, either by gently rolling it off the cake or by slicing the layer off with a knife. Flip the cake out of the tray and carefully slice off the bottom crust. Cut the remaining cake into 1/2” cubes. Place cubes in a bowl and set aside.
6. For the custards: In a 2-qt sauce pan, whisk together 1/2 cup sugar, 2 tbsp cornstarch, and 1/4 tsp salt. Add two yolks and 1 egg, whisk until smooth, and add 2 cup milk. Bring to a boil, whisking so sides and bottom do not burn or curdle, and cook until mixture thickens, 1-2 minutes. Pour into a small bowl, and add chocolate in four additions, stirring to smooth after every addition. Add 2 tbsp butter and brandy and stir to combine. Place a layer of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard and chill overnight. Whisk the remaining sugar, cornstarch and salt in a 2-qt saucepan. Add two yolks and one egg, whisk to combine, and add 2 cups milk. Bring to a boil, whisking so sides and bottom do not burn or curdle, and cook until mixture thickens, 1-2 minutes. Pour into a small bowl, and add white chocolate in four additions, stirring to smooth after every addition. Add 2 tbsp butter, and combine. Place a layer of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard and chill overnight.
7. For the fruit: Heat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut the apples into a small dice and place them in a roasting pan (a bread pan works well). Add 1/2 cup brandy, 1 cup apple cider, and 1 tbsp cinnamon. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and cook 30-40 minutes or until fork tender. Removed from oven, strain off liquid, reserving, and place apples in a separate container. Cool. Halve and pit cherries and place them in a 4-qt sauce pan. Add 1/2 cup brandy, 1 cup cider and 1 tbsp cinnamon and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Strain, reserving liquid, and cool cherries.
8. To assemble the trifle: Combine the reserved fruit liquids and toss the cake cubes with it. Arrange the cake snugly in the bottom of a 3-qt glass trifle dish or bowl. Combine the apples and cherries, and top cake with a layer of fruit. Spoon chocolate custard over fruit and smooth top with a rubber spatula or back of spoon. Refrigerate until set, about 30 minutes. If using thick apple jam, heat to soften, and then allow to cool. Pour jam or applesauce over custard and spread evenly. Return to refrigerator and chill until set, about two hours. Spoon white chocolate custard over jam, smooth with spatula and cover dish with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 6-8 hours.
9. An hour or so before your plan to serve the trifle, make the syllabub. Whisk together the brandy and sugar until sugar has dissolved. Add the heavy cream, and whisk to soft peaks. Spoon over the chocolate custard and use the back of a spoon to create swirls and peaks with the cream. Chill until ready to serve.