A Spring Trifle


If, like me, you have not before made a trifle, you may think it must be a breeze. And in fact, if you already have the cake, the pastry cream, the sliced up fruit and fruit puree and the whipped cream, it is. If you have to make all of that from scratch, you may find yourself, like me, doing about 3 full loads of dishes and deciding to bring in dinner from the Indian place right up the hill. Now, of course, you can make all of this much easier on yourself by using store bought cake or not painstakingly crystalizing the flower garnish, but where’s the fun in that?

My inspiration for this in between season dessert comes from a somewhat unlikely place. My neighbor’s lilac bush and a recent trip to Sooke Harbor on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. On the trip, we stayed at Sooke Harbor House, an inn and restaurant renowned for it’s seasonal cuisine. Dishes are flavored with ingredients grown on their 2 acres of organic gardens, and herbs and edible flowers are an important part of every bite. When we returned from the trip, my neighbor was in the process of trimming back their lilac bush. There was lilac by the wheelbarrow, and the bush didn’t even look like it had been touched. Each neighbor got a bouquet that was about 3 feet tall by 4 feet wide. With so much lilac (that wilts so quickly) and my imagination freshly sparked by Sooke, I started picturing some sort of fresh fruit and lilac cake, with little lilac blossoms covered in crystalized sugar. A quick flip through Prueitt and Robertson’s Tartine, and I had my dessert in sites… a take on the Trifle of Summer Fruits.

For the cake, I chose the Orange Chiffon recipe in the same book, which yielded a beautiful crumb texture, light and moist and not too orangy. The pastry cream was where I really had fun. Instead of using a standard vanilla infused cream, I infused the cream with the lilac blossoms and some orange flower water, to create a brilliant floral note to the sweet custardy flavor. For the fruit puree, I used rhubarb and strawberry, cooked down in orange juice, to tie the red fruits back to the orange. Loads of sliced strawberries tucked in between the cake and the creams, and a garnish of lilac topped it off. Yum.

The best part of this dessert is that the assembly is truly a trifle, and the big jobs can easily be done earlier. Make the crystalized flowers, the cake, the fruit puree and the pastry cream the day before. The day of, all you have to do is slice up your fruit, whip the cream, and stack it all together. Do this before you make any of the rest of the meal, and place it covered in the fridge so that the flavors have plenty of time to meld.

A Spring Trifle
Adpated from Tartine, A Trifle of Summer Fruits
Serves 8 to 10

fruit puree
1/2 cup fresh strawberries, sliced in half
6 stalks fresh rhubarb
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup sugar

whipped cream

1 2/3 heavy cream
3 T sugar

1 10-inch orange chiffon cake
3 cups fresh strawberries
2 1/2 cups infused pastry cream*
Candied flowers for garnish

To make the fruit puree, cut the rhubarb stalks into 1 inch slices and place in a heavy bottomed pot with the 1/2 cup of strawberries, orange juice and 1/4 cup sugar. Stir well over medium-high heat, until it starts to bubble some. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for about 10 minutes or until the rhubarb becomes very soft. Transfer to a food processor, or use a hand blender, to puree until smooth. Set aside to cool.

Whisk the cold cream until thickened. Then, add the 3 T of sugar, one at a time, until the cream holds soft peaks. Set aside.

Slice the cake horizontally into 3 layers, each about 1/4 to 1/3 inch thick. Then, cut each layer to fit the trifle bowl, noting that the bottom layers may be smaller than the top one. Place a layer of cake in the trifle bowl, and cover with about 2/3 of a cup of the fruit puree. Then, top with a good handful of the strawberries, dollop on some pastry cream and whipped cream. And, then repeat with the next layer of cake and so on. Try not to give into temptation too many times and eat all the strawberries with the pastry cream.

After the last layer of cake, top only with the fruit puree and more fruit. Garnish with the candied flowers.

Infused Pastry Cream
Makes 2 1/2 cups

I used lilac, but there are all kinds of flowers and herbs that would be fantastic infused into pastry cream. Rose scented geranium, pineapple sage are two I can’t wait to try.

2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup edible flowers or herbs, such as lilac or scented geranium
1/4 t salt
3 T cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
1 t orange flower water
2 T unsalted butter

Have a medium sized glass or porcelain bowl and a fine sieve ready.

Heat the milk, flowers (or herbs) and salt in a heavy bottom, non-alluminum, pot over medium-high heat, until almost boiling, stirring frequently to prevent any scorching. While the milk is heating, in a separate bowl, combine the sugar and cornstarch. Then, whisk in the egg yolks and orange flower water until smooth.

When the milk is hot enough, strain out the flowers. Slowly ladle about a third of the hot milk mixture into the egg mixture, whisking while you are adding. Then, pour the egg-milk mixture back into the remaining milk, and return to heat. Whisk constantly until the mixture thickens (about 2 minutes) and comes just to it’s boiling point. Do not overheat, or it will turn to scrambled eggs! As soon as it is nice and thick, remove it from the heat, and pour it through the sieve into the bowl you have waiting. This will help cool it down and stop the cooking process. Let the cream cool for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. When it cools to 140F, add the butter in 1 T pieces, stirring until it is well integrated. Cover with plastic wrap pressed down to the surface to avoid a skin, and refrigerate. The pastry cream will keep about 5 days refrigerated.

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39 thoughts on “A Spring Trifle

  1. That shot of the cream with the lilc made me go “oh..” literally. Great recipe and that picture!!!
    Infusing pstry cream with flowers or tea always create a depth of taste that make people addicted.

  2. Helen – I guess it’s hard to go wrong with much infused into cream, eh? 🙂 Thanks!

    Meredith – I wasn’t sure, so I spent quite a bit of time looking it up, making sure I was checking a reliable source. They had a lilac in the garden at Sooke, which was my first clue (since 99% of what they have there is edible in some form). As for the lilac flavor, it’s a bit like a slightly bitter lemon. It goes nicely as a garnish on salads or infused into something… but you wouldn’t want to just snack on them solo! Thanks!


  3. Hi There

    I am in the uk and can’t seem to find a copy of the book you list anywhere – is there any chance you could send me the recipe for the orange chiffon cake please?

    Kind Regards


  4. What a beautiful, summery dessert – just gorgeous! I love the sounds of a floral-infused pastry cream, and I know I would be guilty of putting a significant dent into both the fruit AND pastry cream – doing ‘taste tests’.

  5. so alluring and beautiful! it’s perfect for a sunny spring day. i’ve never used lilacs in baking. how do they taste? and your photos are stunning!

  6. This looks beautiful! It might be a girl thing, but I love the idea of using flowers in cooking and baking. Love the colour combination of strawberries, lilac, cake and pastry cream – so refreshing and pretty. And it does remind me a lot of the previous SHF theme.

  7. Thanks all!

    To answer a couple of questions…

    Hannah – Definitely keep your eye out for the book… it’s a great one. If you can’t find it in the local shops, Amazon.co.uk does carry it, so you might try thre. As for a recipe, this one is very similar.

    Monica – the lilac tastes a bit like a flowery bitter lemon, which doesn’t sound that good, I realize, but works really well when sweetened. It just gives the sweetness a complex edge that is delightful and unexpected.

    I wish that I had made the last SHF theme! I seem to be quite behind on those things these days. Hopefully I can get caught up soon!

  8. Perfect! I’m supposed to bring trifle to the family Mother’s Day dinner. I will definitely give this a try. Thanks for the ideas!

  9. I love the look of triffles, they’re so pretty. The only problem is that as soon as you scoop into them they lose their elegance, still tasty, just messy.

  10. Love the color combo the pinkish pan and the pinkish lilac. Where did you got the pan from? It shows how much attention to little thing important in styling.
    Just fab.

  11. i love trifles and i i love the twist on yours with the lavender flowers and orange shiffon cakE.i once baked some spiced cake with walnuts n all..turned out real nice.That was my first attempt at it in my pre blogging days.Havent tried another one since then,maybe cuz i dont have a pretty dish to show it off in.Love your trifle dish.I’ve been looking around for one now but no luck !

  12. I love trifle, so creamy and indulgent. I have a really good Nigella lawson recipe with vodka, lemon grass infused syrup and raspberries.

  13. i DEFINITELY have to try this! looks so beautiful, if i get this served on my plate, i don’t know how long it’s gonna take for me to stop staring and actually dig in! it’s so beautful – art!

  14. Looks amazing – can you tell me how far in advance it can be made. I am guessing the components could be made a little ahead? But how long before serving can it be constructed? Would it matter if it did go a little soggy. Many thanks!

  15. Do you know if there is any way to make your own orange flower water? This recipe looks amazing, but i would love to make every aspect if at all possible. Thanks so much.

  16. Pingback: Lilac cuisine
  17. Your trifle looks absolutely amazing and sounds sooo beautiful with the use of the lilac flowers!! I can’t wait to try the recipe!! I also didn’t know if you’d heard of a company called “Woodland Fairy Acres” (www.WoodlandFairyAcres.com)? They sell marshmallow mixes and scone mixes in a variety of floral flavors. Their products are absolutely wonderful and I thought you might get a kick out of them, since they are floral-based!

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