I have to start by saying this isn’t the kind of dessert I make. Or order. Or really would normally eat much of if served. Or, at least, it wasn’t. That may all be changing with this simple trifle of vanilla sponge cake, lightly spiced brandy-poached pears, and a very careful application of eggnog pastry cream.
Let me talk about that eggnog pastry cream for a moment. First of all, you could start from complete scratch and make it, but I didn’t. I followed Sue McCown’s lovely recipe which calls for the store bought stuff. This pastry cream is simply luscious. I’ve had a hard time not just sitting down to a big bowl of it. A few too many spoonfuls have definitely been consumed.
However. It is powerful, powerful stuff. And a little of it definitely goes a long, long way. Most trifles will have you put quite a healthy dollop of custard or cream in between each layer. Don’t be tempted to, no matter how much you love the stuff. There are other, important flavors in this trifle that want to be tasted! Anything but a light smearing, and those lovely spiced pears don’t stand a chance.
Then there is the cake. I made my own sponge cake, using the Genoise recipe in Tartine. This is a lovely recipe that is simple to make. I made mine in a loaf pan so that I could cut it into slices and then punch out little rounds that would fit perfectly in individual trifle bowls or for a more fun presentation, little jars (inspired by Bea’s Alcase post). But you can just as easily use your favorite vanilla cake recipe, sponge or pound, or just buy a premade cake.
Finally, the pears. I do love pears. It’s one of my favorite things about this time of year. The soft sweetness of the pears works so well with all of those holiday spices. I poached mine in a simple syrup with a bit of Meyer lemon peel, cloves and a splash of brandy. It made the whole house smell like Christmas. I like to do a combination of cubes and slices, but the trifle is also fine with just cubes on both fruit layers.
Put all together, in just the right quantities, and this may just be the perfect little holiday dessert! Now, I just have to wait another 52 days.
Pear Eggnog Trifle
Makes 4 individual servings
1 batch of Sue McCown’s eggnog pastry cream
1 sponge cake, cut into 8 rounds
4 pears, peeled
1 cup water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 lemon peels (preferably Meyer lemon)
10 whole cloves
1/4 cup brandy
Freshly ground nutmeg (optional, for garnish)
Pomegranate seeds (optional, for garnish)
Prepare the pears by dicing two into 1/4 inch cubes and slicing four 1/2 inch thick rounds from the middle of the remaining two pears (you can dice the rest of those pears too).
Bring the water, sugar, lemon peel and cloves to a boil in a large skillet and reduce slightly. Add the pear rounds and the brandy and simmer for about 1 minute. Then, flip the pear rounds over and add the cubed pears. Simmer for another 2 minutes. Remove from heat, and get ready to assemble.
In each dish, swipe about a tablespoon of the pastry cream on the bottom. Place one of the sponge rounds on top. Then, place a pear round on top of the cake. Drizzle on some of the syrup. Spread about 1 tablespoon of pastry cream on top of the pear round. Top with another round of cake and a spoon of the pear syrup. Now, another slather of pastry cream. Finally, spoon on 1/4 of the diced pear.
Most trifles get covered and refrigerated at this point, but I kind of like this trifle served immediately while the flavors are still distinct. Just before serving, garnish with a few pomegranate seeds and a pinch of freshly ground nutmeg.