The Kitchn: This berry trifle is a summer showstopper

The Kitchn: This Berry Trifle Is A Summer Showstopper
Shilpa Uskokovic/TNS

This impressive berry trifle is sure to be the star of your next summer cookout or celebration.

<p>This impressive berry trifle is sure to be the star of your next summer cookout or celebration.</p>

Shilpa Uskokovic/TNS

This impressive berry trifle is sure to be the star of your next summer cookout or celebration.

Cake, cream, fruit, maybe a shot or two of liqueur: What’s not to like about a trifle? They’re easier to put together than layer cakes, and the flavor possibilities are endless. I always feel trifles come into their own in the summer.

I picture colorful fireworks, a fancy picnic blanket, and a giant bowl of billowy trifle somewhere to the side. So, for this recipe, I chose a summery combination of sweet berries and simple vanilla pound cake with a rich, almost cheesecake-like cream for a showstopping seasonal centerpiece.

Should you make a trifle a day ahead?

I usually assemble trifles and keep them refrigerated for a minimum of two hours and up to 24 hours before serving. You want to allow some time for all of the layers and flavors to meld — especially for the cake to absorb those sticky berry juices before serving. After this period, the berries will start getting mushy and the cream will become stiff and dry.

Can you use frozen fruit in trifles?

Theoretically, you could, but it might get messy, and the texture of the fruit will suffer. When frozen berries defrost, they release an excessive amount of liquid and get too soft. I strongly suggest you go for fresh berries.

Can I use something else besides the pound cake?

You can make this dessert in a snap by using trifle-friendly options like ladyfingers or even Nilla wafers (think: banana pudding, which is practically a trifle) in place of pound cake. And no one will judge you or even know if you opt out of making your own pound cake and instead reach for your trusted friend, Sara Lee (man, that texture is hard to beat!).

Berry Trifle

Serves 12

For the pound cake:

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons neutral vegetable oil, such as avocado or canola
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

For the vanilla cream:

  • 2 (about 8-ounce) containers mascarpone cheese
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 1/2 cups cold heavy cream

For the berries and serving:

  • 3 pounds mixed fresh berries, such as blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and/or strawberries
  • 1 large orange
  • 1/4 cup runny honey
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier or Cointreau (optional)
  • Fresh edible marigolds or pansies (optional)

Make the cake:

1. Cut 8 tablespoons unsalted butter into 8 pieces and place in a small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high until just melted, 20 to 40 seconds. Set aside to cool slightly. Meanwhile, arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 325 F. Line the bottom of an 8-1/2-by-4-1/2-inch loaf pan (2 1/2 inches high) with parchment paper. Coat the parchment paper and sides of the pan lightly with cooking spray.

3. Place 1 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup whole milk, 1/2 cup sour cream, 3 large eggs, 2 tablespoons neutral oil, 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt in a medium bowl and vigorously whisk by hand until combined and creamy, about 1 minute. While whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in the melted butter. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and whisk until combined, about 10 seconds. Add 2 cups all-purpose flour and whisk just until the flour is absorbed with no dry streaks or clumps remaining, about 30 seconds. Transfer to the pan and spread into an even layer.

2. Bake until the cake is golden-brown, springs back when lightly pressed in the center, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean with just a few crumbs, 50 to 65 minutes.

3. Place the pan on a wire rack and let the cake cool for 15 minutes. Run an offset spatula or thin knife around the cake, then invert the cake onto the wire rack. Let cool completely. Meanwhile, make the vanilla cream.

Make the vanilla cream:

1. Place 2 (about 8-ounce) containers mascarpone cheese, 3/4 cup sour cream, 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk, 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl if using an electric hand mixer). Beat with the whisk attachment on medium-high speed until just combined.

2. Add 2 1/2 cups cold heavy cream and beat on low until combined. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until thick and fluffy and soft peaks form, 3 to 6 minutes. Cover and refrigerate until ready to assemble the trifle.

Make the macerated berries:

1. Wash and dry 3 pounds mixed berries. If using strawberries, hull and cut in half if smaller or quarters if the fruit is larger. Cut bigger blackberries in half. You should have about 10 cups of fruit. Place in a large bowl.

2. Finely grate the zest of 1 large orange until you have 1 tablespoon. Juice the orange until you have 1/4 cup.

3. Add the zest, juice, berries, 1/4 cup honey, 3 tablespoons granulated sugar, and 3 tablespoons orange liqueur to the berries and mix gently with a large spoon or spatula until combined. Set aside to macerate for 10 minutes.

Assemble the trifle:

1. Cut the cooled cake crosswise into 3/4-inch-thick slices. Cut each slice into 4 pieces crosswise.

2. Transfer 1/4 of the vanilla cream to a 9-inch trifle dish (14-cup capacity) or a large glass bowl and spread into an even layer. Arrange 1/4 of the cake pieces on top of the cream in an even layer. Top with 1/4 of the berries in an even layer.

3. Repeat layering the vanilla cream, cake, and berries three more times. Follow with the layer of cake quarters, then a quarter of the macerated berries. Repeat the process 3 more times. Garnish with fresh edible marigolds or pansies if desired. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to overnight before serving.

Recipe notes

Pound cake substitute: If you don’t feel like making cake, you can substitute store-bought pound cake or other trifle-friendly substitutes such as ladyfingers or Nilla wafers.

Mascarpone cream substitute: Mascarpone can be substituted with full-fat, room temperature cream cheese.

Make ahead: The pound cake can be made ahead of time. When completely cool, tightly wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to one week or freeze for up to six months.

(Miro Uskokovic is a contributor to TheKitchn.com, a nationally known blog for people who love food and home cooking. Submit any comments or questions to editorial@thekitchn.com.)