What would we do without blueberries and strawberries on July 4? How else would we make our flag cakes and patriotic fruit pinwheels?
Still, as I thought about what dessert to make this year, I was inspired by the fact that red and blue fruits extend beyond our ubiquitous berry friends. And for the Fourth of July I want to enjoy ripe summer fruit as much as possible.
So here is a trifle for your holiday that is really more fruit than cake, with cherries, raspberries and blackberries squeezed between homemade pudding and cream, meant to be eaten outside in the sunshine, before dips in the pool and runs through the sprinkler.
Trifles belie their name; they’re the very opposite of an insignificant dessert. A trifle is meant to be bountiful and generous, able to feed an army of picnickers. This one is no different.
Trifles should also take some time. Yes, you can slap leftover cake and cream and fruit together in a big delicious pile, but a true trifle (in my opinion) should involve homemade custard and a slow, methodical building of the layers. It’s going to feed a lot of people, after all, so a little extra time in assembly will pay off.
It also makes for a more beautiful trifle; if you want discrete layers, it’s best to let at least the bottom layer set for an hour or two in the refrigerator before piling on the rest of the goodies.
This is a dessert meant to be shared wholeheartedly. And since I can’t think of anything more patriotic than the act of sharing with one another, it’s my Fourth of July dessert pick. The sparklers are optional, but highly recommended!
Red, White and Blue Trifle
For the vanilla pudding:
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups light or heavy cream
4 large egg yolks
4 cups 2% milk
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
For the trifle:
18 ounces angel food cake, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes (about 8 cups)
2 pounds strawberries, divided
10 ounces (2 cups) cherries, pitted and halved
6 ounces (2 cups) raspberries
3 pounds (4 pints) blueberries, divided
6 ounces (2 cups) blackberries, sliced in half lengthwise
16 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
Make the vanilla pudding: Whisk the cornstarch and salt together in a 1-quart mixing bowl. Slowly whisk in the cream, making sure there are no lumps. Whisk in the egg yolks until very smooth.
Warm the milk with 1/2 cup sugar over medium heat in a 3-quart saucepan until bubbles form around the edge of the milk and the entire surface begins to vibrate. Turn off the heat.
Pour 1 cup hot milk mixture into the cornstarch and egg yolks. Whisk vigorously to combine.
Pour back into the pot slowly, whisking constantly. Turn the heat back on to medium and bring to a simmer while still whisking. The custard will come to a boil with large bubbles that slowly pop up to the surface. Boil, whisking, for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat. Stir in the vanilla.
To finish the trifle: Pack half of the angel food cake into the bottom of a large glass bowl (160 to 192 fluid ounces).
Immediately pour half of the warm pudding over the cake. Press plastic wrap or buttered wax paper onto the surface and refrigerate at least 1 hour or until chilled. Pour the remaining pudding into a shallow dish and press plastic wrap or buttered wax paper onto its surface. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
While the first layer is chilling, prepare the fruit. Hull and quarter 1 pound of the strawberries and mix with the cherries and raspberries. Refrigerate. Reserve remaining strawberries for topping. Lightly mash 2 cups blueberries just until they release their juices. Stir in 2 more cups of blueberries and the blackberries. Refrigerate. Reserve the remaining blueberries for topping the trifle.
Beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the cream and continue whipping until it forms soft peaks. Whip in the powdered sugar and lemon zest.
Drain any juices that have collected in the bottom of the fruit bowls. Uncover the trifle and spread the red fruit over the cake and pudding. Top gently with the whipped cream, then with the remaining cake cubes.
Whip the remaining vanilla pudding until creamy, and spread over the cake cubes. Top with the blue fruit mixture, then with a final layer of the whipped cream.
Hull and slice the remaining 16 ounces of strawberries. Arrange the strawberries and blueberries on top of the trifle. Refrigerate uncovered for at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours before serving.
Yield: 12 servings.