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Of Trifles, Fools, and Parfaits

by Dennis Weaver

In the little town where I was raised, we didn't have trifles and parfaits. We didn't have many fools either—and none of the dessert kind. So when Debbie introduced me to trifles, they didn't seem right, like "real men don't eat trifles" through admittedly, they were very good.

But a strawberry fool, that erased any resistance. A peach fool would have done so too. Fools are so good that they made a zealot out of me.

So what's the difference between trifles, fools and parfaits?

Trifles, fools, and parfaits are close cousins. There is so much overlap that what I call a parfait, you may call a trifle or a fool. They are all layers of fruit, creamy fillings, and maybe cookie or cake pieces. But let's identify traditional differences:

Strawberry Fool

• Trifles. Trifles were once made with a sweetened, cooked cream filling and crumbled biscuits or cookies. Now they are made with any filling. Cake pieces are usually used for the bottom layer, often soaked in brandy or liquor.

• Parfaits. Originally a parfait was made with layers of frozen custard. In practice—especially in America—ice cream is most often used. Recently, we have seen desserts called parfaits made with layers of sweetened flavored yogurt or with Bavarian cream. Instead of cake in a layer, granola is sometimes used in commercial parfaits.

• Fools. Fools were originally swirled mixtures of custard and fruit. Now, whipped cream is used and instead of swirling it all together, it is layered. A layer of crushed cookies is sometimes added.

Regardless of what you call it, these make fabulous, attractive desserts.
Debbie, our director of operations, teaches a class on trifles and parfaits and serves them at the end of the class. She sets up a trifle bar and allows participants to build there own trifles in clear glasses. She includes:

• Pound cake and angel food cake pieces
• Bavarian cream
• Whipped cream
• Fruit pieces such as berries, kiwi, bananas, and peaches
• Fruit fillings such as lemon filling (lemon curd), raspberry filling, blueberry filling, and cherry filling.

She sometimes uses brownies cut into small chunks. In a pinch, we've made trifles with boxed cake mixes.

About the Fillings
What is common to all these desserts is a cool, creamy filling. Traditionally, custards are used and we're sure that a stovetop custard works great. It's just too easy to use a commercial Bavarian cream filling.

Raspberry Cream Trifle

The strawberry fool recipe that follows uses a smooth, luxuriant filling made of whipped cream and plain yogurt. We added an orange flavor to the filling which complemented the strawberries perfectly. We have used this filling in trifles.

In nearly all of these desserts, we use whipped cream as a topping—but not just any whipped cream. We nearly always use a flavor other than vanilla. Caramel flavor, butterscotch flavor, lemon flavor, orange flavor, and amaretto flavor are our favorites. When we use warm flavors like caramel and butterscotch, we use brown sugar instead of granulated sugar. With lemon and orange, we add zest. With the strawberry fool recipe below, we have sometimes used strawberry flavor and added a couple drops of red food coloring. We sell all of these flavors in our store. (If you are only going to buy one flavor, make it caramel flavor so that you can make caramel whipped cream. You will find that you use caramel whipped cream in your kitchen more than you use vanilla whipped cream. For two cups whipping cream, add a teaspoon of caramel flavor and use 1/4 cup brown sugar instead of granulated sugar.)

In the chocolate, peanut butter, and banana recipe below, we mixed a little peanut butter with Bavarian cream (about one-third peanut butter to two thirds Bavarian cream) to make peanut butter cream. We have also added shredded coconut and coconut flavor to Bavarian cream to make coconut cream.

In our store and online, we sell a variety of premade fillings, both cream pastry fillings like Bavarian and cream cheese and fruit pastry fillings like lemon, raspberry, and cherry. If you are only going to own one, make it Bavarian cream. You'll find a thousand uses for Bavarian cream.

Strawberry Fool

This is a great summer dessert. It calls for strawberries but you can make a similar dessert with raspberries, blueberries, or blackberries. Peaches work too. Alter the flavors in the filling along with the fruit.

Recipe Ingredients

5 cups sliced strawberries plus a few whole strawberries for garnish (about two pounds)
1 tablespoon Instant Clearjel
1/3 cup granulated sugar
11/3 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon orange flavoring or to taste
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
3/4 cup Bavarian cream (see notes)
whipped cream from a spray can

Method

  • Mix the Instant Clearjel and sugar together in a medium bowl. Add the sliced strawberries and toss. Set aside.
  • Whip the cream until stiff peaks form adding the 4 tablespoons sugar and orange flavor. Fold the yogurt into the whipped cream.
  • Toss the berries again. Spoon the berries and the whipped filling into parfait or other glasses in layers. Top with whipped cream.
  • Serve within three hours.
  • Notes

    Notes

    • A strawberry slicer will allow you to slice the strawberries thinly.

    • Instead of Bavarian cream, we have also made this with the same amount of plain yogurt and it was very good. We used plain yogurt with gelatin so that the gelatin would add subsistence to the filling to extend the holding time.

    • Instant Clearjel is a starch product that gels without cooking. You can make this recipe with cornstarch but you would need to cook a slurry with a little water, let it cool, and then add the strawberries. Avoid cooking the strawberries.

    • Whipped cream from a spray can allows for a neat decorative presentation. You can also whip cream and pipe it onto the desserts with a pastry bag.

    Brownie, Banana, and Peanut Butter Trifle

    Banana Trifle

    This is a great, creamy combination of peanut butter, bananas, and chocolate.

    Recipe Ingredients

    Brownies chopped into 1/2-inch pieces, brownie mix or equal
    Bavarian Cream Pastry Filling
    Peanut butter, Adams 100% peanut butter or equal
    Bananas
    Whipped cream
    Chocolate dessert sauce

    You'll need a trifle bowl or deep glass bowl for presentation. Use clear glasses for individual servings.

    Method

  • Place a layer of brownie pieces in the bottom of the bowl or glass.
  • Mix the Bavarian cream and peanut butter together with about twice as much Bavarian cream as peanut butter but whatever tastes right for you.
  • Spread a thin layer of peanut butter Bavarian cream over the brownie pieces.
  • Spread a layer of bananas over the peanut butter Bavarian cream.
  • Repeat the layers until the dish is full.
  • Top with whipped cream and then drizzle with the chocolate sauce. If you like, garnish with chopped peanuts, and a maraschino cherry.
  • Notes

    Strawberry or Raspberry Trifle

    This is a great spring or summer dessert. It's simply a layers of fresh fruit, raspberry or strawberry cream, and cubed angel food cake, all topped with whipped cream. You can vary the ratios; just make it pretty and serve soon after assembly.

    Recipe Ingredients

    Trifle
    An angel food cake
    Raspberry or strawberry cream (recipe follows)
    Fresh raspberries or strawberries
    Whipped cream

    A deep glass bowl or clear glasses for individual servings.

    Strawberry or Raspberry Cream
    8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
    3/4 cup raspberry or strawberry puree (It takes about 2 cups of berries)
    6 large egg whites
    1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
    2 envelope unflavored gelatin (.25 ounce)
    1/4 cup water

    Method

  • In a blender, puree about the raspberries or strawberries. Pour the puree into a sieve to remove seeds—some seeds will most likely remain.
  • With your handheld electric mixer, beat the cream cheese until it's creamy. Add the puree, and beat again until the ingredients are evenly distributed and smooth. Set aside.
  • Place one inch of water in the bottom pan of a double boiler. Heat the water to simmering, but not boiling. Whisk together the egg whites and sugar in the top pan and place it over the simmering water. With the element set on low heat, continue to whisk the egg mixture until it reaches 110 degrees F, about two to three minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.
  • With your handheld electric mixer, beat the egg white mixture on medium speed until it has doubled in volume and holds a soft peak, about five to seven minutes. Mix gelatin and water together, just to combine; then quickly add it to the egg whites. (If the gelatin sits for very long it will set up.) Beat on slow speed to thoroughly combine. Add the cheese mixture and beat just until smooth. The cream should still hold a soft peak and should mound up when dropped from a spoon.
  • Store the cream in a covered bowl in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it.
    Baker's note: If a double boiler is unavailable, you can make one by placing a small shallow bowl upside down in the pan of simmering water. Then set the bowl with egg mixture on top so that it's close enough to the steam that it will heat up. (Do not let the bottom of the bowl touch the water.)
  • To assemble the trifle: Place one-inch cubes of angel food cake in the bottom of your bowl.
  • Gently fold the berry puree into the cream. Put a layer of fruit cream over the angel food cake.
  • Put a thin layer of fresh fruit over the fruit cream.
  • Place another layer of cake.
  • Place another layer of cream.
  • Place a thin layer of fruit.
  • Finally, top with whipped cream.
  • Notes

    Chocolate Cream Trifles

    These individual trifles make fabulous desserts. Once the dessert cream is made, they are easy to assemble and make.

    Recipe Ingredients

    Trifle
    1 brownie mix, baked according to box directions and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
    1 recipe chocolate cream filling (see below)
    1 cup cream, whipped
    1/4 cup powdered sugar
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    4 maraschino cherries with stems
    1/4 cup pecan pieces

    Filling
    4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
    1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
    3 large egg whites
    2/3 cup granulated sugar
    1 envelope unflavored gelatin (.25 ounces)
    2 tablespoons water

    This filling recipe will make enough filling for four individual trifle desserts. Double the recipe to make a full-sized trifle.

    Method

  • Melt the chocolate chips in the microwave for about one minute, stirring after thirty seconds. Be careful not to burn.
  • With your handheld electric mixer, beat the cream cheese until it's creamy. Add the melted chocolate and beat again until the ingredients are evenly distributed and smooth. Set aside.
  • Place one inch of water in the bottom pan of a double boiler. Heat the water to simmering, but not boiling. Whisk together the egg whites and sugar in the top pan and place it over the simmering water. With the element set on low heat, continue to whisk the egg mixture until it reaches 110 degrees F, about two to three minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.
  • With your handheld electric mixer, beat the egg white mixture on medium speed until it has doubled in volume and holds a soft peak, about five to seven minutes. Mix gelatin and water together, just to combine; then quickly add it to the egg whites. (If the gelatin sits for very long it will set up.) Beat the mixture on slow speed to thoroughly combine. Add the cheese mixture and beat just until smooth. The cream should still hold a soft peak and should mound up when dropped from a spoon. This will be a thick, rich cream.
  • Store the cream in a covered bowl in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it.
    Baker's note: If a double boiler is unavailable, you can make one by placing a small shallow bowl upside down in the pan of simmering water. Then set the bowl with egg mixture on top so that it's close enough to the steam that it will heat up. (Do not let the bottom of the bowl touch the water.)
    Baker's note: We found that the bowls of free-standing mixers are too deep for the amount of egg white mixture of this particular recipe; therefore, the egg whites don't get beaten sufficiently to create the necessary volume and stiffness to form peaks. We recommend using a handheld electric mixer, instead.
  • To Assemble: In each of four trifle dessert dishes, layer the ingredients beginning with brownie cubes.
  • Add the chocolate filling and then the whipped cream. Repeat. Each layer will be quite thin to prevent overflowing.
  • Garnish each dessert with a maraschino cherry and sprinkle with the pecan pieces.
  • Notes

    Key Lime Trifle

    Key Lime Trifle

    This key lime trifle makes a fabulous dessert. Once the dessert cream is made, it is easy to assemble and make.

    Recipe Ingredients

    Trifle
    1 11-ounce packaged pound cake, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
    1 key lime recipe filling (see below)
    1 lb. fresh strawberries, washed and hulled, sliced lengthwise
    2 bananas, sliced diagonally
    1 fresh mango, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
    1 1/2 cups whipping cream, whipped
    1/3 cup powdered sugar
    1 teaspoon vanilla

    Filling
    8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
    4 tablespoons fresh lime juice
    2 teaspoon lime zest
    6 large egg whites
    1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
    2 envelopes unflavored gelatin (.25 ounces each)
    4 tablespoons water

    Method

  • With your handheld electric mixer, beat the cream cheese until it's creamy. Add the lime juice and zest, and beat again until the ingredients are evenly distributed and smooth. Set aside.
  • Place one inch of water in the bottom pan of a double boiler. Heat the water to simmering, but not boiling. Whisk together the egg whites and sugar in the top pan and place it over the simmering water. With the element set on low heat, continue to whisk the egg mixture until it reaches 110 degrees F, about two to three minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. (At this point, you may want to transfer the egg white mixture into a larger bowl, a two- or three-quart size, to accommodate the increased volume of egg whites as they are beaten.)
  • With your handheld electric mixer, beat the egg white mixture on medium speed until it has doubled in volume and holds a soft peak, about five to seven minutes. Mix gelatin and water together, just to combine; then quickly add it to the egg whites. (If the gelatin sits for very long it will set up.) Beat on slow speed to thoroughly combine. Add the cheese mixture and beat just until smooth. The cream should still hold a soft peak and should mound up when dropped from a spoon.
  • Store the cream in a covered bowl in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it.
  • To Assemble: Place one half of the cake cubes on the bottom of a trifle bowl and distribute them evenly.
  • Spoon one half the filling over the cake, being careful to spread it all the way to the edges. (Some of the filling will ooze down the inside of the bowl blocking the view of the cake, but that's okay.)
  • After slicing the strawberries, set 1/3 of them aside. Of those remaining, place some on end, around the entire edge of the bowl on top of the filling.
  • Pile some bananas and mango pieces behind the strawberries so the three fruits can be clearly seen from outside the bowl.
  • Except for the reserved strawberries, toss the remaining fruit in a bowl just to combine, and then place enough of it in the center to completely cover the layer of filling.
  • Spoon the remaining filling over the top of the fruit.
  • Strategically place the reserved strawberries around the edge of the bowl. In the center, place the remaining cake cubes.
  • Whip the cream and sweeten it with the powdered sugar and vanilla.
  • Spoon it over the top of the cake, covering it completely.
  • Garnish with the remaining fruit.
  • Notes

    Baker's notes:

    If a double boiler is unavailable, you can make one by placing a small shallow bowl upside down in the pan of simmering water. Then set the bowl with egg mixture on top so that it's close enough to the steam that it will heat up. (Do not let the bottom of the bowl touch the water.)

    We found that the bowls of free-standing mixers are too deep for the amount of egg white mixture of this particular recipe; therefore, the egg whites don't get beaten sufficiently to create the necessary volume and stiffness to form peaks. So we recommend using a handheld electric mixer.

    Dennis Weaver is the president of The Prepared Pantry, a full line kitchen store in Rigby, Idaho. The Prepared Pantry sells kitchen tools, gourmet foods, and baking ingredients including hundreds of hard-to-find ingredients.

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