I am a pretty staunch traditionalist when it comes to Thanksgiving, so my pinfeathers are a bit ruffled this year. First of all, I can't make my usual family dinner at my place. In the past, I have been able to more or less inflict my view of this holiday on my nearest and dearest via my willingness to do most of the work. However, after my brother's birthday dinner in September, we pretty much all agreed that it is simply too scary to have the aged parent negotiate my steep outdoor steps. To insure her continued presence at these occasions, we will be having future family events at my brother's place.
He is a very good cook, no problem there. And they have invited all the usual suspects, which is cool. But he and his equally slender and fit wife are pretty selective about the desserts they eat. They are willing to splurge a little to have a bit of something they love for a special occasion, but they don't like pie. And I'm making dessert. Thanksgiving, no pie. Well.
And then, my daughter and son-in-law will be elsewhere. Though I will miss them, it's not too dire, because they are coming for Christmas, which is soon. The other thing that's got me worried, though, is the nonownership of the leftovers. I absolutely require Thanksgiving leftovers, for turkey soup, et al. I plan to solve the carcass problem by crassly asking for it. If it turns out that they wish to keep the remains, I'll be roasting a small bird for my Friday night dinner friends sometime between now and Christmas. A person can eat a lot of turkey without suffering much. I will also feed them (and me) a pie or two.
So for Thanksgiving, I have been asked to make a trifle- a traditional family holiday dessert- which, however, goes with a different holiday, i.e. Christmas. A trifle is a very nice thing to have after a big dinner, for although it is quite rich and evil, it feels light going down. It also makes a bit of a display, without requiring too much skill in assembly. You can find many recipes for trifle- some good, some bad. In the Toast family, each trifle is different, and improvisation is encouraged. There are, however, ground rules- simple, but essential, especially in light of the appearance, on occasion of deviant or mutant trifles. these are :
2. no gelatin layer of any kind, including delicious. fancy, all natural, from scratch fruit gelatins
3. absolutely no jello
Other than these rules of exclusion, you are pretty free. A large glass bowl is necessary, since you must see the pretty layers to fully appreciate them. An actual footed trifle bowl is very jazzy, and need not be an huge expense.. My current one was found at KMart, and is a plain, thick glass "Martha Stewart Everyday" item, a perfect size for 10 or less. It was $9.99. Once, I made a huge trifle in a giant old cutglass punch bowl my mother-in-law left me. An amazing glittering globe of trifle, it was entirely impractical, since it could hardly be budged when full. I won't be repeating that feat in the near future.
A trifle is an essentially amateur and extemporaneous production ; it requires a only a lavish hand, and a bit of silliness.(Initially, I typed that it required only "a lavish ham", which would certainly have been confusing.) The idea is that you have a base layer of some rather dry cake or cookie item, soaked in sweet sherry or rum. I favor amaretti, crumbled. Stale cake or traditional lady fingers are fine. I have been known to repeat this layer later- but that is not a classic move. Then you layer custards and chocolate pudding, jams, brandied and/or candied fruits and perhaps a few pistachios, as you wish, until you get almost to the top. It's nicest with homemade custards and homemade chocolate pudding (a chocolate pudding made with cocoa, milk, sugar and cornstarch is the easiest thing on earth) but you can use boxed (non instant) mix, and no one will kick you or your trifle out the door.
You must start this project early enough to completely chill each layer. You want to have casual stripes which nonetheless do not run together. Finally, just before serving, you whip some heavy cream with a little vanilla and sugar and add this as your top layer. If you are carrying your trifle to another house, as I am, you will need to do this there, after dinner. You can pipe it on with a pastry bag, or glump it on with a big spoon. Grate some chocolate over the whipped cream, and serve. If you can get a few candied violets , go to town and sprinkle them on too.
Since I will not be simultaneously taking photos and whipping cream, I have no photo for this post. It would not do justice to any trifle to show it without its pretty hat. Maybe it is a good thing that I made this for Thanksgiving, though it is unorthodox. Now, if it sounds like your kind of dessert, you have enough time to make a trifle for Christmas or New Year's festivities, if you like. Deck the halls.