Berry Trifle

I made this red, white, and blue dessert for the 4th, but I don't see any reason why one shouldn't want to make this at any point when berries are in season. Actually, you could make this all year with whatever seasonal fruit you find delicious and complimentary to cake and cream.

The thing about trifle is there are a lot of cheats and its endlessly versatile. Certainly, there are trifle purists out there who know better than I do, but in my humble opinion, make trifle however you please. If you aren't in the mood to make things from scratch, you can buy pre-made pound/sponge cake and whipped cream (or whipped topping). If you don't feel like using traditional jelly or custard, you can skip those things (I did). If you don't have fancy liqueur on hand, use fruit juice instead. Then it's just a matter of layering the things you have chosen to use in a dish or bowl. It's nice if the serving dish you're using is clear so that you can see the pretty layers, but anything that will hold cake, fruit, and cream will suffice.

For this recipe, I made my own lemon pound cake (recipe below), I chose to drizzle the cake with Chambord instead of Cointreau (raspberry liqueur instead of orange liqueur), and I made a whipped cream with very little sugar. The mix of subtle lemon and raspberry flavors worked well together, and although certainly decadent, there's something refreshing about this this dessert.

Berry Trifle with Lemon Cake
Serves 10-12

1 8-inch loaf lemon cake (or vanilla pound cake), cut into 2 x 2 x 1.5-inch pieces
1 16-ounce container organic whipping cream (you'll end up with extra)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 quarts strawberries
3 pints blueberries
2 pints raspberries
6 tablespoons Chambord (or Cointreau, or another fruit liqueur)

Start by prepping your trifle ingredients.

Wash your berries, and lay them out to dry on paper towels. Trim the ends off of the strawberries.

Cut your cake into squares or any shape you like best.

In a stand mixer or using a handheld blender or whisk, whip together 1 16-ounce container of organic whipping cream, with 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and 1-2 teaspoons sugar. I don't like super sweet whipped cream, if you prefer yours sweet, add more sugar. You can taste the mixture as it whips and add more accordingly. Once whipped, reserve in the fridge. You can substitute homemade whipped cream with a store bought whipped topping.

In a trifle dish or medium sized glass bowl, or whatever thing you want to put all these delicious ingredients into, start layering your ingredients in the following way:

  1. Layer the cut up cake in the bottom of the dish. Drizzle 3 tablespoons of Chambord over the cake. 
  2. Slice strawberries and layer them evenly over the first layer of cake.
  3. Put another layer of cut up cake over the strawberries. Drizzle the cake with 3 more tablespoons of Chambord. 
  4. Add a layer of blueberries on top of the cake
  5. Add a layer of whipped cream onto the berries 
  6. Add another layer of sliced strawberries onto the whipped cream
  7. Add another layer of whipped cream onto the strawberries
  8. Decoratively top the the cake with raspberries, remaining strawberries and blueberries

Chill 2-3 hours before serving, or up to 8 hours. 
Scoop and serve!

For the Lemon Cake...
I adapted Ina's recipe and it makes 2 loaves. I only needed one loaf for the trifle, so you could halve this recipe, or make the whole thing and have the joy of an extra cake in the house.

Lemon Cake
Very slightly adapted from Ina Garten

Makes 2 (8-inch loaves)

for the cake:
1/2 lb. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar, divided
4 extra-large eggs, at room temp
zest of 4-5 large lemons
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided
3/4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour 2 (8.5 x 4.25 x 2.5-inch) loaf pans.

Cream the butter and 2 cups granulated sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes (you can also do this with a hand mixer).

Don't skip this step. Having your ingredients at room temp, and taking the time to whip your sugar and butter into something light and fluffy are two key components to successful cake baking.

With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs 1 at a time, and then add the lemon zest. Beat together for another 30 second or 1 minute.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a bowl. In another bowl combine 1/4 cup of lemon juice, the buttermilk and the vanilla. Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to the batter. Begin and end with the flour mixture. Blend until just incorporated and be careful not to over mix at this stage. Divide the batter evenly between the two loaf pans, and bake for 45 minutes to an hour, or until a cake tester (or bamboo skewer) comes out clean)

While the cake is baking, combine 1/4 cup of granulated sugar with the remaining 1/2 cup of of lemon juice. In a small saucepan over low heat, heat the mixture until the sugar has fully dissolved. Turn off the heat and reserve.

Once the cakes are done, allow them to cool in their pans for 10 minutes. Take them out of their pans and place them on a cooling rack set on a sheet pan. Spoon the lemon syrup over the cakes while they are still warm. Allow the cakes to cool completely.

Kale, Date & Almond Salad

The other night I ate at Rustic Canyon for the first time.  I'm a big fan of Huckleberry, which is owned by the same folks. My expectations were high and overall the meal was quite lovely. The place was packed and the ambience was lively. The cocktail I had was perfect and the beer and wine selections looked great.  Everything we ate tasted good, but there were two dishes that stood out more than the others.

Service was outstanding for the first half of the meal.  For the second half of the meal, our waitress seemed to forget about us entirely. We were more or less ignored once our first round of drinks had been replenished; this made ordering dessert a little difficult. Service isn't something that matters to everyone, but it does matter to me. I'm particularly sensitive to service when the price tag of the meal is high. Regardless of what I'm paying, if a place has pretty good food and excellent service I'll almost definitely return to that establishment.  If a place has great food and terrible service I'm unlikely to go back.  Maybe it was an off-night because they were so busy (there happened to be celebrities there that night), or maybe that's just how it is. Rustic Canyon was yummy, but I'm not sure I'll go out of my way to return.

Back to the food... the gnocchi with oxtail, strawberry sofrito, pine nut, and fennel pollen was the stand-out dish, and the kale salad was a close second. I really like kale, but it's not something I tend to order at restaurants. On the menu the salad was described as having 'honey' dates, walnut, Parmesan and lemon.  It sounded good and different, and it tasted even better than I imagined. The kale was bright and slightly bitter, the dates were velvety and sweet, the lemon vinaigrette was creamy and vibrant.

I came home wanting to eat it again.  Here is a take on the great salad I had that night.

Kale, Date & Almond Salad with Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette
Serves 2-3

4 cups kale (lacinato/tuscan kale would be best, but I used the regular variety), thinly sliced into ribbons
1/4 cup almonds, toasted and chopped (hazelnuts, pecans, or walnuts would also be good)
5 dates, pitted and halved
salt and pepper
juice of one lemon, Meyer if in season
drop of honey
3 tablespoons olive oil, or more depending on taste
crumbled goat cheese (optional)
shaved parmesan (optional)

Add the kale, toasted nuts, and pitted dates to a bowl. Lightly season the salad with salt and pepper.

In a small bowl or jar, add freshly squeezed lemon juice, a drop of honey, and a little more salt and pepper.  Whisk the olive oil into the lemon juice mixture until creamy and emulsified.  Taste your dressing and adjust accordingly.

Toss the salad with the dressing until the leaves are well coated.  Let the salad sit for at least 15 minutes before serving so that the kale properly absorbs the dressing and softens.

Top with crumbled goat cheese, or shaved parmesan if you're in the mood for that.