Cool As Custard (Strawberry Rhubarb Trifle with Pound Cake)
Being a student in pastry school means exactly what you’d imagine: that I get to spend 8 hours a day in a kitchen, making delicious pastry. It also unfortunately means that I’m no longer home on weeknights, so weekend dinners with the boy have become an extra special affair.
I decided that the best way to toast to our new home was to make some kind of stellar springtime-inspired dessert. My favourite seasonal combo? Strawberries, rhubarb and cream. But how could I take these three ingredients and turn them into something dazzling? Easily! Whip up some custard, chop up a pound cake, and layer it all into a trifle, just like the one on the cover of Canadian Living’s April issue. Lacking a trifle dish? No worries! A big glass bowl propped up on a cake stand will work well. Or, be super resourceful and scoop them into tall drinking glasses. The colourful, layered presentation remains intact, and each person gets their own individual serving. Brilliant, right?
Canadian Living suggests using a pound cake, which is easy to find at any grocery store, but also very easy to make at home. Coincidentally, we recently spent an entire class making various pound cakes, so I’ve become quite the pro. (I’ve included a simple recipe below!)
I love the versatility of the pound cake – you can add virtually any flavour to it, and one simple recipe can yield a different flavoured cake every time you bake one. The pound cake manages to retain it’s form nicely when soaked in the tangy rhubarb sauce, and it’s dense texture compliments the airy cream and the velvety custard.
You don’t have to be a pro to make this stellar trifle, though making custard might seem a little intimidating for some. Follow the recipe quantities exactly as shown, and you’ll be a-ok! Still nervous? Don’t be!
Here are a few helpful tips that will help you achieve the velvetiest of custards.
Custard is a type of pastry cream that is thickened using eggs and cornstarch. It’s important that your eggs don’t get too hot, or else they will curdle & scramble, which is why you can’t just throw all of the ingredients into the pot right off the bat. You absolutely must temper the eggs (by pouring the tepid milk into them in a steady stream while whisking.) This is a crucial step to follow for a nice texture.
Once the eggs are added, your custard should always be cooked on medium heat.
Do. Not. Stop. Whisking. Whisk that custard! Build those pastry muscles! Once you’ve tempered your eggs and poured them back into the pot, whisk it all until it boils, then continue whisking for one to two minutes. You know your custard is ready when it coats the back of a spoon. Make sure to strain it as the recipe instructs, to ensure that you don’t have any hidden lumps.
If your mixture starts to curdle, remove from heat immediately and whisk. Return to heat once the curdles are broken up. Your burner was likely too hot.
How to cool your custard faster : Line a baking sheet / cookie tray with plastic wrap, hanging it well over the edges. Pour your hot custard onto the plastic. Fold over the plastic wrap to cover custard. Place in fridge for about an hour. Voila! Cool as custard. Use a spatula to remove from plastic after. If custard turns gelatinous in the fridge, just give it a quick whisk and it’ll be smooth as silk.
If you don’t have a vanilla bean as the recipe suggests, you can substitute vanilla extract – just make sure that you beat it in at the very end, once the custard is off of the heat. Extracts will vaporize in the cooking process and will leave you with very little flavour if you add them too early. 1 tbsp is all you need. (An extra tbsp of dark rhum or rhum extract would also be sinfully delicious.)
I’m not a huge fan of orange, so I substituted with lemon zest (I even used a lemon pound cake!). The acidity balanced out the sweetness very well.
You can find the original trifle recipe over at Canadian Living, or pick up a copy of the April issue for even more yummy stuff.
For my pound cake recipe, see below!
Basic Pound Cake
Pound cake is made using equal quantities (in weight, not in volume) of eggs, butter, sugar and flour. Historically, pound cakes were made using a pound of each ingredient, which, as you can imagine, meant they were huge. I’ve cut down the quantities, but I’ve kept the ratio intact. The recipe below will yield 2 standard loaf pans.
what you’ll need
200g eggs, beaten (approx 4 eggs)
how to do it
Cream butter and sugar together until light. Beat in eggs. Add vanilla. Fold in flour until completely incorporated. Grease or parchment-line 2 loaf pans. Divide batter equally. (Fill about 1/2 to 3/4 way up the pan, your cakes will rise!) Bake at 350F, 45 to 60 minutes, or until golden on top and a toothpick inserted in centre comes out clean.
VARIATIONS: You can add any extract of your choice (almond, maple, rhum), nuts, seeds, raisins, chocolate chips, citrus zest, or any combination that you like, such as lemon-poppy-seed. Mix your desired quantity of add-ins after you fold in the flour. Tip: If you’re adding dried fruits, toss them in flour before they go into the mixture. This will help them spread out evenly and not sink to the bottom as the cake bakes.