Sunday, November 14, 2010

Two Trifles: Dessert(s) And A Movie


A "magnificent trifle"
     Webster's defines "trifle" in first postion as: "something of little value, substance, or importance" which, Sabbath issues of salvation (assuming they're relevant to the reader) aside, means that trifles and Sundays should go together well. After the week I've had (and I expect you may have had), I need a break from the consequential.

       Accordingly,  I have two trifles to suggest for consideration this morning, both of which I think are worth the time.

The first  is another sort of trifle, a beautiful, delicious and civilizing one, which is the English dessert conceived in the eighteenth century by the pioneering English cookery writer, Hannah Glasse (1708-1770) and described (by M.F.K. Fisher this time) as "a monumental chilled pudding made from sponge cake, macaroons, jam, brandy or whatever liquor seems indicated, custards, whipped cream....."

Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Trifle

Alan Davidson, the Scottish diplomat and cookery writer best known for his contributions to the literature of fish cookery (and a writer who can be read for pleasure at any time by any reader for his prose, encyclopedic knowledge and insight) dedicated his last book as an author to the trifle.  Published in 2001 by his Prospect Books, "Trifle" (co-authored with his protege Helen Saberi) is a beautiful small volume that predictably might be considered the last and best word on the subject.

Trifle Belle-Helene 

Two wonderful trifle recipes follow:

Sweet chestnut trifle
Serves 6-8 


300ml water
125g caster sugar
1 vanilla pod, slit, or 1 tsp vanilla extract
2 Comice pears
4 tbsp Armagnac


100g amaretti
1 x 435g tin unsweetened chestnut purée
3 medium organic eggs, separated
50g caster sugar
150g trifle sponges
Cocoa for dusting
Marrons glacé or crystallised ginger 

To poach the pears, place the water, sugar and vanilla pod or extract in a small saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Peel and halve the pears, submerge them, cut side up, in the syrup. Cover with a circle of baking paper and poach over a low heat until they are tender. 

Cool them in the syrup, then remove and drain thoroughly on a double layer of kitchen paper. Quarter, core and finely slice. Mix 5 tbsp of the syrup with the armagnac. Break the amaretti into a shallow bowl and pour half this solution over them. 

To prepare the chestnut cream, whizz the chestnut purée in a food processor until smooth and creamy, then incorporate the egg yolks. Transfer to a large bowl. In another bowl, whisk the egg whites until they hold their shape, then gradually sprinkle over the sugar, whisking well with each addition until you have a glossy meringue. Fold this into the chestnut purée in three goes.

Alan Davidson's Favorite Trifle

For the custard:
  • 2 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the trifle:
  • 6 to 8 Sponge Cupcakes (see recipe below)
  • 1/2 cup seedless raspberry or strawberry jam
  • 18 almond macaroons or Italian amaretto cookies, crumbled
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons brandy
  • 1/2 cup dry Marsala or sherry
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Drambuie liqueur or vanilla extract
  • Pink crystallized rose petals, candied cherries or other garnishes
To make the custard:

Heat the cream in a small saucepan just until bubbles form around the edges. Meanwhile, beat yolks, sugar and cornstarch together until very smooth. Whisking constantly, slowly pour the hot cream into the egg mixture. Return the mixture to the saucepan, place over medium-low heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens just enough to coat the back of a spoon. Do not overcook or the custard will curdle. Pour it into a bowl, stir in the vanilla and set aside to cool.

To make the trifle:
Split the cupcakes horizontally and spread jam thickly on the bottom halves and reassemble them. Arrange the cupcakes in a trifle dish or glass serving dish about 6 inches wide and at least 3 inches deep. Sprinkle with the macaroons and then lemon zest. Pour in the brandy and Marsala or sherry. Pour in 2 cups of the custard. Let stand about an hour.

Whip the cream, gradually incorporating the sugar and then the Drambuie. Pile the mixture over the trifle, sprinkle with garnishes and serve.

YIELD:  8 servings

Sponge Cupcakes

  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sifted cake flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line a muffin tin with baking cups. With an electric mixer, whip the egg yolks and all but 3 tablespoons of the sugar for about 5 minutes, until light and fluffy. Beat in 1 1/2 tablespoons of boiling water and the vanilla. Sift together the cake flour and salt. Fold into the yolks until just mixed.

Whip the egg whites until foamy. Slowly incorporate the remaining sugar and whip until the whites hold stiff peaks. Stir 1/3 of the whites into the yolks, then gently fold in the rest.

Fill each muffin cup about 3/4 full, and bake until the cupcakes are lightly browned and spring back when pressed lightly, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool on a rack.

YIELD:  12 cupcakes

Alan Davidson  (1924-2003)

New York City premiere, 2001: A Space Odyssey, April 3, 1968
     This morning's second, equally enjoyable trifle is a book I recently reacquired, but which never left my memory, called "The Making of Kubrick's 2001", which was assembled and edited by Jerome Agel and originally published as a Signet Film Series paperback in 1970.  

In this small, but substantial, volume (unlike so many paperbound books today, which cost an arm and a leg, this is actually the size of a "normal" paperback of days of yore and was cover-priced at a high-value USD $1.50), Jerome Agel, who previously "conceived and coordinated" Marshall McLuhan's enjoyable, and, for some, revelatory and life-changing "The Medium Is The Massage", and Buckminster Fuller's "I Seem To Be A Verb", fully captures in another medium the magic both of seeing and wondering about 2001, without laying a heavy author/critic trip on you.

Agel offers as much information (visual and text) about the conception, production and commercial exploitation of 2001 as any interested reader/enthusiast could possibly desire, while in the best reporter-to-reader or teacher-to-student manner, leaving the rest up to you.  There is no table of contents, no index and no need for one.  As T.E. Lawrence discoursed on this question in his Seven Pillars Of Wisdom: "Halfway through the labour of an index to this book, I recalled the practice of my ten years of study of history; I had never used the index of a book fit to read.  Who would insult his Decline and Fall, by consulting it just upon a specific point?"

I absolutely loved this book when it was published and it moved with me from apartment-to-apartment for a very long time. While researching this yesterday, I came across a contemporary reader comment from a high school student saying that when he found this book on his library shelf, he decided to skip his next two class periods because he found it so enjoyable and engrossing.  That fairly sums it up for me.

Two days ago I was speaking to a woman I know who told me that she never "got" "2001: A Space Odyssey" and disliked it.  I suppose that when I first saw it on the Cinerama screen in Manhattan as a young teenager there were things that I didn't "get" then, which subsequently became clearer.  It's a movie that takes you far from your "comfort zone", as they like to say now and, for all its many visual delights, isn't in any way a show-boat-y, special effects movie.  Space and Earth pre-history are presented in the way they are in order to create as naturalistic a background as possible to dramatize truthfully human beings' struggle to be human, to evolve and do their best (for all their imperfections and limitations) against great challenges and long odds. We recently watched a new film concerning NASA's final space shuttle mission to conduct major repairs on the Hubble telescope and were struck by the similarities in attitude and purpose between our current astronauts and Frank and Dave, 2001's human protagonists.

Two nice quotes from the book:

Andre Breton:  "Everything leads us to believe that there exists a certain point of the intelligence at which life and death, the real and the imaginary, the past and the future..........cease to be perceived as opposites."

Stanley Kubrick:  "If it can be written, or thought, it can be filmed."  

I bought my new copy of The Making of Kubrick's 2001 for about $15.00 from

Stanley Kubrick

Arthur C. Clarke


  1. Well, thank you and I'm happy to return the compliment, having just visited Transit Safari. I love Toronto. I used to visit all the time on business, but haven't been back for several years. I very much want to take my daughter for a visit. Curtis