Trifle (Merrill-style)

Smack-dab in the middle of the last century my grandfather, Milton Magrath Merrill, went to South Africa to serve a mission for our church - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He didn't go as a raw 19 year old boy, he was a mature man leaving home and family to answer the call to serve. He returned about the time my parents met in 1951 (when my mom was an apparently very eye-catching 15). With him came the diamonds that eventually made my mother's wedding rings and - perhaps even better - a recipe for Trifle. Apparently the South African version is a bit unique. I don't really know about that but I do know that it is terrifically good. I consider it a family treasure. I know it the way my mother learned to make it from her mother-in-law, my Grandma Merrill. We love it and it is often requested as "birthday cake" in our family.

This is my spin on it. Grandpa insisted that it be made with Bird's Custard Powder but I personally prefer making the custard from scratch. The fruit varies with what is in season (or at least available). In the Reed Merrill branch of the family we have developed a preference for Nanking Cherry Jelly for the jam part but unless you have a cherry hedge or access to a bush or two as well as the desire to make your own jelly, you will likely have to be (very) happy with my next favorite which is Raspberry Jam.

Trifle (Merrill-style)

2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
3 eggs
Heat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour a 9x13" pan. Measure all ingredients into a large mixer bowl. Blend on low until mixed and then on high for 3 minutes. Pour into baking pan and bake for 40 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool and turn out of pan onto wire rack.

1/3 cup sugar
2 Tbsp cornstarch
1/8 tsp salt
2 cups milk
2 egg yolks
2 Tbsp butter
2 tsp very good vanilla
Blend sugar, cornstarch, and salt in 2 liter saucepan. Add milk and egg yolks and whisk thoroughly. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils. Boil and stir for 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in the butter and vanilla. Cool, stirring several times as it cools.

Fruit and Cream
2 cups whipping cream, whipped
fruit (for this trifle I used the following)
1 banana, sliced
3 cups cleaned and sliced strawberries
1 can mandarin orange segments, drained
1 cup sliced, canned peaches
Fold the fruit into the whipped cream.

1 cup jam 

This is the fun part! We think it is pretty much a kitchen staple to have a "trifle" bowl but if you don't it will still taste as good. You will just miss the wow! factor - a big part of this dessert - so serve it at the table for sure. My trifle bowl is a 10" straight-sided vessel. I use the edge of the bowl to mark a circle on the cake and then cut the circle out. Next, split your cake circle in half so you have two circles. Put one of them in the bottom of the bowl and cover with 1/2 of the jam, topping that with half of the custard. Layer on about half of the fruit and cream. Repeat the layers. Stand back and admire. 

I almost always end up with a bit more of all the parts than will fit in the bowl and there is for sure going to be left-over cake so I use it to make another poor man trifle - lots of cake and little cream. It is still good and always gets eaten with gusto. I made this one in a canister.

The cake recipe I use here is one of our family favorites for many things. Makes great cupcakes and is perfect for the kind of birthday cakes you make for kids - the ones you cut into shapes. It has a nice moist texture and a most delicious taste. Plus it is super easy - as easy for sure as a cake mix and worlds better in every way.

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