CRANBERRY COGNAC TRIFLE   

Serves 8 to 12
Active time: 2-1/2 hr
Start to finish: 13 hr

This impressive dessert is the sum of many parts that can each be made several days in advance. Assemble the trifle the day before serving to allow the cake to absorb the custard and the flavors to fully develop.

For cake layers
12 large egg yolks
21/4 cups sugar
6 tablespoons whole milk
1½ teaspoons vanilla
1½ cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
6 large egg whites
For assembling trifle
Cranberry jam (recipe follows)
Cognac syrup (recipe this page)
Rich custard (page 181)
For cream topping
11/3 cups chilled heavy cream
1/4 cup confectioners sugar
2 tablespoons Cognac
or other brandy
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Garnish: sugared cranberries and mint leaves
(procedure on page 181)
Special equipment: 3 (15- by 10-by ½-inch) baking pans and a 3½-quart straight-sided glass trifle or soufflé dish

Make cake layers:
 

Preheat oven to 350°F and butter pans. Line bottom of each pan with wax or parchment paper and butter paper. Dust pans with flour, knocking out excess.

Whisk together yolks, 1½ cups sugar, milk, and vanilla in a large bowl until combined well, then whisk in flour and salt until smooth. (Batter will be thick.)

Beat whites with an electric mixer until they hold soft peaks. With mixer at low speed, gradually beat in remaining 3/4 cup sugar. Increase speed to high and beat until whites hold stiff, glossy peaks.

Fold about one third of whites into batter to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly.

Divide batter among pans and spread evenly. Rap pans against a work surface to release any air bubbles. Bake, 1 pan at a time, in middle of oven until cake is pale golden and beginning to shrink around edges, 10 to 11 minutes per pan. Cool layers completely in pans on racks.

Assemble trifle:

Loosen edges of 1 cake layer with a knife. Place a sheet of wax or parchment paper on top of layer and invert onto a rack. Carefully peel paper from cake. Place a new sheet of wax or parchment paper on inverted cake and reinvert onto work surface, peeling off paper that is now on top. Repeat with remaining 2 layers.

With long side of layers toward you, halve layers vertically with a serrated knife. Spread 1 half of each layer (3 of 6 halves) with cranberry jam, then top with remaining plain halves.

Cut each “sandwich” crosswise into 10 (7 1/2- by 3/4 inch) strips. Arrange
1 strip vertically in trifle dish with a cut side against glass (see photo below), then trim strip flush with top of dish. Using trimmed piece as a guide, cut remaining strips to fit dish, reserving trimmings. Brush strips on all sides with Cognac syrup and fit strips tightly all around edge of dish. (If your dish is slightly smaller on bottom than on top, cut a few strips in half diagonally to fill any gaps.)

Brush trimmings with syrup and arrange one fourth of them in 1 layer in bottom of dish. Pour in 1 cup custard. Repeat layering of trimmings and custard to fill dish, ending with custard. (You may have a small amount of custard left over.) Brush top of strips around edge with syrup. Cover trifle with plastic wrap and chill at least 8 hours.

Make topping:
 

Beat heavy cream with confectioners sugar, Cognac, and vanilla with an electric mixer until it holds soft peaks. Remove plastic wrap from trifle and mound cream on top.

Cooks’ notes:
• Resist the temptation to bake more than 1 cake layer at a time; layers will bake extremely unevenly.
• Cake layers can be baked 2 days ahead of assembling and chilled, wrapped well, or frozen up to 1 month.
• Trifle can be assembled (before topping with cream) up to 1 day ahead and chilled, covered.

CRANBERRY JAM

Makes about 2 cups
Active time: 15 mm Start to finish: 1 hr

1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise
1 (12-oz) bag fresh or unthawed frozen cranberries (3-1/2 cups)
 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup water

Special equipment: a food mill fitted with fine disk

Scrape vanilla seeds from pod into a 2-quart heavy saucepan. Add pod and remaining ingredients and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thick, about 20 minutes (jam will continue to thicken as it cools).

Purée jam in food mill set over a bowl, discarding skins and pod. Cool, stirring occasionally.

Cooks’ note:

Jam can be made 4 days ahead of assembling trifle and chilled, covered.

COGNAC SYRUP

Makes about 1-1/2 cups

Active time: 5 mm
Start to finish: 30 mm

1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
2 (4-inch) strips fresh orange zest