Steve may not have heard all the meal plans in advance of Michelle’s recent girls’ weekend. He may have been, at Michelle’s behest, deep in a cabinet or office drawer, straightening yet another part of the house Michelle’s friends might perhaps peek into once they arrived from their homes across the country. The reunion of coeds who first met at Vanderbilt University in the 1970s had taken much coordination (and a bit of cajoling), and Michelle wanted to make sure everything was perfect. Things were falling together. There were even (phew!) a few daffodils still blooming.
Then Michelle and a cookbook author had a disagreement, and things began to go wrong. Michelle thought paper liners would mess up the pretty outlines of the raspberry almond gems she wanted to make for the final meal she and her friends would share together. The ladies would be arriving and departing Gourmandistan at different times, and Steve and Michelle figured pizzas and panini would satisfy the interstitial arrangements. (The nice innkeeper on a horse farm up the road provided breakfasts.) But Michelle wanted the only two opportunities for total togetherness to be special.
She decided Saturday dinner would lean to the South, featuring country ham, biscuits, grits soufflé, broccoli casserole and (not) Derby Pie. The final meal would be an afternoon tea, where the gems would be part of an array including scones, sandwiches and of course a nice Earl Grey. Michelle knew little tea cakes and other items could be prepared ahead of the visits, so she could enjoy more time with the guests. Advance preparation for Sunday’s tea was easy and chocolate mint cakes, unbaked scones and more went into the Gourmandistan freezers. But absent the paper liners, the almond raspberry gems refused to come out of their tins without tearing themselves apart. Staring at the pile of misshapen and oozing yet delicious gems, Michelle quickly thought of making them part of a trifle, so she stowed them in the freezer with everything else and continued cleaning and cooking before her visitors arrived and the almost-disasters continued.
First was the cancellation and rearrangement of an East Coast flight, meaning one guest didn’t arrive until right before the Southern dinner was ready to serve. Then came the cancellation of another guest’s return flight, requiring an overnight stay on a couch with a 5 AM wake-up call. All this was accompanied by winds strong enough to send Gourmandistan’s satellite internet askew, making new flight arrangements even more difficult.
Despite these difficulties and the odd overlay of arrivals and departures, everyone seemed to have a delightful time. Exclamations were made over gifts of “buhhh-bun balls” and Chicago-style gourmet popcorn, and we heard tales of Waco’s Texas Cotton Palace Pageant that made us howl with laughter. (We still wonder what happened to that auburn-hued antebellum-styled wig.) People got to see many parts of Louisville besides the airport, including our first house, beautiful Cave Hill Cemetery and the Falls of the Ohio. Birds were watched, books were exchanged, cats were petted and put up with, and horse barns were explored.
Memories of McTyeire Hall echoed off Gourmandistan’s kitchen and dining room walls, and everyone ate more than they thought they should, especially at teatime, which is perfectly fine in Gourmandistan.
All too soon, the last guest departed, and Gourmandistan returned to its normal routine. We’re happy to have hosted so many lovely people, and hope we can do it again in the near future—though next time we hopefully won’t need to invent a new trifle.
RASPBERRY ALMOND TRIFLE
(cakes adapted from Judy Rosenberg’s The Rosie’s Bakery All-Butter, Cream-Filled, Sugar-Packed Baking Book/trifle adapted from Lee Bailey’s Country Desserts)
RASPBERRY ALMOND MINI CAKES:
- 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- Pinch of salt
- 7 oz. almond paste
- 1-1/2 tsp. finely grated almond zest
- 1/2 c. + 6 TB sugar
- 12 TB (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature + more for the muffin tins if you’re planning to live dangerously
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp. almond extract
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- Approx. 2 TB seedless raspberry jam
Preheat oven to 350° F with a rack in the center. Generously butter approximately 36 mini muffin cups or, if you aren’t making trifle with them, be sure to line the cups instead.
Sift flour, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl.
Combine almond paste and 1/2 cup of sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Process until lumps are gone and mixture is sandy. Add lemon zest and pulse a few times. Add butter pieces and process until creamy, then add extracts and process a bit more.
Beat eggs and remaining 6 tablespoons of sugar with an electric mixer for about 5 minutes until thick and pale.
Sift the flour mixture for a second time over the almond paste mixture in the food processor. Pour in egg mixture and incorporate in no more than 30 quick pulses, stopping near the end to scrape the sides of the bowl. Be careful not to overmix.
Place about a teaspoon of batter in each muffin cup. Add about 1/8 teaspoon of jam in the center of each, then top with another teaspoon or so of batter.
Bake for about 21-22 minutes until cakes are risen and set. Let cool on a rack, then remove from tins with a table knife. They may stick and/or break apart. It really doesn’t matter for purposes of the trifle.
If you made the recipe properly and want real cupcakes, glaze with a mixture of 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar, 1 teaspoon almond extract and 1 tablespoon of hot water. Top the cupcakes with a toasted almond or a fresh raspberry.
- Unglazed cakes above or a day-old pound cake cut into thick slices
- 3/4 c. seedless raspberry jam
- 1/4 c. slivered almonds, lightly toasted and cooled
- 1/2 c. unsweetened coconut chips, lightly toasted and cooled
- 1 package fresh raspberries
- 1/2 c. dry sherry
- 1/4 c. + 2 TB brandy
- 1 tsp cornstarch
- 3 TB sugar
- 2 c. half and half
- 5 egg yolks
- 1-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 2 c. heavy cream, whipped
- Additional slivered almonds and coconut for garnish
Cover bottom of a trifle bowl or other large glass bowl with cake pieces. Spread about 1/3 of the jam over. Top with some almonds, coconut and raspberries. Sprinkle generously with about 1/3 of the sherry and brandy. Set aside.
Mix cornstarch and sugar together in a small bowl. Beat egg yolks together in a larger bowl.
In a heavy saucepan, heat the half and half until it just comes to a boil. Remove from heat.
Whisk the cornstarch/sugar mixture into the egg yolks. Gradually add some of the hot mixture to the egg yolk mixture to warm it. Place the saucepan back on the stove over low heat and add the warmed egg yolk mixture, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or a whisk. Continue to cook, stirring, until the custard becomes stiff and smooth. Do not let the custard boil or it will curdle. Remove from heat and add vanilla.
Let custard cool for a while, then pour about 1/3 of it over the cake in the bowl. Make 2 more layers of cake, jam, etc. as before, ending with a custard layer. Refrigerate for a while to firm up, then top with whipped cream. Cover and chill for several hours.
Just before serving, garnish with more almonds and coconut.
NOTE: This was halved for our tea party and served in an old compote dish, making two rather than three layers of cake.