Desserts galore

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By Robert Harland

What's cooking?

Monday, July 21, 2014

CRITICS can say what they like about British food, but I'm having a whale of a time on holiday in England enjoying some really honest and down-to-earth meals here.

I've always loved British desserts so it has to be a treat to see some of my favorites on regular menus.

In particular, I've been lucky enough to find a traditional English Sherry Trifle and the Elizabethan dish Syllabub.


British Sherry Trifle

Sherry Trifle is a typical British dessert made with thick custard, fruit, sponge cake, fruit juice or alcohol, and whipped cream. These ingredients are usually arranged in layers.

The earliest use of the name trifle was for a thick cream flavored with sugar, ginger and rosewater, the recipe for which was published in England in a 1596 book called "The good huswife's Jewell" by Thomas Dawson. Sixty years later, eggs were added and the custard was poured over alcohol soaked bread.

The Scots have a similar dish to trifle called Tipsy Laird. This is made with Drambuie or whisky. In the Southern US , there's a variant of trifle known as tipsy cake. And in Italy, there's a dessert similar to, and probably based on, trifle known as zuppa inglese, meaning English Soup.


8 slices of sponge cake
strawberry jam
strawberry jello
4 Tbsp cream sherry
2 Tbsp brandy
fruit salad
whipped cream
Glacé cherries or strawberries
almonds (toasted - optional)
Slice the sponge cake. Spread jam on the sponge. Line the bottom of a glass bowl with the cake. Pour the sherry and bandy over the sponge. Leave for 2 hours.
Prepare the Jello. Spread the fruit cocktail (minus the syrup) over the sponge cake and pour over the Jello.
Once set, prepare the custard and pour over the Jello. Once set, whip the cream and spread over the custard.  Decorate with the toasted almonds or glacé cherries or strawberries.

Syllabub is an elegant traditional and very popular Elizabethan dessert made with whipped cream, sherry or white wine and sugar, and often infused with lemon. 

The first reference to Syllabub appeared in 1537 in John Heywood's book Thersytes. Legend has it that in those early days, syllabub was originally made by milking a cow directly into a bowl of wine and cider, but these days the recipe is much easier.

It is highly likely that syllabub was on the menu at many of Henry VIII's banquets.


400ml cream
100ml dry white wine (a Riesling would be good, according to the original recipe)
50ml sack (traditionally this was Madeira, but any fortified wine such as sherry or port will also work)
50g caster sugar
grated rind of a lemon
ground cinnamon to decorate
caster sugar for dusting

Stir together the white wine, sack, caster sugar and lemon rind until all the sugar has dissolved. Stirring with a whisk blend in the cream and then whip lightly until the mixture becomes slightly bubbly. Pour the mixture into half a dozen large wine glasses. If you wish, you can decorate with a slice of lemon at this point. Place in the fridge and serve cold sprinkled with a little cinnamon and a dusting of caster sugar.

If you want to make a classic modern lemon syllabub, substitute the juice of a whole lemon for the white wine and increase the volume of sack to 80 mL.*

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on July 21, 2014.


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