Making trifle for the 4th of July seems wrong, but I do it every year. The family requests it and when I try to change desserts, there are loud protests. So trifle is our dessert of choice, even though it is a traditional British dessert and you know why we celebrate the 4th. I think my family wants trifle to have independence as well.
Of course we’ve changed it a bit, some of it due to ingredients being unavailable in our rural state. I’m not sure there are ladyfingers anywhere to be found, and making custard went the way of the covered wagons. Even making it in a flat sided glass bowl on a pedestal has been changed to more portable containers since we usually are outdoors at picnics.
Our son JDawg was hosting the activities on the 4th again this year, with a new grill. With a section for gas, a section for charcoal and a smoking section, it is an impressive beast. He made smoked ribs prepared with a dry rub recipe from the Food Network.
He also basted them with a wash from the Food Network as they cooked on his grill. They were still laughing at how strong the wash smelled as they cooked it in the house. It might have been best to cook it out on the burner on the grill! But the ribs were SO good, I will definitely be trying them myself. They had the right amount of bite and just a touch of heat.
JDawg also grilled corn using his own method of opening them, removing most of the silks and adding butter before covering them again. My P.S. just husks them and puts them naked on the grill, turning often until they are lightly browned in places. Everyone has their own way of doing it but they all taste delicious usually. One more peek at those ribs and we’ll move back on to the trifle for dessert.
I do keep with most of the intent of a traditional trifle: I use fresh berries, I use drizzles of sherry, and the pudding and gelatin mixtures still bind the layers of goodness. Assembling the trifle involves a lot of cleaning, slicing and layering. It’s really best made several hours before serving.
I use Sara Lee butter pound cakes (2) which is probably the fastest and easiest and costliest way to replace ladyfingers. I’ve made pound cake from scratch and that’s good too, but not much less in price really considering the cost of butter. I simply cube the pound cake and spread one layer on the bottom of the container or bowl if we’re eating indoors.
Next I drizzle a good amount of sherry (the real stuff, but you can use cooking sherry if you prefer) over the cake cubes. We’ve come to like sherry in recipes that are both savory and sweet. I think trifle was our introduction, our gateway food, so to speak. A touch of sherry in freshly made mushroom soup is divine.
Gelatin is another must for trifle. I use a box of instant gelatin, usually a strawberry flavor, although the blue colored mixed berry flavor is very good. The kids like the blue color best. Kids just love unusual colored foods! I let the gelatin set a short while before using, so that it will set up fast. I drizzle 1/4 of the mixture over each cake layer and half 1 cup left over. Using the whole box of gelatin drowns the pound cake and ruins the texture.
I sprinkle the cleaned fresh blueberries over the cake next, followed by the sliced strawberries. We use the cheesecake flavored instant pudding, usually 2 boxes, and I spread half of the mixture over the berries. Next I spread a layer of whipped topping. I use 2 tubs per trifle and prefer the original Cool Whip. I’ve also made it with fresh whipped cream but the tub whipped topping lasts a day or two longer if you have leftovers. Real cream tends to break down and get watery. Then I start all over again with the layers a second time until all ingredients are used.
My trifle is a beautiful red, white and blue color and really does fit the holiday. And it’s light enough to be enjoyed even on a hot day. I provide clear plastic dessert plates or colorful plastic bowls for serving and let the guests serve themselves.
I make the trifle the morning of the event, so that the berries remain fresh. It is good for 2 or 3 days afterwards, but the strawberries will be a little wilted and soggy. Their flavor is still excellent though!
Independence Day Trifle
2 boxes Sara Lee pound cake; or equal amount of cake of choice; cut into ¾” cubes
2 boxes instant pudding mix; vanilla or cheesecake flavor is best
1 box instant gelatin; strawberry or blue mixed berry are our favorites
2 pints of blueberries; rinsed and picked over
2 pints of strawberries; rinsed, hulled and quartered or sliced
2 8 ounce tubs of whipped topping
¼ cup sherry (optional) (I use Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry, you could use cooking sherry)
In a trifle bowl or large container of choice, layer half the pound cake pieces evenly over the bottom. Drizzle with ½ of the sherry (optional). Drizzle half of the gelatin over the cubes.
Sprinkle half of the blueberries, then half of the strawberries evenly over the cake layer.
Spread half of the pudding over the berry layer.
Spread half of the whipped topping over the pudding layer.
Cover with plastic or a lid and refrigerate until serving.