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Individual Red, White, and Blue Trifles

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The fact that the Fourth of July falls right smack in the middle of peak berry season seems almost too good to be true. Right around the time when many of us are scrambling to come up with the perfect patriotic red, white, and blue dessert for our Independence Day barbecues, the sweetest strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries are arriving in the grocery store, fresh picked from local berry farms. It’s no wonder that so many 4th of July desserts feature berries. It’s patriotic kismet.

And this dessert is no different. But it’s more than just seasonal festive colors. These red, white, and blue fresh berry and vanilla custard trifles are addictively delicious. Seriously, I should admit that I made two batches since I just wasn’t satisfied with the photos I’d gotten from the first batch. I ate most of that first batch. I shared a little with the kids, but I made quick work of the rest…and I barely regret it either. I’m going to try to save the second batch for tomorrow’s festivities, but I’m not making any promises.

Traditionally, trifles are made with layers of fruit, spongecake, custard and whipped cream, arranged in a large glass bowl to display the beautiful layers. My version is made in perfect individual portions, arranged in jam jars for a unique presentation. In some variations of trifle, the fruit is suspended in gelatin. In mine, a bit of sugar and some instant pectin (commonly used in making jams and jellies), create a sweet thickened glaze around the fresh berries. Layers of crushed vanilla wafers, creamy vanilla custard, and sweet whipped cream complete the perfectly portioned dessert. Be sure to stick your spoon straight down to the bottom with every bite to get a little bit of every layer.

How will you be spending your 4th of July??

Individual Red, White, and Blue Trifles

Ingredients

  • 20 vanilla wafer cookies, crushed
  • 1 cup blueberries

For the Berry ‘Jam’

  • 1 cup strawberries, chopped
  • 1 cup raspberries, chopped
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 17-gram package instant pectin*

For the Vanilla Custard

  • 1 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3 egg yolks

For the Whipped Cream

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
*Look for pectin wherever your grocery store carries their jarring supplies for jams and jellies.

Directions

For the Custard: Bring the milk, sugar, vanilla, salt and cornstarch to a simmer over medium heat, whisking frequently so that the sugar and cornstarch dissolve. Then, reduce the heat. In a separate bowl, lightly beat the egg yolks with a fork. Gradually whisk about 1/2 cup of the hot milk into the egg yolks, starting with a very slow drizzle. (Gradually incorporating the hot milk into the egg yolks tempers the eggs, allowing them to slowly rise in temperature without scrambling.) Gradually whisk the egg mixture into the remaining hot milk in the pot. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat, whisking constantly for about 3 minutes, until thickened and smooth. Allow to cool at room temperature, whisking occasionally, until no longer hot. Then, transfer the mixture to a bowl or large measuring cup. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly against the custard to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until chilled.

For the Berry Jam: Combine the strawberries, raspberries, sugar, and pectin. Stir for about 3 minutes. Set aside while you prepare the other components.

For the Whipped Cream: Beat the heavy cream and sugar for several minutes until quite thick.

To Assemble the Trifles: Spoon about 1/6 portion of the berry jam into the bottom of each serving glass. (8-ounce jam jars work perfectly.) Sprinkle about 1/6 of the crushed cookies on top of the jam. Spoon or pipe about 1/6 of the custard on top of the cookie layer. Top the custard layer with a layer of blueberries. Spoon 1/6 of the whipped cream onto each blueberry layer. Garnish with a additional berries, if desired. Refrigerate until serving.

Makes 6 Servings

Independence Day Menu Ideas

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It’s almost time to celebrate America’s birthday; America’s number one holiday for backyard barbecues and launching brightly colored explosives into the sky.

Many of us will spend the day with friends and family, gathered around a hot grill, enjoying good summer food and cheering to independence. Check out these ideas for making your Independence Day menu extra delicious! (Click on the titles for a link to each recipe.)

And if you’re wondering how to make that tasty American flag cake pictured above, click here for a step-by-step guide.

Grilled Ribeye and Corn on the Cob with Chipotle Butter – Including lots of tips for grilling a delicious, juicy steak!

The Mona Lisa Burger – A juicy beef patty with gorgonzola, roasted garlic aioli, olives, prosciutto, onions, and sun-dried tomatoes

Grilled Honey-Garlic Baby Lamb Chops- A simple and elegant grilled alternative to burgers!

The Hangover Burger (aka The Heart Attack on a Bun) – Beef patty with bacon, chili, and spicy cheese sauce, topped with a slightly runny fried egg. Heavenly delicious!

Greek-style Lamb Burger with Tzatziki Sauce- My husband’s most favorite dish in the whole world, hands down.

Turkey Burger with Fresh Tomato Salsa- Slightly cheesy and perfectly delicious!

Barbecue Beef Chili – Pulled barbecue beef meets spicy chili in this super-satisfying dish. Totally worth the time it takes to put together. Make a huge batch and freeze the leftovers!

Baked Potato Salad – A flavorful potato salad alternative for those with an aversion to mayonnaise (like myself)!

Mediterranean Cous Cous – Simple and flavorful side dish which can be made ahead and served chilled.

Tomato-Cucumber Salad- Fresh summer tomatoes and crisp cucumber in a tangy vinaigrette.

Barley and Bean Salad – Bursting with nutrition and bright flavors!

Grilled Fingerling Potatoes- Throw them in a foil packet and pop them on the grill. Sprinkle with a bit of gorgonzola, if desired!

Dinosaur Barbecue Macaroni Salad – The only macaroni salad I’ve ever loved!

Orzo with Salmon and Cucumber - A fresh and satisfying side dish or main course on a hot summer day!

Tomato and Mozzarella Caprese - Classic and delicious!

Fresh Ginger Lemonade- A hint of infused ginger root with freshly squeezed lemons gives this lemonade that extra something special!

Mixed Berry Mousse- Pair it with a layer of vanilla bean panna cotta for an extra special treat!

Boom and Roar

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From the boom of the fireworks to the roar of Niagara Falls, our 4th of July weekend was a blast! We spent the day in Buffalo visiting with dear friends and their two little children. The kids played themselves silly, caused an appropriate amount of mischief, ran, biked, and jumped until their eyelids grew heavy.

We dined on a delicious dinner of grilled burgers, hot dogs, and chicken with corn on the cob, garlicky green beans, and Caprese salad.

After dinner, the two older boys and the dads pitched a tent in the yard. My three year old came prepared with everything a little boy could need for his first campout; a lantern, binoculars, and his best friend, Elephant.

Once the kids were settled in their sleeping bags and beds, the adults relaxed around a fire pit for a few drinks and more than a few laughs, with the crack of fireworks in the air.

The flag cake was a grand success. And since I know you’re curious, here’s a picture of the inside.

The next morning, our gracious hosts prepared fresh fruit and yogurt smoothies and cheesy eggs with sausage. Before heading home, we all made the short drive up to Niagara Falls for a quick peek. The most beautiful rainbow was awaiting us near the base of Horseshoe Falls.

America’s Birthday Cake

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Happy Birthday, America!

Over the past few days, we’ve made patriotic mixed berry mousse with creamy vanilla panna cotta. We’ve shown our pride with festive pretzel sparklers, coated in rich chocolate and rolled in sprinkles of red, white, and blue. But, today is your birthday America! So, we made you a birthday cake, of course. Close your eyes and make a wish!

As if cake batter weren’t irresistible enough to a three year old, try adding a few drops of highly concentrated gel color power. My son’s tongue was like a magnet to the batter and I became a bird of sorts uttering ah, ah, ah until my throat was dry. Somehow, we managed to get the cakes in the oven with only a slight consumption of raw batter and mostly unstained fingers.

This is no ordinary birthday cake. On the outside, it appears plain white and completely unassuming. But, the inside is extraordinary. At least, I hope it will be extraordinary! At this point, I can only imagine what the inside will look like. We’ll be cutting the cake later today, as we celebrate the 4th with friends. For now, here’s a little look at the construction of America’s birthday cake.

Mix up a white cake batter. One box of cake mix will do the job!

Ensure that the cake batter is delicious. Quality control is essential.

Split the cake batter approximately into thirds, with a little extra in one of the bowls. Use gel food coloring to mix up some patriotic colors, making the biggest portion of cake batter red.

Pour the batter into cake pans (1 double-thick blue, 2 thin whites, and 3 thin reds) and bake according to package directions. Check the cakes often, since they are thin and will cook faster than any of the recommended cooking times. The thicker blue cake will take the longest.

Use a long serrated knife to level the cakes.

Frost a red and white layer together. Place the blue layer on top. Using a bowl as a guide, cut a circle through all three layers. Discard (eat) the inside of the blue layer and the outside of the red and white layer.

The pieces will fit together like a puzzle.

Build the base of the cake by spreading a thin layer of frosting between the layers. Place the cake layers cut-side down to spread the frosting more easily.

Place the red, white, and blue layer on the top.

To keep your serving platter clean, tuck wax paper along the edges of the cake while you frost. Spread a thin layer of frosting all around the cake. Think of this coat of frosting as the corset holding all of the layers and crumbs in place. Refrigerate until the frosting is firm.

Spread a second layer of frosting over the cake and decorate as desired. When the frosting is complete, gently pull the wax paper away.

Can you imagine what the inside will look like?

Hmmm…

Maybe just a little taste…

Wow! 234 years old! You wear your age well, America.

Cake idea inspired by 17 and Baking blog.

Something for the Kids – Independence Day Pretzel Sparklers

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Independence Day Pretzel Sparklers

Here’s a little something for kids of all ages, inspired by Martha Stewart. I’ve made Magic Pretzel Wands before, but never Independence Day Pretzel Sparklers!! There’s a difference, you know!

This is a great little activity for kids. They’ll practice following directions and sequencing steps. Painting and rolling the pretzels builds important motor skills. And, it’s a great opportunity to learn about sanitary practices in the kitchen. (My little guy must have washed his hands 10 times over the course of the activity, since the chocolate on his fingers was way too irresistible not to lick.) Best of all…engaging your kids in something hands-on and memorable such as this, is a perfect opportunity to talk about why we celebrate the 4th of July.

To make the pretzel sparklers, simply unwrap the chocolates. (We used semi-sweet, but you can use white chocolate or milk chocolate too.)  Melt the chocolate slowly and gently in a bowl placed over a pot of simmering water. Melting the chocolate in a double boiler set-up will help to ensure a smooth result. Stir the chocolate as it melts. (Grown-ups or older kids should handle the melting.) Then, use a pastry brush to paint one end of a pretzel rod with the melted chocolate. Finally, roll the pretzel in patriotic sprinkles and refrigerate until the chocolate has hardened.

My little guy will show you how it’s done…

Unwrap the chocolates.

Melt the chocolate over a double boiler.

Paint the pretzel rods with chocolate.

C

Roll the pretzel in sprinkles.

Keep the pretzels away from the dog.

Bucket o' Pretzel Sparklers

Independence Day Berries and Cream – Mixed Berry Mousse and Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta

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It occurred to me that if I waited until July 4 to share my Independence Day dessert with you, it wouldn’t do you very much good at all. Now, would it?? So, I’m going to share it with you today, just in case you’re in need of a festive dessert idea.

I love the idea of using fresh berries in an Independence Day dessert. Not only are they dressed in festive colors, but they are seasonally perfect. I wanted to come up with a way to use fresh red and blue berries in something simple, but elegant. After a little brainstorming, I decided that I’d make a strawberry mousse. I’d decorate it with fresh whipped cream, blueberries, and a mint leaf or two. Red, white, and blue; pretty, festive, fresh, and delicious.

Now, I’ve never actually made a berry mousse before. I’ve made chocolate, cheese, and salmon mousses, but never berry. So, I did what I normally do when I’m about to do anything unfamiliar and I scoured the internet for information. What in the world did we do before the internet?? I must have read a dozen articles, a hundred recipes and a thousand recipe reviews, trying to discern the best approach and the right ingredients for my perfect berry mousse. I was a little disappointed by the number of recipes calling for egg whites and gelatin. Frankly, I just didn’t want to put eggs or gelatin in my mousse. But, their inclusion in these recipes is not accidental or frivolous. The berry puree just isn’t dense enough to hold up in a mousse on its own. The gelatin thickens the puree and lends stability to the mousse. Ok, that makes sense. So what about the eggs? From what I can discern, the purpose of the egg whites, which are whipped into a meringue of sorts and then blended with the puree, is to incorporate air bubbles, which give the mousse its fluffy, foamy texture. That also makes sense. But since the whipped cream serves the very same purpose, I took a gamble that I could skip the egg whites, which turned out to be true.

Here’s where it gets fun… Somewhere in all of this mousse research, I ran across a recipe for panna cotta. Panna cotta is basically sweetened cream, thickened with unflavored gelatin. Hmmmm…. Berries and Cream!  Now, that’s an idea! So, I decided to add a layer of vanilla bean panna cotta to my berry mousse. All I can say is WOW!  The creamy panna cotta, accented with specks of fresh vanilla bean, was the perfect complement to the sweet, fluffy berry mousse. This panna cotta would even be lovely on its own or with a just drizzle of strawberry syrup and a few fresh berries!

You have a few options for serving this dessert. It can be served in clear serving glasses (clear plastic cups would be fine). Or, it can be set in molds and unmolded before serving. Both presentations are lovely. A benefit of the serving glass presentation is that you don’t have to worry about removing them neatly from their molds. Plus, you won’t have to wonder whether the mousse and panna cotta are firm enough to hold their shape. I actually made the mousse twice, because the first version was barely firm enough to hold its shape once I removed the mold.  The addition of a bit more gelatin solved that problem and produced a mousse that was light and fluffy, but firm enough to hold the mold. Either way, save a few berries for garnish. A little dollop of fresh whipped cream and a mint leaf would make the perfect finishing touches!

The following recipes will produce a mousse and panna cotta that’s firm enough to hold a mold. If you are serving in glasses, you can slightly reduce the gelatin, if desired. The entire recipe can be made a day ahead of time and refrigerated.

Mixed Berry Mousse

Ingredients

  • 3 cups fresh Mixed Berries (Strawberries, Raspberries, Blueberries…)
  • 1/4 cup Sugar
  • 1 cup Heavy Cream
  • 1/2 cup Orange Juice
  • 1 packet Knox Unflavored Gelatin (about 2 3/4 tsp)

Directions

In a small saucepan, add the orange juice. Sprinkle the gelatin onto the liquid and let it sit while you prepare the puree and whipped cream. (Do not heat the mixture at this time. Allowing the gelatin to bloom in the cool liquid for a few minutes helps to ensure a smooth result.)

With a blender, food processor, or immersion blender, puree the berries with the sugar until smooth. If desired, strain the berry puree to remove the seeds. Set aside.

Prepare the whipped cream by pouring 1 cup Heavy Cream into a bowl and whipping with a whisk until it is fluffy and just begins to hold a firm peak. Be careful not to whip it into a butter. If desired, you can use an electric mixer to whip the cream. Set aside.

Whipped Cream Tip – Place your metal bowl and the whisk in the freezer for a few minutes prior to beating the cream. Place the metal bowl over an ice water bath while you whisk.

Over medium-low heat, bring the orange juice-gelatin mixture to a simmer. Simmer and stir for a minute or two until the gelatin is completely dissolved.

Add the orange juice-gelatin mixture to the fruit puree. Stir to combine.

Add about 1/4 of the whipped cream mixture to the fruit puree. Fold it into the puree until it is well combined. This step will help to lighten the puree for the addition of the remaining whipped cream.

Add the remaining whipped cream and fold it in until blended. Do not over-mix the puree and the whipped cream. The key is to keep the mixture light and fluffy.  Over-mixing will result in losing the air bubbles which make the mousse fluffy.

Once blended, pour or spoon the mousse into your serving cups or molds. If using molds, spray the inside with a bit of cooking spray before filling with mousse. This will make it easier to remove the molded mousse. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, until set.

Once the mousse is mostly set, you can begin making the panna cotta.

Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cup Heavy Cream
  • 1/4 cup Milk
  • 1  1/4 tsp Unflavored Gelatin
  • 1/4 cup Sugar
  • 1 Vanilla Bean

Directions

Sprinkle the gelatin on the milk and allow it to sit.

In a sauce pan, combine the cream and sugar. Slit the vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Use a paring knife to scrape out the seeds. Place the seeds and bean in the cream. Over low heat, slowly bring the cream to a gentle simmer, while whisking to dissolve sugar.

Add the milk with gelatin to the simmering cream. Whisk to combine. Continue to simmer for a few minutes until the gelatin has completely dissolved.

Place a bowl in an ice water bath. Pour the hot cream through a fine strainer or sieve into the bowl to remove any chunks of undissolved gelatin. Whisk the cream for a minute or two. Then, remove the bowl from the ice bath and set aside until completely cool.

Once cool, spoon a layer of panna cotta on top of the berry mousse in your molds or serving glasses. Refrigerate until set, about 2 hours.

(Makes about 6-8 individual desserts)

A few tips for removing the mousse and panna cotta from a mold:

  • Wet the tip of a knife under warm water and run it along the edges to loosen it.
  • Sit the mold in a warm water bath for a minute or so before removing.
  • Place your serving plate on top of the mold. Then turn it upside down and give the mold a firm whack.

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