Published November 1, 1996.
For perfect texture, taste, and appearance, bake your custard in a very shallow dish and use small squares of relatively firm sponge cake.
In short, the hardest thing about making this dessert is getting the custard right; it tends to run. Next hardest is making a cake that won't get soggy and limp once it's soaked in sherry and surrounded by custard.
A classic Victorian trifle is composed of three or more layers of sherry-moistened sponge cake, each dotted with tiny almond cookies and fresh berries or dabs of jam and spread with a rich custard. The top is crowned with rosettes of lemon-scented whipped cream, then adorned with fresh or candied flowers. The texture of this dish should be delicate and creamy, never heavy or wet, and the flavor a subtle balance of tart fruit, slightly astringent wine, toasty almonds, and suave, eggy custard.
We tried a number of ways to thicken the custard sauce and met with no luck. After some deliberation, we hit upon the strategy of baking the custard in a very shallow layer so that the center would cook by means of the heat conducted through the bottom of the dish as well as through the sides. A 13 by 9-inch glass baking dish worked perfectly. We obtained a thick, glossy, completely smooth custard with precisely the same consistency as homemade mayonnaise.
As for the cake, we discovered that a delicate sponge cake like a génoise turned soggy and limp under the influence of sherry, berry juice, and custard. Much better was a drier, sturdier type of sponge cake, like the Savoy cake, which remained springy and just slightly chewy once the dessert was put together.list of recipes