We interrupt this 4-course Parisian meal for an English pudding.
No, this is not a joke.
And neither, might I add, is English food. English food is a force to be reckoned with. It's no mere trifle.
Unless of course you're talking about Trifle. English Trifle is indeed a trifle. I mean that in the sweet-custardy-dessert sense of the word, not the something-of-little-importance sense.
In fact, in recent years English Trifle has become more than a little important. Its charms have spread far and wide. Why, it has even managed to ooze through the Chunnel, down the gullet, and into the brain of none other than the great pastry chef Pierre Hermé.
It's true. Pierre Hermé and other Great Chefs of France have been having a Tryst with Trifle. I've seen it with my own eyes. I've tasted the francofied trifle with my own tongue. What? Has the unimaginable occurred? Have the Great Chefs of France begun looking towards the much maligned cooking of England for inspiration? Quel scandal!
"Please forgive us," the Chefs plead. "We cannot resist Ms. Trifle's creamy and voluptuous charms. She is like Nigella Lawson in a silk negligee and glass slippers."
"Non!" cried the proud French people upon learning of the Great Chefs' anything-but-trifling Tryst with Trifle. "We must enroll les docteurs du spin to defend our nation's gastronomic integrity. We won't allow anyone to trifle with our reputation." The docteurs du spin hatched a plan. "From this day forward, on our side of the Channel we will call Trifle la Verrine. Heh heh heh. We will convince the world the the Verrine is our invention! With a sexy name like Verrine, no one will realize that she is simply English Trifle in a little black Chanel dress."
The Great Chefs of France worked long hours, sometimes even exceeding 35 hours per week, to cover up their shameful Tryst with Trifle. First, they had Ms. Trifle slip into a size-2 glass (verre). Then they adorned her with tuiles and gelées, crème and caramel. They varied her temperature and texture, smeared croustillant on her lips, dabbed craquant behind her ears. They enrolled la bonne femme and even bloggers in their cause. Cook books were published. When they were done, they leaked the concept to the American media. "Let's start with LA. The Californians love us French. They will believe whatever we tell them."
And after my trip to Paris, I too have fallen prey to their deception. I have fallen head over heals for the charms of this repackaged Trifle, the voluptuous Verrine.
So what follows is the result of my own scandalous tryst with the francofied Trifle. I concocted
a fashionable French verrine an old-fashioned English Trifle with a California sensibility. Imagine Joan Collins as Alexis Carrington. (If you haven't guessed by now, this Pythonesque tale is my fashionably late entry in Sam's Fish & Quips event. Happy St George's Day to all!).
Allow me to introduce you to my lovely sweet paramour...
verrine Trifle with Rose Geranium panna cotta Custard and Pistachio Praline
Oh, all right. I'll stop my nonsense. My dessert is about as convincingly English as Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love. Frankly, I'm not even sure if the French would grant it a visa, seeing as it features a decidedly Italian panna cotta. And, to top it all off, my photos came out a little funky. But let me assure you, the taste is irresistible!
Here are some rough instructions on how to assemble this trifle/verrine.
First, find some pretty glasses, preferably somewhat tall and thin.
For the bottom layer, cut up some rhubarb, toss the pieces into a pot with some sugar (I like half a cup per pound of rhubarb), and allow them to macerate for a half hour. Then stew over medium low heat until the rhubarb breaks down into a compote, about 20-30 minutes. Taste to see if you need more sugar. Allow to cool then spoon into the bottom third of each of your glasses.
Next, make you favorite panna cotta recipe (Mario Batali's yogurt panna cotta recipe is reliable) with one change. Instead of vanilla, infuse the cream with rose geranium leaves or a dash of rose water until it tastes as rosy as you prefer. Then proceed with the recipe as written. When the panna cotta starts to cool and thicken, pour it on top of the rhubarb to fill the next third of the glass (or slightly more if you like panna cotta as much as I do). Refrigerate overnight until set.
Next, toast and finely chop a handful of pistachios. Sprinkle them on top of the panna cotta. Then combine some sugar in a pan with a splash of water and a squeeze of lemon and place over medium high heat to caramelize, swirling the pan as needed to caramelize the sugar evenly. When the sugar has turned a dark caramel color, turn off the heat and add a tiny splash of water. Pour the caramel in a thin even layer over the pistachios, working quickly as it will harden as soon as it hits the cold custard.
An hour before you plan to serve the dessert, dice up a few strawberries and toss with sugar to taste and, if desired, a splash of kirsch. Allow the strawberries to macerate for an hour. To serve, spoon macerated strawberries over the praline layer.