The heat index is supposed to get up to 110 in Chicago today. That’s stick-your-head-in-the-freezer weather. That’s lying-prone-in-front-of-a-box-fan weather. And, if you’re me, that’s make-a-dang-trifle weather. A trifle is the sweaty chef’s best friend: It looks impressive, tastes fantastic, is best served cold on hot days, and doesn’t require any attention to detail whatsoever. Allow me to present a brief argument for making this the Summer of Trifle.
We’ve sung the praises of trifle before. If you’re unfamiliar, a trifle is a layered dessert consisting of smashed-up cake, some sort of pudding or custard, and fruit. It’s cake in its most primal form, meant to be spooned into one’s mouth without any fussy piped frosting or tidy triangular slices. Bonus points if you eat your trifle on the kitchen floor while wearing a giant T-shirt and nothing else.
Baking is a precise science, and the most challenging projects typically demand attention to detail. Trifle is not one of those projects. To make a trifle, all you need is fruit, cream, and cake. You can bake a cake for a special summer occasion, but I’m personally less than thrilled to fire up the oven on a 100-degree day. Instead, I’ll use thawed cake scraps or pick up an angel food cake from the nearest grocery store bakery. Worst-case scenario, I’ll wait until the sun goes down and then bake up a quick boxed white cake mix when my kitchen is at its coolest. Either way, this is not the time to labor over the perfect cake crumb. It’s all getting mashed up in the end anyway.
Summer fruits are a gift, especially when peak stone fruit season hits. And while baked desserts like cobblers are a great way to showcase those fruity flavors, 100-degree days are not cobbler time; 100-degree days are trifle time. Unless you’re working with some kind of miraculous industrial air-conditioning, you don’t want to be baking up a cobbler in these conditions. Enter the trifle: Just slice up your plums, peaches, and nectarines and plop the chilled fruit right into the trifle dish.
Trifle convinces your friends that you have your act together. On hot days like these, you can find me one of two places: in my dark, cave-like bedroom (door closed, portable air conditioner unit blasting) or posted up at a friend’s place if they’re lucky enough to have central AC. In the latter case, I don’t like to show up empty-handed. Luckily for me, a trifle looks impressive in a clear dish that showcases the dessert’s fruity, custardy layers. No one has to know that I made it in five minutes while fanning myself with a rolled-up newspaper.