Uncle Johns Chocolate Chocolate Vanilla Berry Birthday Trifle!

20 Jun

So it was my Uncle John’s birthday in February, and he is a very special man in my life. He always treated Mila, my sister, and I as if we were adults – always listening to our opinions, treating us with respect, and telling us funny jokes. He is one of my heroes, and I wanted to make a delicious birthday cake for him. He is English, so a trifle suggested itself, and he loves chocolate, so I decided to go the whole hog (so to speak) and do a chocolate upon chocolate upon chocolate birthday trifle. I decided to “cut” it with some vanilla custard, and vanilla whipped cream, and a few, strategically placed berries to slice fragrantly through the ultimate chocolate fest.

While I use chocolate pudding, chocolate sour cream pound cake, and a thick dark chocolate sauce as the basis for this trifle, don’t think that they are all one note. If you make sure to think about them as three parts of a sublime whole, you can ensure that each tastes unique and different, but still deeply chocolately. I usually put some cinnamon in the chocolate pound cake because that adds a dusky dark note, without intruding too much. And I add some espresso to the chocolate sauce to ensure that its bitter sweetness stands out. And the chocolate pudding gets a hit of vanilla to ensure its creamy fragrance is unique. Layer these with vanilla custard, and lightly sweetened vanilla whipped cream, and a jumble of strawberries, blackberries and raspberries, and you get a trifle that is unspeakably delicious. Pardon the superlatives, but they really apply here.

First you need to prepare the various elements of the trifle, and then you can put them all together!

Chocolate Sauce

  • Approximately 300 grams (10 oz) at least 75% bittersweet chocolate
  • 100 g + 100 g good quality French butter
  • ¾ cup strong espresso (hot)
  • 1 cup whipping or double cream
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp honey (flowery honey if you have it – heather, lavender, etc – it gives a lovely note)

In a heavy pot, put your chocolate, broken into pieces. Cut 100 g of butter on top of the chocolate, pour over the hot espresso, and then pour the whipping cream on top. Put on a small low fire. Mix constantly as the butter and chocolate melts, and add the sugar and honey.

As soon as the chocolate is melted, continue mixing for a few more minutes to let the mixture “cook” – you will taste more toffee and dark notes, but you don’t want the mixture to burn.

As soon as the sauce is to your liking, take off the heat, and cut in remaining 100 g of butter. This will help cool down the sauce, and will make it glossy and thick. Leave to cool completely.

Berry Mixture

If you use organic berries, you wont need any embellishments because the flavour comes out so pure and strong. If you dont use organic berries, you might want to add a tablespoon or so of jam to enhance the flavour profile. This is wonderful as is spooned over vanilla ice cream, or heated with a dollop of port wine, and tumbled boozily over ice cream, or swirled with vanilla custard. Or serve as is, with a big bowl of Greek yogurt and brown sugar mixed. Mmmmmm.

  • 450 g (1 lb) organic strawberries
  • a few drops of very old balsamico if you have it
  • 170 g (6 oz) blackberries
  • 170 g (6 oz) raspberries
  • 3 tbsp caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice

Additional raspberries and tiny strawberries to decorate

Hull and chop the strawberries. Add a few drops of balsamico to the cut strawberries and watch as they glow ruby red and their scent and oils get released in contact with the balsamico. If you don’t have it, try a few drops of red wine vinegar, red wine, or even port wine.

Chop the blackberries and raspberries in half and mix with the strawberry mixture.

Add caster/icing sugar. It helps that this sugar is very fine – it immediately melts into the berries and creates a wonderful sweet sauce.

Spritz on the lemon juice, mix gently once again, and refrigerate until needed.

Vanilla Custard

Oh this is so good. You can use it as the perfect accompaniment for anything – Christmas pudding, fresh berries, pound cake, crumble, stewed fruits. The list goes on and on and it is perfection any which way. You can halve this generous recipe if you want to, though I do love having extra.

  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups double or whipping cream
  • 1 -2 vanilla beans, or vanilla essence or paste
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 2 tbsp cornflour
  • 2/3 cup caster sugar

Combine milk and cream in saucepan, and add vanilla. If youre using vanilla beans, split the beans with a sharp knife, and scrape out the seeds directly into the milk, and pop the beans in there too!

Cook the milk, stirring constantly, over low heat for about 5 – 8 minutes, until hot, but not boiling. Take off heat.

Whisk egg yolks, cornflour and caster sugar together until pale yellow.

If you used vanilla beans, take the beans out of the milk, and pour over the egg mixture. Whisk constantly, and combine well.

Pour this thin custard back into the saucepan, and sir constantly until it thickens and coats the back of a metal spoon. Don’t allow it to boil as you might get scrambled vanilla eggs – not a good look!

Strain through a sieve if you have lumps, and cover custard with baking paper so that you wont get a skin.

Double Chocolate pudding

This makes a lot of chocolate pudding – you can halve it if you must. Its wonderful warm, and delightful cold. When you taste real chocolate pudding, and realize how quick and easy it is to make, you will never ever go back to the package.

  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 5 tbsp corn flour
  • 1 ½ cup cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 + 1 cup milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate broken into pieces
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

In a large heatproof bowl, whisk together the first four ingredients. Whisk in 1 cup of milk until you have a thick chocolately paste. Whisk in the egg yolks, one at a time until completely combined.

Heat the remaining 2 cups milk and 2 cups cream in a large saucepan. Don’t let come to the boil.

Pour the milk into the chocolate mixture and whisk well.

Pour the pudding mixture back into the saucepan and stir constantly over medium to low heat, until the mixture thickens to pudding consistency.

Pour back into bowl, straining the mixture through a sieve.

Mix in the bittersweet chocolate and vanilla, allowing the chocolate to melt.

Cool, covered with baking paper so that a skin will not form.

Sour Cream Chocolate Pound Cake

I bake these in loaf tins. I think you can get 3 – 4 tins worth from this recipe. This is a wonderful cake, it keeps for ages, and can be frozen wrapped. Its thick, moist, and yet light. Its not overwhelmingly chocolate, and the hint of cinnamon is deep and dark and yet sweetly musky. Beautiful.

  • 4 ½ cups cake flour
  • 2 cups cocoa powder
  • 1 ½ tsp baking soda
  • 2 tbsp cinnamon
  • 4 sticks butter, softened
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 2 cups light brown sugar
  • 8 large eggs
  • 3 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups sour cream
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (optional)

Butter 2 – 4 loaf pans, and line with baking paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and cinnamon.

In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, cream the butter with the sugars. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well. Add the vanilla.

On low, beat in the flour mixture alternating with the sour cream.

Once everything is completely mixed, add the chopped chocolate.

Scrape the batter into the loaf tins, about 3/4ths full.

Bake at 165 C for an hour and ten minutes, or until a knife or wooden pick comes out with a few crumbs attached.

Please do note that if you only fill the pan halfway, the cooking time will be much less – may be 40 minutes or so. Do check every half an hour as ovens and pans vary so widely.

Cool, in the pan, for at least 15 minutes before unmolding.

Whipped Cream

Just before assembling the trifle, whip some cream so it holds light peaks.

  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • ½ – 1 cup caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp vanilla extract or paste
  • 2 tsp agar agar

Whip the cream on low-medium with an electric beater. About halfway through, when the cream has thickened, add the caster sugar and vanilla and agar agar. This vegetarian gelling agent is made from seaweed, and will ensure that your whipped cream stayed whipped and wont weep for at least 24 hours. Great to use in chiffon pies or other recipes where you need whipped cream to stay put!


The above recipes make enough for 2 trifles – serving about 15 – 20 people.

Choose beautiful glass bowls or containers so that you can see the incredible colours and textures of your trifle through the edges.

Have everything within easy reach.

Slice your cake in ½ inch slices.

Line the bottom of the bowl with the cake. Drizzle a bit of chocolate sauce over. Layer some custard on top. Put in a layer of berries (making sure that the nicest ones are edging the bowl), and then a layer of chocolate pudding and a layer of whipped cream. Finish with a layer of cake, and start all over again. The last layer should be whipped cream – you can drizzle flakes of chocolate over or arrange pretty berries.

Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving to allow flavours to meld.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: