kitchen nightmares, or how to make a lemon-strawberry trifle with ginger and thyme

Alright, so today is Easter, which means church with the family and dinner to follow family dinner. And I am in charge of dessert, because dessert is what I do. And I tried to think of something to make that wouldn’t be too heavy, because it’s spring now, and spring doesn’t feel like heavy dessert time to me. So I thought about it for a few minutes and decided to make a trifle. My aunt Martha makes this one with strawberries and pound cake soaked in orange juice and IT IS SO GOOD but my cousin’s birthday is also just around the corner and I know that he’s a big fan of lemon so I thought I would come up with some variation on the theme. So I thought… strawberries? Yes, please. And strawberries go very well with lemon. My two favorite gelato flavors to get together? Fragola e limone. Ay ay ay.

Anyway, so I didn’t want to soak a pound cake in lemon juice, because, um no. And I know how to make this amazing lemon glaze, but it is so full of sugar that it would just be too much for this particular dessert, so I scrapped that. And then I decided — oh! Lemon pound cake! Of course! Now, I’ve never made a lemon pound cake before, but I know the principles of pound cake and I further know that in order to make something lemony, all it takes is adding lemon to it, so I was pretty much all set. Also, you know what I love with lemon? Ginger. The ginger tempers the zing of the lemon a bit and adds a lovely note to the flavor and I know this because I make these lemon ginger shortbread cookies that are, not to brag, AMAZING. So I checked a pound cake recipe for ratios (baking is a science, and ratios must be correct) and then I decided I didn’t need butter AND shortening and instead of milk wouldn’t sour cream be better and also, you know, it needed lemon and ginger. So is the recipe I ended up with:

Flour mixture:
3 c. flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

The rest:
3 c. sugar
1 1/2 c. unsalted butter
ground ginger to taste
5 eggs
1 c. sour cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
zest and juice of one lemon

Normally I’d just give you the basics — oven temperature, pan size, baking time, etc., but today I have to tell you the story about how this cake came into being because it’s such a good story, you guys. Why don’t I have my own cooking show? Call me, Food Network!

Okay, so I combined the flour mixture. (You can sift or whisk or stir with a fork. I don’t care.) And then I began the task of creaming together the butter and the sugar. I like to start with cold butter, though I’m honestly not sure if this makes a difference or not. But I pretend it does and is worth the extra trouble. (I know it makes a difference to start with cold cream cheese when making cream cheese icing, and maybe that’s where I got this notion from from whence that notion came. Prepositions.) So okay, creaming together butter and sugar. You want to do this for a long time because this is the base of your cake batter and you want to get air into it. (This is another reason to start with cold butter, because if you start with room-temperature butter it’ll be runny and gross before you’re done.) You don’t want to overwork batter once you’ve added flour because this makes batter tough instead of light and airy. Light and airy — that’s the goal. Some advice from me to you.

Once I got the butter and sugar combined, I added the ginger. Then I added some more ginger, just for the hell of it. Not a ton, but you know, yay, ginger. At this point, I added the eggs (one at a time — v. important!) and added the vanilla and zested a lemon and added that and then juiced the lemon right into the mixing bowl (squeezed over a strainer, because you gotta watch out for seeds). Everything was combined, everything was looking the way it was supposed to look, so hurrah.

Then I started the next step, which was to add the sour cream and the flour mixture, alternating each about a third at a time. So, sour cream, combined. Flour, combined. More sour cream, combined. Then I added some more flour, and this is when disaster struck. I don’t even know what happened, honestly. I was apparently momentarily distracted, because that happens on occasion: my thoughts will shoot off to some sideways direction without warning and I’ll lose myself in the middle of wherever I was, in favor of saying “Oh really, brain?” Sometimes I snap myself out of this quickly and sometimes I follow one rabbit trail and then another and then another and then three hours later, I’m all, “What was I doing earlier, anyway?” I prefer to believe this is part of my charm. Anyway, so I guess that’s what happened, that my thoughts wandered off and I wandered with them instead of paying attention to the matter at hand. I don’t know how long I might’ve stayed distracted, but I was snapped back to the cake goings-on because suddenly there was a loud crash. I looked up and the mixer had done some kind of kamikaze dive out of the mixing bowl, winding up on the floor — still on, mind you — beaters spraying cake batter all over the kitchen. I’m not sure what I said at this moment, but it’s likely that it was in the vein of “Oh, fucking hell!” That’s me. I always talk like such a lady.

So I turned the mixer off and threw it into the sink. I think I said “I’ll deal with you later.” Because apparently small kitchen appliances need to be spoken to like they’re misbehaving children sometimes. And then I noticed that I had cake batter all over my arm and sprayed up my shin and thigh. Nice, right? I think so too. I figured that was as good a time as any to do a little taste test so I licked some of it off my hand. (What? My hands were clean. And also Classy is my middle name.) Not bad, I thought, all things considered. And then anyway, I had to wipe up the batter from the kitchen floor and cabinets, then I had to mop the floor, then I had to dump out the mop water, then I had to wipe down the countertop, then I had to deal with the mixer. And by the time I got all that done, I was fucking exhausted (it was also about 11 p.m. by that point) but I still had to finish combining the flour and sour cream. Which I finally got done and then I poured it into a sheet pan and baked it at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately 25 minutes. (Why a sheet pan? Because I wanted it to be relatively flat so I could just cut it into small squares for my trifle. If I’d been making the cake to be a stand-alone cake, then it would’ve gone into a different pan. Mind you, this makes A GIANT AMOUNT OF CAKE.)

After the cake was out of the oven, I chopped some strawberries and threw them into a bowl with a spoonful of sugar and the leaves from a few sprigs of fresh thyme. Then I made some pudding. I put the bowl of pudding and the bowl of strawberries into the refrigerator. Then I did some other stuff for awhile and somewhere around midnight though I can’t remember if it was before or after, the cake was cool so I covered it and then I finally went to bed.

And now. The trifle part.

So. You start with a trifle bowl:

(Let’s pretend that’s not blurry.)

Trifle bowls are so pretty, though they seem so unnecessary because what are you going to use a trifle bowl for except for trifles? But still, I am happy to have a trifle bowl because it is so trifley.

And then there’s the lemon pound cake:

Of course, first I had to test it to make sure it was okay, considering what an adventure it was to get it made. So I sliced it up into small squares and took one. OH MY GOD YOU GUYS. It’s lemony. It’s gingery. It’s dense, but not heavy. It’s airy. It’s very moist (I can’t even tell you how much it pains me to use this word, because as you know, it is one of my least favorite words of all time. OF ALL TIME!) and has a fine crumb and is perfect in every way. Which is good, because oh mercy, I have so much of it.

So anyway, I cut the cake up into squares and tossed them into the trifle bowl to make the bottom layer. Like so:

And then this is how much cake I have left over:

Yeah. Um, who wants some leftover pound cake?

The next step is to layer pudding (you can also use some kind of custard or something):

now with pudding!

And then the strawberries:

yes, please

And then whipped cream, more lemon zest and some fresh thyme leaves:

So easy. Haven’t tried it yet, because it’s for dinner this afternoon, but how could it be bad?

Happy Easter, kids.

12 thoughts on “kitchen nightmares, or how to make a lemon-strawberry trifle with ginger and thyme

  1. Oh. My. Gawd! (Can I say that on Easter?) I wish I were still in Michigan so that I wish I were in Albion so that I could wish you’d invite me over.

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  2. Yeah see that’s what you get for moving across the country. But just because you are across the country, I guess you could still wish I would invite you over. And I would!

    Oh, also, I am pleased to report that the trifle WAS AWESOME.

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  3. No pictures of cake batter all over in the kitchen ? You have to include that because it seems this is a two step process. In phase 1 you have to make the mess and lick it off from your arm. Only then it comes out right afterward.

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  4. thank you anniefay for confirmation. it looks so good.

    i wonder what would happen if i changed the entire recipe except for the lemon/ginger brilliance.

    (ie. whole wheat flour, raw sugar (and not enough), maybe yogurt instead of sour cream)…could be worth a try)

    great story. i was also wondering how much cake there might have been if all the original batter had actually remained in the mixing bowl.

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