I currently live in Charlotte, NC and after spending 7 years as a personal chef and caterer, I am now happy to share my love of cooking with friends and family. My heart is in the kitchen, but my soul is in the stars!

Good Eats!

I've told you ad nauseum about how much I love all things Italian, so is it any surprise that I would join a club called "The Italian Social Club"?
One of the (many) things I love about living in Charlotte is that if I wanted, each and every day of my calendar could be filled with a social event. The number of social clubs in the area is simply astounding ~ no matter what your interests are, I can guarantee there is a club that specializes in it.

The Italian Social Club, in conjunction with Good Eats! Charlotte, hosted an Italian Cook-Off and Summer Party where members were asked to bring a dish to be shared by others. Those who didn't want to enter the cook-off were welcome to bring a bottle of wine and as you can imagine, there was plenty of food and drink to go around! I knew it would be the perfect opportunity for me to try the Italian Trifle with Marsala Syrup from the December 2008 edition of Food & Wine.

Trifles are fairly easy to prepare, can be made ahead of time and make a lovely presentation. This one was no exception...well, except for one thing. When I took the sponge cake out of the oven, had it said Mazda, I would have sworn it was a worn out version of the floor mat from my car. While mixing it up, I seriously had my doubts that 6 eggs and 3 cups of dry ingredients could fill a half sheet pan. I knew the sponge cake was supposed to be thin, but you could have read a newspaper through this once it was spread into the pan. And baking for 20 minutes?? Yeah, right. Within 10 minutes it was nearly burnt. Not willing to waste yet another 1/2 dozen eggs, I went to Plan B. Any good (former) caterer always has one. My back-up plan consisted of running to the grocery store to pick up a Sara Lee pound cake. Once soaked in the Marsala syrup, no one would know the difference and besides, there were no rules saying the dish had to be made from scratch. The pastry cream was absolutely divine ~ I could have eaten it with a spoon ~ and the addition of fresh strawberries added an extra burst of color and freshness.

There was a lot of stiff competition in each of the categories and in the end, my trifle won 2nd place in the dessert category! I'm including the link for the original recipe if you feel the need to try to master F&W's version of sponge cake, but don't say I didn't warn you. If you'd like to try it my way, I can guarantee it's a winner. And in case you still can't understand my fascination with the Italians, let me just stress that it's their, sense of humor that gets me every time!

Italian Trifle with Strawberries and Marsala Syrup
inspired by Food & Wine

1 quart milk
1 plump vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 dozen large egg yolks
1/4 cup cornstarch

1 cup sweet Marsala
1/3 cup sugar

1 Sara Lee pound cake, cut into 1" cubes
2 pints fresh strawberries, sliced (save 1 or 2 pretty berries for garnishing)
Whipped cream, for garnish

Make the pastry cream: In a large saucepan, combine the milk with the vanilla bean and seeds and 3/4 cup of the sugar. Bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat, cover and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour. Discard the vanilla bean.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the cornstarch and the remaining 1 cup of sugar. Whisk in 1 cup of the milk mixture. Whisk the egg mixture into the milk in the saucepan and cook over moderately high heat, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula, until the custard just begins to thicken, about 4 minutes. Switch back to a whisk and cook, whisking constantly, until the custard is very thick and bubbling, about 4 minutes longer. Transfer the custard to a large heatproof bowl. Let cool, then press a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the surface. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 3 hours or overnight.

Make the Marsala syrup: In a small saucepan, combine the Marsala with the sugar and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Let cool.

In a large glass trifle bowl, arrange a layer of pound cake squares. Using a pastry brush, soak the cake with some of the Marsala syrup. Top with a layer of pastry cream, and then strawberries. Repeat with the remaining cake, syrup, pastry cream and strawberries ending with the berries. Cover the trifle loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight. Top the trifle with the whipped cream and a whole strawberry fan and serve.

Make Ahead
The trifle can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.

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