Don't trifle with fools...

...but you can make a fool of a trifle with this easy berry trifle made in minutes.

Berry trifle 520 (photo credit: Bob Fila/ Chicago Tribune/MCT)
Berry trifle 520
(photo credit: Bob Fila/ Chicago Tribune/MCT)
Most people don’t like fools or care about trifles, but those familiar with English desserts love both.
A fool is a mixture of fruit puree and whipped cream. A trifle is a layered dessert composed of cake and custard and usually flavored with spirits. The two old-fashioned English desserts have more in common than funny names.
Both are creamy, contain fruit in some form and can be sensational.
Fools are simple desserts served in wineglasses, with ladyfingers or cookies for dipping. To make a fool, you mix fruit with cream. Generally it is whipped heavy cream, added in a volume equal to the amount of fruit. Some stir in thick cream without whipping it. My late friend Jane Grigson, author of Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book, noted that less cream can be used “according to your tastes and pocket”; today we would add, according to your diet. If too little cream is used, however, the dessert becomes too thin.
Grigson made fools from all sorts of berries, as well as melons, persimmons and cooked dried apricots. For a black fruit fool, she mixed a puree of prunes cooked in red wine with a puree of cooked raisins and currants, and topped the mixture with whipped cream. To make papaya fool, she suggested using coconut cream and flavoring the dessert with lime juice.
A trifle is more elaborate. It begins with cake, preferably slices of homemade jelly roll. Other options are macaroons or sponge cake slices, which are spread with fruit jam, or sandwiched with jam and then cut in cubes.
The cake is placed in a glass bowl and doused generously with sherry, fruit liqueur or both. At this point some people add fresh or cooked fruit.
Next you make an egg custard with milk or cream, sometimes enriched with butter as well, and pour it over the top. The dessert is finished with whipped cream.
Robert Carrier, author of Cooking for You, made a strawberry trifle by macerating strawberries in sherry and sugar, and adding them to the cake-lined bowl, then topped it with a rich custard lightened with beaten egg whites and garnished with more strawberries and slivered almonds.
To make a fool more economical, you can use custard instead of whipped cream, or some of each. For a quick trifle, some cooks substitute whipped cream for the custard. Yogurt can replace all or part of the cream or custard to make the fool or trifle lower in fat.
It’s easy to see how a fool might have become a trifle. Instead of serving the fool with ladyfingers, someone might have incorporated them into the pudding.
If the ladyfinger layer seemed too dry, it would have been logical to moisten them with wine or liqueur to improve the dessert.
Grigson speculated on the origin of the name fool: “I used to think that the word fool came from the French fouler, to crush. Seemed logical, as to make a good gooseberry fool the berries should be crushed rather than sieved. But I was wrong. It’s a word that goes with trifle and whim-wham (trifle without the custard) – names of delightful nonsensical bits of folly, jeux d’esprit outside the serious range of the cookery repertoire.
The kind of thing that women are said to favor, but that men eat more of.”
Another explanation was offered by Irma S.
Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker, authors of Joy of Cooking: “Long ago the word fool was used as a term of endearment.”
Matthew Mead, author of Entertaining Simple, suggests an easy way to make a berry trifle in minutes.
He substituted whipped cream for custard and layered it with cubed pound cake, blackberries and raspberries in wine glasses instead of using a bowl; he garnished each portion with a fresh thyme sprig.
You might say he made a fool of his trifle.
Faye Levy is the author of Fresh from France: Dessert Sensations and Sefer Hakinuhim (the book of desserts).BERRY BANANA TRIFLE
This dessert tastes good when made with skim milk and vanilla yogurt and is even better when made with whole milk and enriched with whipped cream. You can substitute sliced sponge cake or other light cakes for the ladyfingers.
2 Tbsp. cornstarch 11⁄2 cups milk 1 large egg 1 large egg yolk (optional) 3 Tbsp. sugar, or to taste 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract About 100 gr. ladyfingers 1⁄2 cup sherry or 1⁄4 cup kirsch (clear cherry brandy) 1⁄2 cup whipping cream or vanilla yogurt 1⁄3 to 1⁄2 cup strawberry preserves, jam or jelly 1 cup peeled sliced bananas 1 cup sliced strawberries
Small strawberries (for garnish) Mix cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of the milk in a small cup. Heat remaining milk in a small heavy saucepan until bubbles form around edge of pan. Whisk whole egg and egg yolk in a medium bowl. Add sugar; whisk until blended.
Whisk in dissolved cornstarch. Gradually whisk in hot milk. Return mixture to saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, for 3 minutes or until mixture thickens slightly and reaches 70º on an instant-read or candy thermometer. Do not boil. Remove from heat. Stir 1 minute. Let cool, stirring occasionally. Whisk in vanilla.
Cover and refrigerate for 1 or 2 hours.
Put enough ladyfingers in a 6-cup glass bowl or deep baking dish to make 1 layer. Brush 1⁄4 cup sherry or 2 tablespoons kirsch evenly over them. Stir custard until smooth.
If using whipping cream, whip it in a chilled bowl until it forms soft peaks; refrigerate half the cream to use for garnish.
Stir rest of whipped cream or all of yogurt into custard.
Taste and add more sugar if desired. Pour 3⁄4 cup custard mixture over ladyfingers in bowl. Cover and refrigerate 1 to 2 hours to firm custard slightly.
Heat preserves until melted in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally. Strain if you like. Arrange remaining ladyfingers in 1 layer on custard in bowl. Brush with remaining sherry or kirsch. Scatter sliced fruit on top.
Spoon preserves evenly over fruit. Carefully spoon remaining custard on top. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.
Just before serving, whip reserved cream in a chilled bowl a little more, until stiff. Serve trifle garnished with whipped cream and strawberries.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
 Instead of pureeing the fruit, some mash it with a fork. If a food processor is used, it’s important to stop the machine often; otherwise the fruit might be liquidized and the fool might be more like a sauce than a dessert.
If you like, you can sprinkle the top of each portion with crumbled macaroons. Serve the fool with ladyfingers, shortbread or almond cookies.
4 cups (about 450 gr.) fresh strawberries, rinsed and hulled
1⁄2 to 2⁄3 cup sugar, or to taste
1 cup whipping cream
1⁄2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Quarter strawberries and mash them with a fork; or chop in a food processor with a pulsing motion, stopping often so they won’t become a puree. Sweeten the berries to taste with sugar.
In a chilled bowl, whip cream until nearly stiff. Add vanilla and 1 teaspoon sugar and continue whipping until stiff.
Gradually fold mashed berries into whipped cream. Taste, and add more sugar if desired. Serve in wine glasses.
Makes 4 servings.