If your summer berries died and went to heaven...
Summer isn't my favorite season of the year (hello, fall), but I will admit the produce cannot be beat. Berries, corn, peas, it's all bursting out of the ground begging to be eaten, and I'm happy to oblige.
Growing up, my sister and I spent many summers with our grandparents in Virginia. We would go stay with them at their house on the river for a month and fish, have tea parties, help in the garden, and mostly just eat. A lot. I think its a rule of being a grandparent that you constantly believe your grandchildren are being underfed, and that you have to do whatever is in your power to make up for this. My grandparents are no exception. Some of my favorite food memories from growing up happened at their house, whether it was digging potatoes out of the ground, squealing in delight when they finally broke free of the earth in a satisfying shower of dirt, or eating the fish we'd caught in the river that day, picking out bones with my bare hands, or going to a nearby blueberry farm and eating way more than I collected, the hot berries bursting in my mouth.
By far my favorite was the berries. My grandfather had a HUGE garden with corn, beans, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, and more I'm sure, and at one end were the berries. Rows and rows of strawberries led into blackberry and raspberry bushes. The garden always yielded a huge bounty of berries, and we'd eat them fresh or frozen as a treat on hot, humid days.
But I have a very vivid memory of my grandmother making a dish with strawberries for a church picnic. I don't really know why it stood out to me so much, other than it combined strawberries and angel food cake, two of my favorites, with sour cream and cool whip in some sort of fluffy, trifle-type thing that I loved. It's possible she only made it one time, but it made an impression, and every year when strawberry season comes around I get a craving for it. So I made up my own version.
Obviously I'm not going to use cool whip when there is fresh whipped cream to be made, and I remember the original version being topped with both strawberries and some kind of canned strawberry syrup/filling stuff, and that definitely wasn't happening. My grandmother also used a store-bought angel food cake, which I actually remember loving, but I've never been able to find another store-bought version that tastes as good as the one they sell at the local Food Lion, so I made my own. The end result combines sour cream, vanilla bean-flecked whipped cream, and perfectly sweet and fluffy angel food cake under a topping of both macerated and fresh strawberries, all drizzled with a homemade strawberry syrup. It's the perfect summer dessert: not too heavy, not too sweet, and with just the right amount of refreshing tartness from the berries. Throw a few blueberries on top and this might just be the perfect red, white and blue dessert for a 4th of July BBQ.
Strawberry Angel Food Trifle
2 pints strawberries, divided (see note)
2 tbs sugar
1/2 one Angel food cake (see note)
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla bean paste (optional)
1/2 cup sour cream
- Sprinkle 2 tbs sugar over half of the strawberries (cut any extra large berries in half). Let macerate at least 1 hour and up to overnight.
- When ready to make trifle, strain the strawberries from their juice. Set strawberries aside. In a small saucepan over medium heat, cook the strawberry juice until slightly thickened. Set aside to cool.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer (or use handheld mixer), combine heavy cream and vanilla bean paste (if using) and whip until stiff peaks form. Fold in the sour cream. Tear the Angel Food Cake into large chunks and fold into the cream mixture. Spoon into a large bowl or trifle dish and smooth out the top.
- Spoon macerated strawberries over the top of the trifle. Slice the remaining strawberries and tuck slices into the gaps between the macerated berries. Pour cooled strawberry syrup over the top.
- Enjoy immediately or later. The berries and cake layers will only get better!
- I used one pint of fresh strawberries and one bag of frozen, because even with strawberries in season, I had a little episode of sticker shock. I also find that frozen strawberries tend to give off more juice as they thaw. If you use frozen strawberries, make sure you only use them for the macerated berries, not the sliced half. Those need to be fresh.
- For the angel food cake, I made 1/2 recipe of this Martha Stewart version (with regular, all purpose flour instead of cake flour. It was fine!), baked in a loaf pan. You can use any recipe you like, but this trifle will only require a half recipe. Store bought is fine too, although not as delicious, in my opinion.
- The trifle can be assembled in more layers, I just happen to like the cake base with all the berries piled on top.