Of Trifles, Fools, and Parfaits


In the little town where I was raised, we didn’t have trifles and parfaits.  We didn’t have many fools either—and none of the dessert kind.  So when Debbie introduced me to trifles, they didn’t seem right, like “real men don’t eat trifles” though admittedly, they were very good.

But a strawberry fool, that erased any resistance.  A peach fool would have done so too.  Fools are so good that they made a zealot out of me.

So what’s the difference between trifles, fools and parfaits?

Trifles, fools, and parfaits are close cousins.  There is so much overlap that what I call a parfait, you may call a trifle or a fool.  They are all layers of fruit, creamy fillings, and maybe cookie or cake pieces.  But let’s identify traditional differences:

  • Trifles.  Trifles were once made with a sweetened, cooked cream filling and crumbled biscuits or cookies.  Now they are made with any filling.  Cake pieces are usually used for the bottom layer, often soaked in brandy or liquor.
  • Parfaits.  Originally a parfait was made with layers of frozen custard.  In practice—especially in America—ice cream is most often used.  Recently, we have seen desserts called parfaits made with layers of sweetened flavored yogurt or with Bavarian cream.  Instead of cake in a layer, granola is sometimes used in commercial parfaits.
  • Fools.  Fools were originally swirled mixtures of custard and fruit.  Now, whipped cream is used and instead of swirling it all together, it is layered.  A layer of crushed cookies is sometimes added.

Regardless of what you call it, these make fabulous, attractive desserts.

Debbie occasionally teaches a class on trifles and parfaits and serves them at the end of the class.  She sets up a trifle bar and allows participants to build there own trifles in clear glasses.  She includes:

  • Pound cake and angel food cake pieces
  • Bavarian cream
  • Whipped cream
  • Fruit pieces such as berries, kiwi, bananas, and peaches
  • Fruit fillings such as lemon filling (lemon curd), raspberry filling, blueberry filling, and cherry filling.

She sometimes uses brownies cut into small chunks.  In a pinch, we’ve made trifles with boxed cake mixes.

About the Fillings

What is common to all these desserts is a cool, creamy filling.  Traditionally, custards are used and we’re sure that a stovetop custard works great.  It’s just too easy to use a commercial Bavarian cream filling.

The strawberry fool recipe that follows uses a smooth, decadant filling made of whipped cream and plain yogurt.  We added an orange flavor to the filling which complemented the strawberries perfectly.  We have used this filling in trifles.

In nearly all of these desserts, we use whipped cream as a topping—but not just any whipped cream.  We nearly always use a flavor other than vanilla.  Caramel flavor, butterscotch flavor, lemon flavor, orange flavor, and amaretto flavor are our favorites.  When we use warm flavors like caramel and butterscotch, we use brown sugar instead of granulated sugar.  With lemon and orange, we add zest.  With the strawberry fool recipe below, we have sometimes used strawberry flavor and added a couple drops of red food coloring.  We sell all of these flavors in our store.  (If you are only going to buy one flavor, make it caramel flavor so that you can make caramel whipped cream.  You will find that you use caramel whipped cream in your kitchen more than you use vanilla whipped cream.  For two cups whipping cream, add a teaspoon of caramel flavor and use 1/4 cup brown sugar instead of granulated sugar.)

In the chocolate, peanut butter, and banana recipe below, we mixed a little peanut butter with Bavarian cream (about one-third peanut butter to two thirds Bavarian cream) to make peanut butter cream.  We have also added shredded coconut and coconut flavor to Bavarian cream to make coconut cream.

In our store and online, we sell a variety of premade fillings, both cream pastry fillings like Bavarian and cream cheese and fruit pastry fillings like lemon, raspberry, and cherry.  If you are only going to own one, make it Bavarian cream.  You’ll find a thousand uses for Bavarian cream.  Consider the following:

Recipes

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