- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Strawberries may be available year round, but when locally produced berries come into season in the spring, they are far juicier and more flavorful than those tough berries that may be shipped coast to coast but lack intense berry flavor.

So when the weather warms, I warm up to the idea of serving these berries as much as I can on cereal for breakfast, in smoothies after school or work, on salads and especially for dessert.

This trifle recipe is just what the doctor ordered for a springtime meal. The minicakes are really do-ahead layered desserts made in foil cupcake liners. While they are English in both taste and appearance, they are clearly modern, portion-controlled and elegant on the plate.

Instant vanilla pudding mix is a good time saver, but really needs doctoring because it is bland. At the very least, I add a teaspoon of vanilla or a pinch of grated nutmeg. If I have more time and prepare the cook-and-serve vanilla pudding from the box, I’ll add a couple of tablespoons of butter as well, to make it taste richer.

Five time-shaving ways to savor fresh strawberries:

• Dip them in chocolate.

• Dip them in confectioners’ sugar and sour cream.

• Add to vanilla ice cream and milk for a strawberry milkshake.

• Slice and add to your favorite green salad, top with blue cheese and pecans and toss with a sesame vinaigrette.

• Chop and add to your favorite salsa recipe instead of tomatoes.

Mini strawberry trifles

The preparation time is 20 minutes, and the assembly time is 2 to 3 minutes.

1 3.4-ounce package instant vanilla pudding mix

2 cups cold milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

½ cup heavy whipping cream

2 teaspoons confectioners’ sugar

8 foil liners for cupcake pans (2½-inch size)

1 10.75-ounce loaf frozen pound cake

2 tablespoons cream sherry

½ cup chopped fresh ripe strawberries

8 whole medium-size ripe strawberries, for garnish

Prepare instant pudding according to package directions, adding cold milk as directed. Stir in vanilla. Immediately place pudding in refrigerator to chill until needed.

Meanwhile, place a clean, medium-size mixing bowl and electric mixer beaters in the freezer for 1 minute. Pour whipping cream into chilled bowl and beat with electric mixer on high speed until cream has thickened, about 1½ minutes.

Stop machine and add sugar. Beat cream and sugar on high speed until stiff peaks form, 1 to 2 minutes more. Place whipped cream in refrigerator to chill.

Place foil liners on a serving platter and set aside. Place frozen cake on a cutting board. Slice cake thinly into 16 slices that are about 1/4-inch thick. Cut a 2-inch round out of each slice, yielding 16 rounds. Generously brush one side of each round with sherry.

Place 8 rounds, sherry-side up, in foil liners. Dollop 1 tablespoon of pudding on top of each cake round. Place 1 tablespoon chopped strawberries on top of pudding. Then dollop with 1 tablespoon more pudding.

Place remaining 8 cake rounds on top of pudding, sherry-side down. Cover platter with plastic wrap and chill cakes until time to serve. Just before serving, slice whole strawberries. Top each trifle with a heaping tablespoon of whipped cream and garnish with 2 or 3 of the nicest strawberry slices. Makes 8 servings.

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