Long before I knew what a proper English Trifle dessert should be, I was taking punchbowl cake to summer cookouts and picnics.
My mother made the dessert back in the 1980s. We were preparing our potluck dishes for an annual family reunion when she asked if I'd ever made a punchbowl cake. It sounded like a strange idea, putting cake into a punchbowl.
''It's simple,'' she said. ''You layer everything, including the cake, into a punchbowl and cover it with whipped topping.''
I was skeptical but curious. Cake in a punchbowl made no sense.
But then I watched her create the dessert and watched it disappear very quickly at the reunion. Since then, I've taken punchbowl cake to se veral outdoor gatherings and like my mother's did, it quickly disappears.
My mother made her dessert with white or yellow cake, strawberries, bananas, vanilla pudding and whipped topping. She placed each cake layer whole into the punchbowl and let the server cut into it with a large spoon.
2 cake layers of your choice (or 2 frozen pound cakes from the grocery store)
2 boxes French vanilla instant pudding, prepared
2 pints fresh strawberries
1 small bunch bananas, peeled and sliced
Juice of one lemon
1 quart fresh (or frozen) blueberries
2 containers frozen whipped topping, thawed (or 2 containers whipping cream, prepared)
Cut cake into one-inch cubes. Add the lemon juice to the sliced bananas. In a large punchbowl, layer the cake, fruit, pudding and whipped topping. Usually three layers will fill the bowl. Finish the last layer with whipped topping and decorate with fresh fruit of your choice. To serve, scoop out the mixture with a large serving spoon. Keep chilled until serving. (This is best made the night before and chilled overnight.)
Normally I make mine with a pound cake recipe I found in Martha Stewart's cookbook. The cake is made with sour cream and almond extract for a different, but pleasant flavor.
But when I'm in a hurry, I use frozen pound cake from the grocery store that I cut into 1-inch cubes. It is easier to scoop out of the punchbowl this way. I also like to add blueberries to the fruit layer.
For this presentation, I used a creamier version of whipped topping but wasn't altogether happy with the texture of the topping or the way it presented itself in the dish. Rather than a light, fluffy topping, it was flat, and it blended too much with the pudding. Even so, it still tasted nice.
Also using freshly whipped topping made from real whipping cream would be the way to go, but once again, the purchased variety is a time-saver.
To assemble the dish, I first put a layer of diced cake in the bottom of the bowl. On top of the cake, I layered the pudding and then the fruit. To the sliced bananas, I added the juice of one lemon to keep the bananas from turning brown. Along with bananas, I used sliced strawberries and whole blueberries.
Finally, the final layer of whipped topping went over the fruit and the layers started again. In a normal-size punchbowl, I usually get about three layers.
There are no hard and fast rules with this dish. You can change the fruit or pudding flavor to suit your own taste. Try pineapple, kiwi and mango for a tropical effect. To lighten the dish, use angel food cake and fat-free pudding and topping.
I like to think of this dessert as a common person's trifle. Rather than bother with liqueur-soaked lady fingers arranged around the side of a bowl, horizontal layers of fruit, cake, pudding and topping make an equally impressive presentation.
In the 1980s, punchbowls were easily found in the housewares section of most stores. I still use the same punchbowl I received as a wedding gift nearly 40 years ago, but these days, straight-sided trifle bowls are more trendy and are smaller than punchbowls.
But when the occasion calls, I also use a trifle bowl to make this recipe, especially when I'm going to a smaller get-together. It's easy to cut the recipe in half.