Treats for picnics that will put a spring in your step
All photos by Ashleigh Fox/THE CHIMES
Although Southern California’s lack of a long, harsh winter often allows us to do crazy things like go to the beach in mid-January, the beginning of spring marks a time of consistent warm weather that we can count on — hopefully. Mother Nature willing, April is a time of shorts, hikes, sunshine, warm breezes and of course, picnics. There are few things that make food taste better than eating it on the ground on a blanket while you and your friends fend off ants together.
Whether you go on a picnic adventure to interesting places in Orange and Los Angeles County — such as the Santa Monica Pier, Bronson Caves or San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary — or just stroll across the street to La Mirada Regional Park to spend a lazy afternoon, there are many fun food options to choose from. Ditch the plain old sandwiches and make wraps instead. Use mason jars to transport salads foods that would otherwise be crushed in a cooler, like salads, cheese, fruit, desserts, or vegetables and hummus. Try and forget for a moment that using jars to carry around food is an incredibly hipster thing to do and embrace it. They travel well, keep food from being squashed, look cute and are just plain fun to eat out of.
So in the spirit of promoting delicious and attractive desserts in jars for your picnics this spring, I took the liberty of coming up with a version of English Trifle — a traditional dessert that is composed of layers of cake, fruit and creamy custard. While you can skip the homemade aspect of this and use instant pudding and store-bought sponge cake, I encourage you to give the “from scratch” recipe a try. After however long a trek you make to your perfect picnic destination, this refreshing springtime treat will make the day.
2 cups of fresh or frozen berries or fruit, like strawberries, blueberries, blackberries or peaches, cut into bite size pieces
1-2 tablespoons sugar
6 mason jars
In a small bowl, toss the cut fruit with the sugar and let sit in the refrigerator until ready to use.
1 1/2 cups and 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup and 1 1/2 tablespoons water
pinch of salt
1/4 cup and 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 and 1/8 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups, 3 tablespoons and 1/2 teaspoon all-purpose flour
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease an 8 x 8 inch baking pan with cooking spray or oil.
Separate the egg yolks and whites into separate bowls by cracking each egg in half and passing the yolk back and forth between the egg’s shells until all the egg white is in the bowl.
Whisk together the egg yolks and 1 1/4 cup of the sugar, then add the water, vanilla extract, oil and salt.
In a separate bowl, whisk the flour and baking powder together.
If you have a sifter, sift the flour mixture.
Bring water to a boil in a small pot over high heat. Turn the heat to low and place the bowl of wet ingredients on top. Stir until the mixture is lukewarm — check it with your finger; it should not feel cold or completely warm, but a neutral temperature. Take off heat and whisk in the dry ingredients.
With an electric mixer — or, if you are feeling ambitious, a whisk and determination — whip the egg whites until they begin to get thick and foamy, like shaving cream. Add the remaining sugar, 1/4 cup and 2 1/2 tablespoons, in a steady stream, while continuing to whip. When the whites form medium-soft peaks — when the whip is lifted up, the meringue forms peaks that fall over at the very top — stop. Be very careful not to over whip, especially with the electric mixer. If the meringue looks very airy and dry, like soap bubbles, it is over whipped and must be made again.
Take 1/4 of the meringue and stir it into the batter with a rubber spatula until completely combined. Add the rest of the meringue, but gently fold it in by folding the batter underneath the meringue over it, while turning the bowl. Do this slowly and gently, until the batter is homogeneous and there are no traces of meringue.
Gently pour the batter into the greased baking pan. Bake for 25 minutes and check the cake by lightly pressing on the top middle of the cake. If it springs back, remove from the oven. If not, bake for another 5 minutes and check again.
Let the cake cool until the pan is cool enough to handle, but not cold. Flip the pan upside down on a clean surface, like a table or counter, to remove.
1 cup and 2 tablespoons milk
1/4 cup and 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
Optional: 2 ounces chocolate, finely chopped
In a medium pot, combine 1 cup milk and 2 tablespoons and 3/4 teaspoons of the sugar. Heat over medium-high heat until simmering.
Whisk together 2 tablespoons of milk and the cornstarch. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and remaining 2 tablespoons and 3/4 teaspoons of sugar together. Stir in the cornstarch mixture well.
When the milk comes to a simmer, slowly pour into the egg mixture, while whisking. It is important to beat the egg mixture as you are pouring in the hot liquid to prevent lumps. Stir until all the liquid is combined, then pour back into the pot. Bring the custard to a boil, while whisking constantly. Be very careful to stir in the bottom and corners of the pan to prevent sticking. Keep stirring as the custard boils for 1-2 minutes, then take off heat and add the butter and vanilla extract. If you want to add chocolate, do this now and stir until smooth.
Pour onto a cookie sheet or baking pan lined with plastic wrap.
Cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator until completely cool.
The thinner the custard is spread out on the tray or pan, the quicker it will cool.
Cut the completely cooled cake into 1 1/2 inch cubes.
Pour the cold custard into a mixing bowl and stir until completely smooth. Put cubes of cake into the mason jar, creating a bottom layer. Spoon custard over the cake.
When there is a layer of custard on top of the cake, spoon in a layer of the fruit.
Repeat this until the jar is full, but with enough room for the lid.
Screw on the lid and store in a cooler or refrigerator until ready to eat.